** World War I: national economies economics non renewable materials fuel

World War I Non-renewable Materials: Fuels--Coal

World War I coal
Figure 1.--Coal was vital to industry, but also affected various aspects of the civilan economy as it was used fir home heating and cooking. In additiin coal was vital in rail transport. Coal shortages in Germany were a factor in the country's World War I food crisis, affecting deliveries to the cities. Here a horse which fell dead on a Berlin street in 2918 city was descened on by hungary civiliians.

World War I was the first major industrial war. Industry was importabt in earlier wars, but never at the center of the conflict. And coal was the driver of industry at the time of World War I. It provided the power needed for the industries producing the steel needed for industry. There were three primary coal producers around the World in the early-20th century: America (351 million short tons), Britain (236 million st), and Germany (154 million st including lignite). [Bauerman, p. 579.] It is no accident that these three countries were also the world's three major industrial nations. Germany was clearly a junior partner despite the fact that its industrial out out exceeded that of Britain. But even these numbers do not paint the full picture. What was especially important industry was antrhacite or hard coal. All of this meant that Germany was not in a good position for a long war of aattrition. The Kaiser and his genrerals, however, possessed the most powerful army in the world and one that could be mobilized faster than any other country. They decided that they could win the war before the firces of its adversaries could be fully mobilized and deplued. And they were not even sure Britain would enter the War. They were so sure of victory that they did not consider the possibility of an extended war of sttriton in which statistics like coal production would affect the victory. It should not be thought that coal was only important for heavy industry. Coal affected the everyday life of Americans and Germans in countless ways. This included home heating and powering the railroads which was the main artery of commerce. This included foos which became a major problem eating at German morale.

Industrial Revolution

Coal dominated the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain with warter wheels driving machiery producing textiles (mid-18th century). After the turn-of-the 19th century coal fired steam engings were developed that dominated the century. Steam engines. All the major industrail powers were countries that had an abundanbt coal resource. Coal-fired steam engines powered first rail roads and then ocean-going shipping. And they powered factorices as industry increasingly focused on iron and steel. This was the case at the turn of-the 20th century even as oil was begining to become imprtant. It was coal that still dominted industry. There were three main grades of coal: antracite (hard), bituminous (black), and lignite (brown/soft). The variatin was in carbon (energy) amf imputity conent. Antracite was especially imortant for induistry. Lignite could be used for home heating and firing steram producing boilers.

International Situation

There were three primary coal producers around the World in the early-20th century: America (351 million short tons), Britain (236 million st), and Germany (154 million st including lignite). [Bauerman, p. 579.] It is no accident that these three countries were also the world's three major industrial nations. Germany was clearly a junior partner despite the fact that its industrial out out exceeded that of Britain. But even these numbers do not paint the full picture. What was needed for industry was antrhacite or hard coal.


And coal was the driver of industry at the time of World War I. It provided the power needed for the industries producing the steel needed for industry, especially the heavy industry needed to build modern arms. The most obvious was artillery and thar armor needed for naval vessels. But virtuall all arms required some steel, in addition to the new tanks tanks the Allies developed. It should not be thought, however, that coal was only important for heavy industry. Coal affected the everyday life of Americans and Germans in countless ways. This included home heating and powering the railroads which was the main artery of commerce. This included foos which became a major problem eating at German morale.

Types of Coal

There are three different types of coal. They represent different stages in the slow, natural process of coalification in which buried plant matter changes into an increasingly dense, drier, more carbon-rich, harder material. The proicess begins with peat. Then coal develops. present Brown coal (lignite) is the cheapest coal, with the lowest energy vlue. It was use to drive locomotives and for home heating. Bituminous (black) coal is also highly pized. It also has a high energy value, although less than antracite. It is cokable and used by the steel industry. Antracite is the type most prized by industry because it is so energy packed. It is hard and brittle and eaily identfied by its lustrous surfce. It has fewer impurities and less volatile matter. Here Britin had an advntage. The Welsh coalfield produced some of the finest antracite in existience. This gave Royal Nvy ships an advnyage over comparable German ships.


