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Episodes

Chapter 6: Agriculture, Metal, and Mining

During the 18th Century, the British came up with many innovations that allowed them to get more out of the land. Not only did the increased production of food, iron, and coal make the first industrial revolution possible, but many innovations had indirect applications for new technologies.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Jethro Tull’s seed drill

  • Turnip Townshend’s crop rotations

  • The resistance of agricultural laborers

  • Abraham Darby’s coke smelting process

  • Henry Cort’s puddling process

  • The legacy of John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson

  • The use of iron in cotton mills

  • Britain’s falling timber resources

  • New mine ventilation techniques

  • Sir Humphrey Davy’s safety lamp

  • The evolution of rail tracks

Sources for this episode include:

Allen, Robert C. Enclosure and the Yeoman: The Agricultural Development of the South Midlands 1450-1850. Clarendon Press. 1992.

Allitt, Patrick N. “The Industrial Revolution.” The Great Courses. 2014.

Galloway, Robert L. A History of Coal Mining in Great Britain. MacMillan and Co. 1882.

Herreld, Donald J. "An Economic History of the World Since 1400." The Great Courses. 2016.

Johnson, Steve. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Penguin Random House. 2014.

Pollard, Sidney. “A New Estimate of British Coal Production, 1750-1850.” The Economic History Review, vol. 33, no. 2, 1980, pp. 212–235.

Stearns, Peter N. The Industrial Revolution in World History. 4th Edition. Westview Press. 2013.

Thompson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class. Vintage. 1966.

Weightman, Gavin. The Industrial Revolutionaries. Grove Press. 2007.

Wermiel, Sara. “The Development of Fireproof Construction in Great Britain and the United States in the Nineteenth Century.” Construction History, vol. 9, 1993, pp. 3–26.


Full Transcript

Hey, this is Dave. Welcome to the podcast.

You know, the word “podcast” is a pretty new term from the latest industrial revolution. It was coined about 15 years ago, and the idea was to combine the product name of the iPod with the way that the radio medium goes out: by broadcast.

And the term broadcast has been with us for a while. For the last hundred years, it’s referred to how radio waves are sent out to many listeners – and eventually television transmissions to many viewers. But for centuries leading up to the advent of radio, broadcasting meant something else entirely.

When a farmer is planting seeds for his crops, he has a few different ways of doing it. But a popular way throughout history was to till the soil and then stand over it with a pouch of seeds. He’d throw the seeds in such a way that they spread out. In this way he would cast the seeds out broadly. Broadcasting.

This process has been used for millennia – but it is not a super-efficient way of planting seeds. The seeds won’t be spread out perfectly and – more significantly – they won’t get buried in the soil. They’ll be at the mercy of the weather and hungry birds.

As a result, the farmer won’t be able to produce a lot of food. Enough to feed himself and his family. Enough to pay his taxes. Enough, even, to sell a little surplus to a nearby town if he’s lucky. But not enough to help feed sprawling, industrializing cities.

But as anyone who watches “Shark Tank” knows, there had to be a better way.

In 1701, along came a device that would transform planting: the seed drill.

Drawn by a horse, the seed drill would roll along the soil and do a few things all at once. First, it would plow three channels in the earth. Second, seeds would drop (evenly) from containers in the drill down into the channels as it rolled along. Third, a plank on the back would cover the channels with other dirt.

This seed drill was invented by an oddball farmer named Jethro Tull.

Born in 1674, Tull was supposed to be a lawyer. He studied at Oxford but never followed through with the legal profession, always preferring the simple life of farming. At one point, he developed a respiratory disorder and sought a better climate – a Mediterranean climate – hoping it would cure him. So, he travelled down to southern France and then to Italy, observing different farming practices along the way.

When he returned to England, Tull was full of ideas.

Some of them were better than others. He thought that air was the best possible fertilizer and, for the record, air is not a fertilizer. But the seed drill was a great idea. Tull would spend his entire life obsessed with ways to make agriculture better.

Later, in the 1960s, a rock band known as Navy Blue, then as Ian Henderson's Bag o' Nails, and finally, Candy Coloured Rain, was performing at a club in London. As was the case in all these bookings, they let the booking agent pick their name for the evening. On this night, the booking agent was a history buff and named them Jethro Tull. They killed it that night and were discovered. The name stuck. And their flute-playing eccentricity was a good way to honor their eccentric namesake.

