Although civilizations all over the world had been using coal as a heating source for a thousand years, coal production truly developed during the Industrial Revolution of Western Europe in the 18th century. Coal provided the steam and power needed to mass-produce items, generate electricity, and fuel steamships and trains that were necessary to transport items for trade. The steam-powered locomotive, such as this one near Lanzhou, China, became the symbol of the Industrial Revolution itself.

Photograph by Bruce Dale

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coal Encyclopedic Entry

Best For
8 - 12 and up

Earth science, Geography, Experiential Learning

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Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel that is combusted and used to generate electricity. Mining techniques and combustion are both dangerous to miners and hazardous to the environment; however, coal accounts for about half of the electricity generation in the United States.