All the major World sar I belligerents created agencies moved to control raw material supplies wgich were vital to the war effort. The structure, aithority, and priorities of these new gencies followed two patterns. Some oprtrated under the asuthority of the Minister of War (Germany and Russia). Others operated under various civilian ministries (France and the United States). Civilian demand in all countries was curtailed to various degrees. American civilians were the lkeast affected because of the short duration of American involvement and the huge, highly prioductive Anerican ecionomy. The Central Powers and to some extent Russia allocated vurtully all possible resources to theor armament industries and the military, failing to asddress the vital needs of civilians. This policy was a cartertrophic mistake. It led to a collaose of civilian morale and support for the war effort. The Allies, demoratic systems and control of the sea lanes managed to adewquately supply civilians with food and oyher necesities and mintaine hine front morale. Coal was so important that countries (America, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia) created an agency specuficlly tasked to regulate the coal market or in America's case fuel in generral. This reflected the fact thzt coal was necessary not only for industrial, production but for transports and domestic purposes.


American industrialization began when when anthracite coal began to be used to make coal (1840s). Abtracite Production levels steadily increased as prives fell. Antracite passed the million short ton (st) mark (1840) and then quadrupled inb the decade (1850). along with coal production there was synergistic growth of railroads, metal mining and steel production. Pennsylvania was the center of American coal productiin, especially western Pennsylvania arounf Pittsbhurg. Antracite greatly increased the efficiency of iron furnaces and improved the quality of the iron. By mid-century the demand for cheaper lignite which could be used railway locomotives and stationary steam engines (1850). Eventually a process for using ligite to make the coke needed for steel was developed. By the advent of the Civil War, anthracite was producing over 55 percent of American pig iron (1861). The Civil War was a turning point in American history and industrialization. The United States came out of the war as force to be reconned with as an industrial powerhouse. The War increased prices by nearly 50 percent as a result of military demands, mostly in the North. Many new coal mines were opened, mamy were bituminous mines in Maryland, Ohio, and Illinois. Railroads were extended to reach these new mines which became and became an integral part of the American coal indusry. Railroads because they used so much coal began purchasing mines and leasing them to mining companies. The railroads after the Civil War opened West Virginia coalfields and connecting them with the industrial cities. The Tran-Continental Railway completed aftr the Civil War opened up coalfields in the West. The need for coal drove technological advances in America. Unil, this point, American indutrialization depended largely on European technology. Coal mining went deeper underground. This required pumps and new machinery to reach the coal seanms. Processes were developed to separate bituminous coal of its impurities by producing coke-- a fuel with few impurities and a high carbon content, which was crital in the production of iron and steel. American production reached 80 million tons (1880) and began to exceed production in Europe. Prices for coal, however, declined from Civil War levels. There were booms and busts. The European immogrants that poured into America after the Civil War became the core of the labor force. They also became an imoprtant factor in the American labor movement. A factor here was mechanization and an increasingly capital-intensice mning industry. Irish mining engineer Richard Sutcliffe invented the first conveyor belt used in the British coal Yorkshire mines (early 1900s). This inovatiion was egerly adopted in America, more rapidly than in Europe--in part because of the higer wage rates prevalent in America. Mechanization meaning fewer miners needed, were part of the problem which lead to violence in the coalfields. American coal production soared leaving Europen countries in the dust, including Britain and Germany. Until 1890, American production it doubled every ten years, increasing from over 8 million st (1850) to 40 million (1870), and 270 million (1900). it peaked at 680 million st (1918). New ligite mines were opened. An industry that had be largely located in western Pennsylvania spread to become a national inditry, including Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentuicky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Coal became America's the largest source of energy (1880s). It overtook wood, and remained the largest source until the early-50s when petroleum supassed coal. Coal provided more than half of America's energy (1880s-1940s). Coal from 1906 to 1920 provided more than three-quarters of America's energy. [U.S. Department of Commerce, p.355.] This was the situation at the time of the War. America had an indistrial prowess greater than any European country, more than diuble that of Germany. Which ever way America would decide victory or defeat. And by 1917, the German economy was faltering while the Americvan economy by measures like coal and stell production was steadilt expanding. Britain understood this. Germany did not. The United States began exporting coal (late-19th century). At first small quantities to Cabnada and Latin America. European demand began at the turn-of-the 20th century and increased steadily through World War I, exports totaled 24 million metric tons (1917). Shioments would hve been much higher, but the Royal Navy prevented shipments to Germany and the other Central Powers. Shipments increased, but not hugely from $55 million t (1915) to $77 million (1918). [U.S. Federal Reserv, p. 956.] We do not have details on the contries involved. n issuye with exoorts was the shirtage of coal-carrying vessels.