But our Jethro Tull did something much more significant than making great jams for baby boomers. He and his contemporaries began an Agricultural Revolution.

The increased productivity of crop cultivation, created by the seed drill, would be among the many ways that the English were starting to use machines to get more out of the land, to fuel the growing workforce by filling their bellies, and in time, to fuel the machines too.

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This is the Industrial Revolutions

Chapter 6: Agriculture, Metal, and Mining

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The seed drill was significant, but other tools and machines were improving agriculture as well. Large, metallic ploughs like the Rotterdam plough from Holland made hoeing a lot easier.

But even before the seed drill and metallic ploughs, major changes in England were restructuring the agricultural system.

In Chapter 4 I mentioned the legacy of enclosure. While the greatest extent of enclosures happened between the 15th and 17th centuries, they continued into the 18th century and more formally. What was significant about later enclosure was that it allowed broader consolidation of land so it could be managed more holistically.

You see, in the Middle Ages, a landholder’s estate was a mess. I’ll post an interesting map on Instagram to give you a sense of what it would look like. Individual families would farm little crisscrossed, disconnected turfs. They’d share a village, common pastures for grazing, and woodland for the timber to fuel their fires. Not only did this lead to some tragedies of the commons, which I’ll get to in a bit, but also a not-very efficient system of labor.

With enclosure though, the turfs were consolidated by the landholder. In 1700, the average farm size in southern England was about 65 acres. By the end of the century, it was about 150 acres. Marshes, wasteland, and other spaces were cleared for planting or grazing. The old system of serf farming was gradually replaced by landless farm labor.

Helping along this process was the advent of the modern mortgage. Landowners were able to take a loan from the bank, buy up surrounding land from local yeomen or pay peasants to leave theirs, and in turn, bring in a larger profit – enough to pay back the bank. Land use was transitioning from a feudal system to a capitalist system.

And with these larger, consolidated estates, landowners could do more to make that profit.

Perhaps the most important thing they did was develop a new system of crop rotations. If you don’t know much about farming, you may be surprised to learn that the same field can’t keep growing the same crops year after year. It wears out the soil. In the middle ages, they would typically plant a strip of land for two years, and in the third year leave that strip fallow, allowing the soil to rest and stock up on nitrogen for a future season. They’d rotate what strips of land were being used in a given year.

But, once again, there had to be a better way.

Along came a lord and statesman, Charles, The Viscount Townshend. He was the son of a commoner who climbed into the nobility because of his role helping restore the monarchy after the English Civil War. The younger Townshend had his own successful political and diplomatic career during the reigns of Queen Anne and King George I.

But his greatest legacy would be in something much simpler. He got really into farming up at his estate in Norfolk. He figured out that a diversity of crops would help the soil recover faster, particularly clover and turnips. And for these interests he was generally mocked by his peers who dubbed him Turnip Townshend – the name we still remember him by today.

What Turnip Townshend did was introduce a four-year crop rotation. He’d take a strip of land and one year he’d plant wheat, the next year turnips, the next year barley, and the next year clover. Then start all over again. The wheat and barley he could sell, the turnips and clover he could use to feed his livestock. Not only did this help him sell animal products, but also produce the manure needed for fertilizer.

Make fun of him all you want, but what he did was really innovative. He was able to use his land every single year without it going fallow, making a lot of money in the process, and helping feed the region more efficiently.

Enclosure also gave landowners more control of their farm animals, which they started to breed more methodically. Within a few generations, livestock output had significantly improved. Sheep were producing more wool, cows more milk, pigs more meat. The quality of the English diet improved as people were getting a higher percentage of their nutrition from protein-rich sources, rather than carb-heavy grains.

Farmers were generally slow to adopt new practices. But one Agricultural Revolutionary was determined to spread these new approaches. Thomas William Coke was a legendary Member of Parliament for the Norfolk area. He had a strong proto-liberal ideology and was instrumental in increasing the power of the commoners, although he was later made Earl of Leicester.

Coke strongly believed that his role as a landowner was to improve the conditions of those living on his estates, and so he worked with them to improve their output. Once a year, for about 40 years, he would gather all his tenant farmers together with the great scientific minds of the age to get people learning about new agricultural methods – new fertilizers, new machines, new systems of crop rotations, new forms of animal husbandry. These early agricultural fairs didn’t always win over converts, but they did help the spread of good ideas.

