Iron And Steel Manufacture
One factor contributing to the development of industry in Great Britain was that nation's large supply of coal and iron ore. For many centuries, the British had converted their iron ores to iron and steel by heating the raw material with charcoal, made from trees. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, the nation's timber supply had largely been decimated. Iron and steel manufacturers were forced to look elsewhere for a fuel to use in treating iron ores.
The fuel they found was coal. When coal is heated in the absence of air it turns into coke. Coke proved to be a far superior material for the conversion of iron ore to iron and then to steel. It was eventually cheaper to produce than charcoal and it could be packed more tightly into a blast furnace, allowing the heating of a larger volume of iron.
The conversion of the iron and steel business from charcoal to coke was accompanied, however, by a number of new technical problems which, in turn, encouraged the development of even more new inventions. For example, the use of coke in the smelting of iron ores required a more intense flow of air through the furnace. Fortunately, the steam engine that had been invented by James Watt in 1763 provided the means for solving this problem. The Watt steam engine was also employed in the mining of coal, where it was used to remove water that collected within most mines.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the new approach to iron and steel production had produced dramatic effects on population and industrial patterns in Great Britain. Plants were moved or newly built in areas close to coal resources such as Southern Wales, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire.
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