Britiain was the first country to develop an important coal industry. This all began in the early 19th century as mechanization moved from textiles to heavy industry. Coal production increased dramatically to power the evolving heavy industry and new steamn-powered transport. The Newcomen engine, and later, the Watt steam engine required iron and steel and the coal needed to produce iron and steel. Huge quantities of iron and steel were needed for rail lines. Fire wood was used at first. But it was soon learned that more than fire wood was needed. By the turn of the 19th century, the firewood needed to produce an equivalent in energy terms to domestic consumption of coal would have required 25 million acres of land per year--an area of land equivalent to all the English farmland at the time (26 million acres). [Clark and Jacks] One of the first mines were open pit mines in Countu Durham--the origin of the term coals to New Castle. But as demand increased miners had to go underground. An important development was the invention of coke at Coalbrookdale (early-18th century). This mean that pig iron could be made in a blast furnace. Another important step was the development of the steam locomotive by Trevithick (early-19th century). Coal demand grew rapidly as the railway network expanded steadily through the Victorian era. This ceeated whole new industries. In addition to indistry, coal was being widely used for home heating. It was inexpensive and widely available. In additioin, the manufacture of coke created coal gas, which could be used for both heating and lighting. A major issue became trhe use of children in the mines. British coal production peaked at 287 million tons. (1913). [BGS] This meant thatbat the time of World War I it was the largest producer in Europe. And through World War II, coal was the main source of energy produced in Britain. Up to 95 percent of this came from more than 1,300 deep-mines. None other than Lloyd George (at the time British Minister of Munitions) in 1915. "Coal is the most important element in the industrial life of this country. The blood which courses through the veins of industry in the country is made of distilled coal. In peace and in war King Coal is paramount Lord of Industry. It enters into every article of consumption and utility; it is our real international coinage. When we buy goods, food, and raw material abroad, we pay not in gold but in coal.' [Redmayne] Britain had the coal needed to fight the War. The British coal industry would prove to be a major asset during the War and unlike Geramny, there would be no crippling shortages. Producitity in the pits did taper off un the final years Coal productioin did taper off in the final years of the War. This appars to be primarily the result of the participation of miners in the War. These were the fittest and youngest miners--the highest productivity workers. [Martin, p. 132] It was clear by the 1860s that there were advantages to a liquid fuel like oil. Major issues existed, however, such as oil fuewl rechnolofy and supply. These had been laregelt sloved by the turn-of-the 20th century. John Fisher, as the First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, proclaimed "Wake up England!" (1904). He wanted to draw attention to the need for converting the coal-fired Royal Navy to oil. Winston Churchill who was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty became an ethusiastic promoter of thus change (1911). By the time of World War I, this process had only begun. The Royal Navy, escpecially the 30 or so dreadnought and super-dreadnought which were still fueled primrily by coal. Some had dual systems. The Welsh coal mines were the primary source and had the highest grade coal. Trains and ships transported the coal north to Scapa Flow on the Orkney Islands where the Grand Fleet was based. It was eventully moved to Rosyth in the Firth of Forth (Scotland). This reduced the coal that had to be burned to get it to the fleet.