But the Agricultural Revolution also had detractors. Perhaps the most famous was Thomas Spence, an early radical who was once charged – though never convicted – of high treason.

In 1775, Spence published a pamphlet titled Property in Land Every One's Right. In it, he laid out a plan to democratize agriculture. Among other things, it called for the abolition of the gentry, a redistribution of rents collected (like a social dividend), a form of unemployment insurance, children’s rights, and universal suffrage for the election of a national senate. But most significantly, he called for all the farms to be publicly owned and operated by democratically-elected local governments.

Now, some of those ideas we’ve adopted in the years since. Others not so much. But in the 18th Century, they all sounded about as realistic as Thomas More’s Utopia.

Nevertheless, the changes happening in the agricultural system did move people to take counter-action. In 1816, a bunch of underemployed farm laborers in Cambridgeshire met at a local pub. They had demands, including a 2-shilling per day minimum wage and some price controls for food. But they had no experience in making demands. What followed was a mess. They were pissed off about their lives, they got drunk, and they started a riot that lasted nearly three days. The army was called in. Peace was restored. Dozens were prosecuted. Five were hanged.

Later attempts made by agricultural workers were more professional, but fared no better. In 1833, a group of six agricultural workers in Dorset formed a friendly society – sort of an early version of a labor union – by pledging to support one another.

Well, the local landowners didn’t like that, and one of them – a magistrate named James Frampton – wrote to the Home Secretary to complain. He had the novel idea of invoking a law that banned secret oaths. And with that, the members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers were rounded up, convicted, and sent to the penal colony in Australia. To this day, the Tolpuddle Martyrs – as they’re called – are remembered as some of the earliest martyrs of the labor movement.

But why all this discontent?

Well, because the Agricultural Revolution didn’t just create the food surpluses that fueled the Industrial Revolution, it also created poverty. In fact, it mostly created poverty. At least in the beginning.

The end of subsistence agriculture meant more people could be fed more easily. As a result, the population grew. But it grew a lot faster than the demand for labor did. And by removing peasants from their traditional lands and mechanizing a lot of their work, they came to depend more and more on handouts from the local parish. And with no work available for them, they ended up spending a lot of their free time in the pub, which only caused antipathy toward them from the increasingly rich landowners.

For a long time, historians believed these former farmhand families went to work in the new industrial cities instead. Some did, and eventually most did. But it took well over a century. From the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s, people in England were just poorer than they used to be.

But even though the agricultural revolution didn’t automatically produce an industrial workforce, it did increase the need for new industry to develop. Particularly in supplying the metals for the new ploughs and other tools. And that meant the further development of Britain’s iron industry.

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Iron, and even steel, has been made for millennia. And as I mentioned in previous chapters, the need for iron ore mining increased during the lead-up to the first Industrial Revolution, as Britain grew its global empire. They needed iron for its cannons and other weaponry.

There was a problem, though. Britain had a lot of ore, but not a lot of good ore. The quality coming out of the British mines just wasn’t as good as what was coming from mines in Sweden and Russia.

And another problem: a lack of charcoal needed to fuel the blast furnaces.

But in 1709, a Quaker ironmonger named Abraham Darby started smelting iron using coke, instead of charcoal. Coke is a form of coal coal that gets baked in an airless furnace so impurities like water, coal-gas, and coal-tar are removed. As a result, coke has a high carbon consistency, which results in better smelting.

Now, I have seen it repeatedly claimed that Darby was the guy responsible for introducing coke to the iron-smelting process. But I have also seen several sources that list dozens of people smelting iron with coke going back to the 1500s.

What probably happened is Darby was the guy who figured out how to do it best. He started a wildly successful business at Coalbrookdale, near the Welsh border, where he made pots, pans, ovens, kettles, and more. He also invented new molds, made out of sand.

As a result, a century of advancement was made in the iron industry.

Guys like Charles and John Wood made improvements in the refining of pig iron and wrought iron. And Benjamin Huntsman, who figured out how to produce big quantities of really hard, crucible steel.

But the most major innovation was a new kind of puddling, a process that releases sulfur and carbon impurities by stirring and agitating molten iron. Historically, it was an exhausting job. You had to be a strong guy with a lot of physical endurance to do it. You’d be working in these super-hot conditions, in which the iron only became hotter and more solid as you went on. Basically, it was the closest thing you can imagine to a job in Hell.

