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Events

1st Century - Chinese First to Refine Petroleum (Oil) for Use as an Energy Source

1031 - 1095

"More than 2,000 years ago, our ancestors discovered oil seepages in many places in northwest China. A book titled Han Book Geography Annals written by a historian of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Ban Gu (32-92 AD), wrote of flammables in the Weishui River. Located at the east of the Yanan city, the river now is called the Jian.

There was also a detailed description about petroleum in the famous Sketch Book at Meng Xi written by the distinguished scientist Sheng Kuo (1031-1095). He reported that there was a lot of oil in the subsurface, 'and it is inexhaustible.'

Long ago, our ancestors already applied petroleum for lamps, as lubricants, in medicine and for military actions. Similarly, the technology of heating and evaporating brine from flowing brine wells for producing edible salt was also developed more than a thousand years ago (East Jin Dynasty, 347 AD) in China."

10th Century - Windmills Built in Persia to Grind Grain and Pump Water

1490 - 1500

"For the tenth century, we have material proof that windmills were turning in the blustery Seistan region of Persia. These primitive, vertical carousel-type mills utilized the wind to grind corn, and to raise water from streams to irrigate gardens... [T]heir use soon spread to India, other parts of the Muslim world, and China, where farmers employed them to pump water, grind grain, and crush sugarcane."

1590s - Dutch Build Windmills for Multiple Uses

1590 - 1799

"The mill reached its greatest size and its most efficient form in the hands of the Dutch engineers toward the end of the sixteenth century... The Dutch provinces... developed the windmill to the fullest possible degree: it ground the grain produced on the rich meadows, it sawed the wood... and it ground the spices...

Above all, the windmill was the chief agent in land reclamation. The threat of inundation by the sea led these North Sea fishermen and farmers to attempt not only to control the water itself, but by keeping it back, to add to the land...

Once the dykes were built, however, the problem was how to keep the area under the level of the sea clear of water: the windmill... was the means of raising the water of the rising streams and canals: it maintained the balance between the water and the land that made life possible in this precarious situation."

1600s - Development of Coal Coke in England Aids Iron Production and Helps to Pave the Way for the Industrial Revolution

1600 - 1700

"Experimenters... discovered that the roasting process used to make charcoal [from wood] could be adapted to coal, the result being an extremely hot-burning fuel called coke. The use of coke in iron and steel production, beginning in England in the 17th century, would so transform those industries as to constitute one of the key developments paving the way for the industrial revolution."

1700s - Coal Begins to Displace Use of Other Energies

1700 - 1712

"The great shift in population and industry that took place in the eighteenth century was due to the introduction of coal as a source of mechanical power, to the use of new means of making that power effective - the steam engine - and to new methods of smelting and working up iron. Out of this coal and iron complex, a new civilization developed...

By the end of the eighteenth century coal began to take the place of current sources of energy... Wood, wind, water, beeswax, tallow, sperm-oil - all these were displaced steadily by coal and derivatives of coal...

In the economy of the earth, the large-scale opening up of coal seams meant that industry was beginning to live for the first time on an accumulation of potential energy, derived from the ferns of the carboniferous period, instead of upon current income."

1712 - First Steam Engine Developed in England to Pump Water Out of Coal Mines

1712 - 1748

Coal, the Carboniferous legacy of stored sunlight, would solve that problem. Coal would be burned to power the heat engine...

[Thomas] Newcomen... built a steam machine close by a coal shaft... in 1712... Newcomen's first machine made twelve strokes a minute, raising 10 gallons of water with each stroke. Its strength is estimated at 5.5 horsepower, not impressive to us, but the 'fire engine,' as it was sometimes called, was a sensation in power-starved Britain and Europe. Soon there were scores of Newcomen engines, most nodding at the pitheads of Britain's mines, which now could be dug twice as deep as before. In 1700, Britain produced 2.7 million metric tons of coal; in 1815, 23 million tons. That sum was twenty times in energy equivalent what the existing woodlands of Britain could produce in a year...

Thomas Newcomen's invention was the first machine to provide significantly large amounts of power not derived from muscle, water, or wind... If I were to attempt anything so simple-minded as to pick a birthday for the industrial revolution, it would be the first day that Newcomen's machine began operating in 1712."

1748 - First Commercial Coal Production in US Begins in Richmond, Virginia

1748 - 1800

"In 1701, coal was found by Huguenot settlers on the James River in what is now Richmond, Virginia. By 1736, several 'coal mines' were shown on a map of the upper Potomac River near what is now the border of Maryland and West Virginia.

The first coal 'miners' in the American colonies were likely farmers who dug coal from beds exposed on the surface and sold it by the bushel. In 1748, the first commercial coal production began from mines around Richmond, Virginia. Coal was used to manufacture shot, shell, and other war material during the Revolutionary War.

1800 - Process of Electrolysis Discovered

1800 - 1899

"English scientists William Nicholson and Sir Anthony Carlisle discovered that applying electric current to water produced hydrogen and oxygen gases. This process was later termed 'electrolysis.'"

The discovery of electrolysis was an important historical step in the development of hydrogen energy and the hydrogen fuel cell.

1821 - First Natural Gas Well in US Is Drilled

1821 - 1830

"In 1821, the first well specifically intended to obtain natural gas was dug in Fredonia, New York, by William Hart. After noticing gas bubbles rising to the surface of a creek, Hart dug a 27 foot well to try and obtain a larger flow of gas to the surface. Hart is regarded by many as the 'father of natural gas' in America...

During most of the 19th century, natural gas was used almost exclusively as a source of light. Without a pipeline infrastructure, it was difficult to transport the gas very far, or into homes to be used for heating or cooking. Most of the natural gas produced in this era was manufactured from coal, as opposed to transported from a well. Near the end of the 19th century, with the rise of electricity, natural gas lights were converted to electric lights."

1830 - Coal Becomes Primary Locomotive (Train) Fuel in US, Displacing Wood

1830 - 1840

The first major boon for coal use occurred in 1830 when the Tom Thumb, the first commercially practical American-built locomotive, was manufactured. The Tom Thumb burned coal, and in rapid fashion, virtually every American locomotive that burned wood was converted to use coal. America's coal industry had begun taking shape."