According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal has been used as a source of heat as far back as early humans walked the earth. It wasn't until the 1700s that the English discovered that coal could be used as a cleaner energy source compared to the wood charcoal that they were currently using. The Industrial Revolution in the 1700s brought coal to the forefront of energy supply with the endless amount of inventions that required coal to run.
See American coal miners below:
Coal mining in America
Coal mining in America
circa 1935: Two miners at work in an anthracite mine near Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Blaine Sergent, coal leader, putting up his check at end of day's work. Lejunior, Harlan Co., Ky. Sept. 13, 1946. | Location: Lejunior, Kentucky, USA. (Photo by ï¿½ CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Row of Coal miners shanties on Elk River at Bream, W. Va. Location: Bream, West Virginia (Photo by Lewis W. Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
A coal miner stands on his front porch with his wife and their two children, in Bertha Hill, West Virginia, September, 1938. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
(Original Caption) One of the earliest battlegrounds in the current strike of Miners of the steel companies 'captive' coal mines is pictured here. The scene is the captive mine of the united States Coal and Coke Company in Gary, West Virginia. Various weapons were brought into play, as members of an Independent Miner's Union engaged in a free for all with striking United Mine worker's pickets who sought to bar their entry. Two men were shot here. A skirmish is shown in progress on the battleground, as the men in the center of the photograph are being wetted down by a stream of water from a fire hose directed from inside the building.
Group portrait of boys working in #9 Breaker Pennsylvania Coal Company, Hughestown Borough, Pittston, PA, 1908. (Photo by Lewis W. Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Photograph of Breaker Boys and Woodward Coal Breakers, Kingston, Pennsylvania. Dated 1906. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 31: Photograph by Herbert William Hughes (d 1937). Hughes was elected a member of the Royal Photographic Society in 1893, and became a fellow two years later. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Coal Miners Using Automatic Conveyor (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Coal mining: Young boys working in Pennsylvania coal mine before the introduction of the child labor laws. Photograph ca. 1895 shows them standing with horses at mine entrances.
Red Jacket, West Virginia. Miner and wife with 5 children outside of tent.
Three Coal Breaker Boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pennsylvania, USA, circa 1890. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Mine 'Tipple Boy', West Virginia coal mine. Photograph by Lewis Hine, 1908. BPA 2 #3116.
Portrait of 15-year Old Boy Working as Trapper at Coal Mine, His only Job is to Open and Close the Door, West Virginia, USA, circa 1908. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Striking coal miners return to work at the Haveco Mine in West Virginia. (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 12/29/1951-West Frankfurt, IL- Weary and covered with coal dust after spending eight hours in the New Orient mine at West Frankfort, IL, John L. Lewis, United Mine Workers' head, pauses to answer reporters' questions. Lewis and other investigators are seeking the cause of the blast which recently took the lives of 119 miners.
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Coal was originally used in America in the 1300s by the Hopi Indians as a way to cook their food, warm themselves and fire their clay. Coal did not resurface in the United States until 1673. Commercial coal production wouldn't start until the 1740s in Virginia.
In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution spread to America, where coal became the main source of energy just as it had years earlier in England.
While coal helped to power forms of transportation, such as steamboats and steam-powered trains, it also came with negative consequences. By inhaling soot and toxic gasses in the mines, workers were at risk for developing horrific conditions such as tuberculosis, black lung and cancer. Not only were they risking their health, but just being inside the mine was incredibly dangerous. Accidents involving the improper use of equipment and collapsing mines were frequent occurrences.
Coal-mining was also one of the many dangerous jobs that employed child workers. Children were perfect for squeezing into tight spaces in mines that adults could never reach. During the Industrial Revolution, child labor was at an all time high, but would later become restricted in the 19th century.