25.4: Iron Making
25.4.1: The Shift to Coal
The advancement of the steam engine dramatically improved the efficiency of coal mining during the Industrial Revolution, making coal a cheaper, more abundant, and easily available source of energy. This resulted in labor conditions that triggered influential unions and in pollution that sparked the environmental movement.
Evaluate the effect the rising use of coal had on development and industry
- Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock occurring in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. It is composed primarily of carbon, along with variable quantities of other elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. A fossil fuel, coal forms from dead plant matter.
- Early coal extraction was small-scale, with coal lying either on the surface or very close to it. The early coal mining techniques left considerable amount of usable coal behind. Although some deep mining in Britain took place as early as the 1500s, deep shaft mining began to develop extensively in the late 18th century, with rapid expansion throughout the 19th century and early 20th century when the industry peaked. Coalfields helped to make the regions where they were located prosperous. Coal was so abundant in Britain that the supply could be stepped up to meet the rapidly rising demand.
- Coal was central to the development of the steam engine and, in turn, the steam engine dramatically increased the efficiency of coal mining. The introduction of the steam pump by Thomas Savery in 1698 and the Newcomen steam engine in 1712 greatly facilitated the removal of water from mines and enabled shafts to be made deeper, enabling more coal to be extracted. The next major step occurred when James Watt developed an improved version of Newcomen’s engine. Watt’s ten-horsepower engines enabled a wide range of manufacturing machinery to be powered.
- Coal mining remained very dangerous due to the presence of firedamp in many coal seams. Conditions of work were very poor, with a high casualty rate from rock falls. Coal mining has also been historically linked to bonded labor long after slavery was formally abolished in many parts of the world. Some of the worst abuses of child labor continued in coal mines. The miners, less affected by imported labor or machines than were the cotton mill workers, began to form trade unions and fight their grim battle for wages against the coal owners and royalty-lessees.
- The replacement of wood and other bio-fuels with coal was also a major change in the metal industries during the Industrial Revolution. For a given amount of heat, coal required much less labor than cutting wood and converting it to charcoal. Coal was also more abundant than wood. The reverberatory furnace technology, which keeps impurities in the coal from migrating into the metal, was highly advanced during the period. Coal was also central to the gas lighting industry.
- The origins of the environmental movement lay in the response to increasing levels of smoke pollution in the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution. The emergence of large factories and corresponding immense growth in coal consumption gave rise to an unprecedented level of air pollution in industrial centers. The first non-governmental organizations and environment protection policies were a result of the development of coal-based industries during the Industrial Revolution.
- reverberatory furnace
- A metallurgical or process furnace that isolates the material being processed from contact with the fuel, but not from contact with combustion gases. The term reverberation is used here in a generic sense of rebounding or reflecting, not in the acoustic sense of echoing.
- A fuel with few impurities and a high carbon content, the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. While it can form naturally, the common form is man-made.
- steam engine
- A heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam.
Coal and Coal Mining in Britain
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock occurring in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. Coal is composed primarily of carbon, along with variable quantities of other elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. A fossil fuel, coal forms when dead plant matter is converted into peat, which in turn is converted into lignite, then sub-bituminous coal, bituminous coal, and lastly anthracite. This involves biological and geological processes that take place over time.
The history of coal mining goes back thousands of years.Early coal extraction was small-scale, with coal lying either on the surface or very close to it. The early coal mining techniques left considerable amount of usable coal behind. Although some deep mining in Britain took place as early as the 1500s, deep shaft mining began to develop extensively in the late 18th century, with rapid expansion throughout the 19th century and early 20th century when the industry peaked. The location of the coalfields helped to make the prosperity of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and South Wales. Northumberland and Durham were the leading coal producers and the sites of the first deep pits. In much of Britain, coal was worked from drift mines or scraped off when it outcropped on the surface. Small groups of part-time miners used shovels and primitive equipment. As a result of these limited methods, in the deep Tyneside pits (300 to 1,000 ft deep) for example, only about 40 percent of the coal could be extracted.