Then in the 1780s, a guy named Henry Cort came up with a solution. The iron would come out of a furnace, hammered, and shaped into bard or rods by putting them through rollers. Not only did this have the effect of removing more of the impurities, but it was way easier on the workers.

But of all the characters in the 18th Century iron industry, nobody stands out quite like John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson. And that nickname was no joke or exaggeration. This dude loved iron like you love your family. He could have been president, vice president, treasurer, and recording secretary of the Official Iron Fan Club.

Wilkinson was probably born in 1728. His father was an iron-maker as well, and had been an early adopter of Abraham Darby’s coke-smelting method. A Presbyterian family, they saved up a lot of their earnings and kept building more and more blast furnaces. John would also marry into another wealthy family.

John went into business with his father, making cannons and cannon balls for the British government. But they didn’t do too well together. After Isaac died though, Wilkinson came up with a new mechanism to bore out the barrels of an iron cannon from a solid mold.

Now, if you can imagine trying to take an iron cannon out of a solid mold, you can see how that would be beneficial for mass production, but quite difficult with 18th Century technology. In fact, it was a pretty elaborate device that Iron Mad had to think up. But it worked, and John Wilkinson famous career was made possible.

The mechanism was patented in 1774, and Wilkinson quickly became one of the biggest contractors to the British military. He also sent his brother William to France to set up shop as a contractor to the French military. They must have known war was coming between the two countries because, well, war was always coming between those two countries. And sure enough, within a few years, Britain and France went to war with each other over the question of American independence, and Wilkinson brothers got filthy rich.

Once again, we see examples of how war capitalism made the first industrial revolution possible. As Priya Satia puts it in her recent book, Empire of Guns, “Growing state demand had turned greater Birmingham into a government factory by the end of the [18th] century. The entire Midlands metallurgical world became invested in mass production for war.”

War also led Iron Mad to experiment with other uses for iron. And when we think of how much iron and steel has come to dominate the world today, well, old Iron-Mad is a good reason why.

In 1787, Wilkinson launched perhaps the first ever boat made entirely of iron, down the River Severn – the same river where Darby had set up his operations decades earlier. It was a huge vessel – 70 feet long, nearly 7 feet wide, and weighing 8 tons. He called it the Trial and mounted on it several of his iron cannons. A huge crowd came out to watch, thinking, “Um, how crazy is this guy? That boat is made of metal. It’s gonna sink.”

The next day, Wilkinson wrote to a buddy of his that the iron boat “answers all my expectations, and has convinced the unbelievers, who were 999 in one thousand.” The Trial was a success.

But Wilkinson also had non-military applications for his iron in mind. In 1777, the French government approved a plan to install miles of iron pipes around Paris to pump water from the Seine. Wilkinson supplied the pipes, and two years later the pipes were loaded onto a ship for France when the plan got a bit derailed. Due to the war, the British government embargoed all France-bound ships, and so the pipes stayed at port for several more years.

But eventually they made it to France and were installed. Iron Mad attended the ceremonies marking the completion of the project, but he probably never got paid, because then the French Revolution came along and put an end to the water company. Nevertheless, Wilkinson had played a major role in a development we now take for granted, but has totally transformed the world – from our capacity to work outside the home to our views on cleanliness and even women’s rights – running water.

Wilkinson loved iron so much that he came up with a whole iron-based plan for when he died. He would be buried in a coffin made out of iron, and he even made several such coffins. He would frequently read to his friends this long epithet he wrote for himself, which included his contributions to iron, and he planned it to be cast on an enormous iron obelisk that would stand at his grave site.

Now, the idea of an iron coffin wasn’t totally crazy, as it would help prevent grave robbers from getting in – a common problem in the 1700s. Then again, when he had guests over, he liked to hide in the iron coffins so he could pop out of them screaming, and apparently it freaked out some guests so much they passed out. So, yeah, he was nuts.

But when he died, the iron coffin was a bit of a problem. First of all, it was so heavy that the pallbearers were like, “no we’re not doing this” and they carried him in a normal wood casket instead. Then the horse and carriage transporting him to the burial site sunk into the sandy ground as a tide came in. The driver had to abandon it until the tide washed out. When they finally fished him out and got him to his burial site, they were supposed to put the wood coffin holding Wilkinson into another coffin made of iron. But apparently it didn’t fit. And the grave was too shallow. The whole thing was kind of a mess.

Plus, the ironmongers in charge of the obelisk were like, this epithet is way too long, and edited it down to something more reasonable. And not long after he died, Wilkinson’s whole iron empire collapsed.

