Dr. Thomas G. Andrews is the Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado.
As of 1860, the United States was an industrial laggard. Great Britain, France, and Germany each produced more goods than their transatlantic counterpart. By 1900, however, U.S. industrial production exceeded “the combined manufacture of its three main rivals.” Why, and with what consequences?
Rise of Fossil Fuels
Most textbooks provide at least a few glimpses of the transformation of the U.S. into a fossil-fueled nation: a photo of child laborers outside a Pennsylvania coal mine, a statistic on rising coal production, perhaps a brief mention of the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 (in which Colorado National Guardsmen killed 18 men, women, and children during a miners’ strike in southern Colorado).
Aside from these disconnected tidbits, though, textbooks offer little insight into the profound historical significance of energy, nor do they provide a coherent interpretation of what the adoption of fossil fuels portended for the nation’s economy and environment. Continue Reading →