Coal was so abundant in Britain that the supply could be increased to meet the rapidly rising demand. In 1700, the annual output of coal was just under 3 million tons. Between 1770 and 1780, the annual output of coal was some 6.25 million long tons (or about the output of a week and a half in the 20th century). After 1790 output soared, reaching 16 million long tons by 1815. By 1830 this rose toover 30 million tons.
Use of Coal During the Industrial Revolution
The development of the Industrial Revolution led to the large-scale use of coal as the steam engine took over from the water wheel. In 1700, five-sixths of the world’s coal was mined in Britain.
Steam Engine and Coal Mining
Coal was central to the development of the steam engine and in turn, the steam engine dramatically increased the efficiency of coal mining. Before the steam engine, shallow bell pits followed a seam of coal along the surface, which were abandoned as the coal was extracted. In other cases, if the geology was favorable, the coal was mined by means of an adit or drift mine driven into the side of a hill. Shaft mining was done in some areas, but the limiting factor was the problem of removing water. It could be done by hauling buckets of water up the shaft or to a sough (a tunnel driven into a hill to drain a mine). In either case, the water had to be discharged into a stream or ditch at a level where it could flow away by gravity.
The introduction of the steam pump by Thomas Savery in 1698 and the Newcomen steam engine in 1712 facilitated the removal of water and enabled shafts to be made deeper so more coal could be extracted. A number of Newcomen engines were successfully put to use in Britain for draining hitherto unworkable deep mines, with the engine on the surface. These large machines, requiring a lot of capital to build, were extremely inefficient by modern standards, but greatly increased the scope of coal miningwhen located where coal was cheap at pit heads.
Despite their disadvantages, Newcomen engines were reliable and easy to maintain, and continued to be used in the coalfields until the early decades of the 19th century. The next major step occurred when James Watt developed (1763–1775) an improved version of Newcomen’s engine. Boulton and Watt’s early engines used half as much coal as John Smeaton’s improved version of Newcomen’s. Watt’s ten-horsepower engines could powera wide range of manufacturing machinery and be sited anywhere that water and coal or wood fuel could be obtained.
Coal mining remained very dangerous due to the presence of firedamp in many coal seams. Some degree of safety was provided by the safety lamp invented in 1816 by Sir Humphry Davy and independently by George Stephenson. However, the lamps proved a false dawn because they became unsafe very quickly and provided a weak light. Firedamp explosions continued, often setting off coal dust explosions, so casualties grew during the entire 19th century. Conditions of work were very poor, with a high casualty rate from rock falls.
Coal mining has also been historically linked to bonded labor long after slavery was formally abolished in many parts of the world. For example, Scottish miners had been bonded to their “masters” by a 1606 Act “Anent Coalyers and Salters.” A Colliers and Salters (Scotland) Act 1775, recognized this to be “a state of slavery and bondage” and formally abolished it. This decision was made effective by a further law in 1799. Some of the worst abuses of child labor continued in coal mines throughout the Industrial Revolution. The miners, less affected by imported labor or machines than were the cotton mill workers, began to form trade unions and fight their grim battle for wages against the coal owners and royalty-lessees. In South Wales, the miners showed a high degree of solidarity. They lived in isolated villages where they comprised the great majority of workers. There was a high degree of equality in lifestyle. Combined with an evangelical religious style based on Methodism, this led to forging a “community of solidarity” under the leadership of the Miners Federation.
Mining has always been dangerous because of methane gas explosions, roof cave-ins, and the difficulty of mine rescue. The worst single disaster in British coal mining history was at Senghenydd in the South Wales coalfield. In 1913 an explosion and subsequent fire killed 436 men and boys. The Courrières mine disaster, Europe’s worst mining accident, caused the death of 1,099 miners in Northern France in 1906.