But few others showed the world how useful metallurgy could be than John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson. And the thing he did that really stood out was work with Abraham Darby’s grandson – Abraham Darby III – to build the world’s first large iron bridge.

Still known today as simply “The Iron Bridge”, it crosses over the River Severn right by Coalbrookdale. If you didn’t know it was the first, you might see it and not think anything much of it. It looks like a pretty ordinary iron bridge. But for the people of the region in 18th Century England, it was like looking at something out of science fiction – you know, if science fiction had existed back then.

It spans over a hundred feet, weighs over 300 tons, and is made up of about 7,000 individual parts. Today it’s a world heritage site.

The first industrial revolution probably wouldn’t have been possible without this iron. Partially, this was because iron was needed for the new ploughs and machines of the Agricultural Revolution, which fed the growing workforce. But also, because it supplied the giant cotton mills in northern England. Not only was iron needed for machines like spinning mules, but also the construction of the mills themselves.

You see, many of the early mills were constructed like any other buildings, made mostly from wood, just on a larger scale. But carding and spinning cotton is a dangerous thing. Cotton debris is pretty much constantly flying around in the mill. This was dangerous for all sorts of reasons. It got into the workers’ lungs, making them sick. It got under the spinning mules, so children would have to go under them to sweep up while they were running, and often the kids would get mangled in the process.

But most significantly, it was an extreme fire hazard. Cotton fibers and oil are very flammable. The early mills were basically timber boxes and many went up in flames.

In 1803, a mill in the town of Belper burned the ground. It had been built 17 years earlier by Jedidiah Strutt, who you may remember was one of the key investors in Richard Arkwright’s mill at Cromford, just up the river. Jedidiah’s son, William, had to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Using brick arches and iron beams, he not only made the mill larger, but more fire-resistant as well.

The idea spread, especially in Lancashire and Yorkshire. At first, it was only the most capital-rich investors who could afford to build the fire-resistant plants. But before long, it became clear that you couldn’t really afford not to build them first-resistant.

Now, the increase of iron production meant there was an increase in the construction of blast furnaces around Britain. And these things were huge. When we think of the dark, menacing sight of early industrial smoke stacks smack-dab in the middle of a green, vibrant little village, we’re thinking of these blast furnaces. I’ll post some images on Instagram this week.

Eye soars or not, the blast furnaces continued to go up. But there was still a problem. With increasing iron production, more fuel was needed for the blast furnaces, and fuel was something that Britain was rapidly running out of. But fortunately for guys like Darby and old “Iron-Mad”, there were solutions coming that would transform the industry – solutions that made Britain better at producing its best, black, dirty commodity: Coal.

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Every Christmas, my mom makes a clam dip that is immediately pounced on by my dad, my brother, my wife, and me. Each of us knows that if we don’t jump in and eat the clam dip right away, one of the others will get it.

This is my real-world experience with an economic phenomenon called the Tragedy of the Commons.

As I mentioned earlier, before enclosure consolidated the land, there would be many areas of the Medieval estate that were open to everybody’s use. These areas were called the commons. There would be a common pasture, perhaps a common lake, and common woodlands. Without anyone regulating the use of a common – either a government or a property owner – the resources of a common will be quickly gobbled up.

And thus, the woodlands needed for household firewood and for iron production, were depleting.

There was an alternative to burning wood – you could burn coal instead. But coal mining is a very dangerous job even today, and back then, there were serious problems with digging too far in the earth for it. The deeper you go, the darker it became, but also, it became gassier. There was no electric lighting yet, and if you brought an open flame in with you, it would explode. Plus, there were problems with black lung and flooding.

Medieval miners blamed these conditions on ferries and goblins they figured lived in the coal mines. So, convincing them to power through and keep mining was already problematic. But even if you could convince them, there were still dangers of mines collapsing.

By the mid-1500s, the scarcity of wood was beginning to alarm the English, as well as the Scots. It became a frequent topic of discussion in Parliament. Exporting coal was banned in 1563, and several acts were passed to preserve timber resources.

But starting in the 1600s, a number of developments were made to improve coal mining.

Among the most important were improved methods of ventilation. Miners started building two shafts into the mine, instead of just one. Then they would burn a fire outside of one shaft. The effect it had was to draw in the air from one shaft, through the mine (creating circulation), and pulling the gasses out of the mine toward the fire.