Wagonways for moving coal in the mining areas started in the 17th century and were often associated with canal or river systems for the further movement of coal. These were all horse-drawn or relied on gravity, with a stationary steam engine to haul the wagons back to the top of the incline. The first applications of the steam locomotive were on wagon or plate ways (as they were then often called from the cast-iron plates used). Horse-drawn public railways did not begin until the early years of the 19th century when improvements to pig and wrought iron production lowered costs. The development of the steam locomotive by Trevithick early in the 19th century gave added impetus and coal consumption grew rapidly as the railway network expanded through the Victorian period.
The replacement of wood and other bio-fuels with coal was also a major change in the metal industries during the Industrial Revolution. For a given amount of heat, coal required much less labor to mine than cutting wood and converting it to charcoal, and coal was more abundant than wood.Use of coal in smelting started somewhat before the Industrial Revolution, based on innovations by Sir Clement Clerke and others from 1678, using coal reverberatory furnaces known as cupolas. These were operated by the flames playing on the ore and charcoal or coke mixture, reducing the oxide to metal. This means that impurities (such as sulfur ash) in the coal do not migrate into the metal. This technology was applied to lead from 1678 and to copper from 1687. It was also applied to iron foundry work in the 1690s, but in this case the reverberatory furnace was known as an air furnace. This was followed by Abraham Darby, who made great strides using coke to fuel his blast furnaces at Coalbrookdale in 1709. Coke pig iron was hardly used to produce wrought iron in forges until the mid-1750s, when Abraham’s son, Abraham Darby II, built Horsehay and Ketley furnaces (not far from Coalbrookdale). By then, coke pig iron was cheaper than charcoal pig iron.
Another major industry of the later Industrial Revolution where coal was central was gas lighting. Although others made a similar innovation elsewhere, its large-scale introduction was the work of William Murdoch, an employee of Boulton & Watt, the steam engine pioneers. The process consisted of the large-scale gasification of coal in furnaces, the purification of the gas (removal of sulfur, ammonia, and heavy hydrocarbons), and its storage and distribution. The first gas lighting utilities were established in London between 1812 and 1820. They soon became one of the major consumers of coal in Britain. Gas lighting affected social and industrial organization because it allowed factories and stores to remain open longer than with tallow candles or oil. Its introduction allowed nightlife to flourish in cities and towns as interiors, and streets could be lighted on a larger scale than before.
Industrial Revolution, Coal, and Environmental Movement
The origins of the environmental movement lay in the response to increasing levels of smoke pollution in the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution. The emergence of great factories and the concomitant immense growth in coal consumption gave rise to an unprecedented level of air pollution in industrial centers. After 1900 the large volume of industrial chemical discharges added to the growing load of untreated human waste. The first large-scale, modern environmental laws came in the form of Britain’s Alkali Acts, passed in 1863, to regulate the deleterious air pollution given off by the Leblanc process used to produce soda ash.
Levels of air pollution rose during the Industrial Revolution, sparking the first modern environmental laws to be passed in the mid-19th century.
In industrial cities, local experts and reformers, especially after 1890, took the lead in identifying environmental degradation and pollution and initiating grass-roots movements to demand and achieve reforms. Typically the highest priority was water and air pollution. The Coal Smoke Abatement Society was formed in Britain in 1898 making it one of the oldest environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It was founded by artist Sir William Blake Richmond, who was frustrated with the pall cast by coal smoke. Although there were earlier pieces of legislation, the Public Health Act of 1875 required all furnaces and fireplaces to consume their own smoke. It also provided for sanctions against factories that emitted large amounts of black smoke.
- The Shift to Coal
“Industrial Revolution.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Coal mining in the United Kingdom.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_mining_in_the_United_Kingdom. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Reverberatory furnace.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverberatory_furnace. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“History of coal mining.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coal_mining. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“History of coal miners.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coal_miners. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Courrières_1906_LeJ.jpg.” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Courri%C3%A8res_1906_LeJ.jpg. Wikimedia Commons Public domain.
“StRolloxChemical_1831.jpg.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:StRolloxChemical_1831.jpg. Wikipedia Public domain.