Another was the invention of safety lamps.

In 1812, a gas explosion at the Gateshead mine near Newcastle killed 92 men and boys during a shift change. Most of the 30 miners who survived were badly burned. A local clergyman decided he wasn’t going to let the mine owner suppress the news of this disaster, as mine owners typically did, and widely published an account of the story.

The news spread, and several scientific minds decided to try to address the problem. The most prominent was Sir Humphrey Davy. I’m going to tell you more about Davy in a future episode, because he is sort of a major figure in many scientific breakthroughs of the first Industrial Revolution. But for now, let me tell you about his safety lamp.

Taking ideas from several similar lamps, the Davy lamp included a wick flame enclosed in a mesh screen. This way, air can flow through the screen to keep the lamp lit, but the holes in the mesh were too small for the flame to escape. Miners would be able to see what they were doing down in the coal mines, without blowing the place up. Many of them actually wrote to Davy to praise him for his invention.

But even if you could mine deeper for coal, getting it out of the mine and to the cities or the iron producers was a challenge. In fact, many of the successful iron producers were the ones who built their blast furnaces in close proximity to both ore mines and coal mines.

Some of the most successful coal mines were the ones near Newcastle, in the far northeast of England, because of the proximity to the coast. Once the coal was brought down to the North Sea, it could be shipped south, up the River Thames, into London.

But for the vast coal resources in inner England, particularly those from Birmingham up to Manchester and Leeds, there would need to be a better way.

Starting in the 1660s, some coal mine operators started putting strips of wood down that could guide coal-filled carts out of the mines. From there, a horse could draw the cart further. Eventually, they started using iron for the strips as well. And in 1726, the first bridge for these strips was built at a place called Causey Arch.

These strips were rail tracks, and they would serve as both the literal and figurative foundation of the coal-powered locomotive in the coming decades.

Together, these developments led to a huge increase in coal production. British coal output in 1700 was about 3 million tons. By 1750, at least 5 million tons. By 1800, at least 10 million tons. By 1830, at least 24 million tons. By 1870, over 100 million tons. British coal production finally peaked around 1910, with nearly 300 million tons of coal mined.

Coal made the first industrial revolution possible, powering much of our production and homes even today, but it has had obvious drawbacks too. Today, climate change is the most glaring, but other environmental problems were seen as early as the 19th Century.

Today, when we think of Victorian London, we’re prone to think of characters like Jack the Ripper or Sherlock Holmes walking through the fog at night. This is such a classic visual, we don’t even stop to think about it.

There’s just one problem. The geography and climate of the London area almost never produces fog.

The fog described in those stories? It’s coal smoke. It had permeated life so much that people came to figure it was just fog. Nope. And as you can imagine, it had serious health effects. The worst of it came in 1952, where a perfect storm of coal smog killed 12,000 residents of the city and hospitalized 150,000 more.

And while coal mining became less dangerous, it never became safe. Even today it’s a dangerous job that will still kill you – occasionally because the mine will collapse, but much more often, because the coal dust will inevitably enter your lungs. Disasters that kill many are always a possibility.

Still, all the new coal did allow the iron industry to grow into something, well, industrial. But more significantly, the efforts to solve the problems associated with coal mining led to all kinds of new technologies with applications that went far beyond coal mining. As I mentioned, the need to lay tracks would in time lead to the locomotive. But also, some of the illuminations inventions of Sir Humphrey Davy were later applied to the development of photography. I’ll get to that in a later episode.

However, the most important development had to do with the need to dig deeper.

The more coal you dug out, the further in you’d have to go in. And as you went in deeper, a common problem would inevitably slow you down. Flooding. Especially near the coast, where you needed to be for an ideal transport position, flooding was a major barrier to coal mining. Over the centuries, pumps were used to get the water out of the mines. But the more coal you dug out, the further in you’d have to go, and the worse the problem got.

Several attempts were made to improve the process and they eventually accumulated in perhaps the most significant invention in human history: The Steam Engine. Next week, on the Industrial Revolutions.

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As always, I did my best to explain these technologies to you, but if you’re struggling to visualize them you’re in luck. I will post examples throughout the week on the Industrial Revolutions Pod social media. It’s @IndRevPod on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. That’s @ I-N-D – R-E-V – P-O-D.

And this Tuesday I’ve got a big announcement, so be sure to come back for that too. Thank you.

Dave Broker