And Germany had to import much of its antracite coal--and most importantly imprt it from of all places--Britain which produced large quantities of antracite coal. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest energy density of all types of coal. Given these facts one might think it was suiciude for Germany to go to war against Britain in 1914. But the Kaiser and his generals possssessed the most powerful army in the world and saw the small British Army as 'a pathetic little army'. This was the calculatioin they made. During the War, Britain had a had a surplus of coal. It lost customers in Scandanavia becise German dominated the Baltic Sea. Coal was the one resource Germany had, but not in the quantity and the quality needed. As a result several problems developed for the Germans which became increasingly ser, many of the same issues that would be repeated two decades later. First, Germany before the War was not self suffucent in coal production. It had to import coal. And these imports were cut off by the Allies. this meant that shortages developed. Second, as a result of the war, demand for coal increased, creating additional shortages. Third, large numbers of miners volunteered for military service. This reduced the work force lowered coal prodycriin, again adding to shortages. The Government put POWs to work in the mines, but they never replaced the numbers and skills of the miners or the health needed for hard work. The conditions that the POWs used for mining were deplorable, leading to charges of war crimes. Fourth, there were transportation issues. Fifth, the need to supply other countries, many of which had been cut off from British coal. This same dynamic occurred again in World War II. By the last year of the war Gerrmany was not fulfilling coal contracts with several countries (Sweden, Austria-Hungary, and Denmark. These contract were not gratuitous acts. But without these shipments, desperately needed supplies from other countries would have ceased. [Bell, p. 351.] This is a good indicator of the impending collapse of the German war economy. Sixth, the German coal mines during the War, had been functioning at a high level and using their equipment without the normal ability to replace wornout outequipment. A British assessment reads, "During the War the [German] mines. while suffering from lack of material as well as labor, had to produce the highest possible output. Any thought for the future has to be set aside; the machinery was all worn to the outmost limit." [Luebsen] The Gernmans attempted a range of conservation effort but they had only a minimal impact on the increasingly serious coal shortages. A British imtelligence report descrubed the siutution in November 1917: "With the advent of winter the coal shortage has assumed a still more serious aspect. Factories in all parts of Germany are greatly hampered by the lack of coal, and many works have been forced to restrict their output[...]. There are daily queues of men and women [...] in front of the coal-dealers’ shops in Berlin, but so small are the stocks in hand that they frequently have to go away without any coal after hours of waiting. Dusseldorf, though on the Rhine and within easy reach of the coal-fields, appears to have been particularly badly off for coal and throughout South Germany, and especially in Bavaria, complaints are heard of inadequate coal supplies and of unfair treatment at the hands of the Imperial Coal Commissary...." [Muller]

Austria Hungary

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was the fourth leading world coal producer, but only a small fraction of the three leading producers. Much of the brown Austro-Hungarian production was ligite (brown) coal and not cokable. And for the most part the coal and iron ore deposits were not located together. [Gross, p. 898.] This is one reason that the Empire's industrial developomenbt was primrily cntered in Bohemia. Coal production before the war was nearly 60 million tons. Information is incomplete, but production plummeted to only 28 million tons (1916). We believe that the major reason for the decline was the military conscription of miners. This not only affected the military effort, had a debilitaing impact on the economyand was a factgior in the collapse of the Empire at the end of the War. The impact on food production and destribution was particularly debilitating.


French coal priction was a small fraction of German producrion, only 41 million tons before the War (1913). France of all the coal priducting countries was the harfest hit by the War. Nine Departments (provinces ) producing nearly 70 percenbt oif French coal producrion was occupied by the Germans at the outbreak of the War. French coal production plummeted to only 19 million t as a result of German occupation of coalfields in northern France. France reported a low of 19 million t ((1915, but recovered somewhat to 28 million tons (1917) as new coalfields were developed and exesting mines exploited more exensively. Railway congestion was a serious problem because so much was needed to supply the military forces in the Western Froint in northern France. Inland waterways were given greater attention. France before the War was not self suffucent in coal, having to import bout 20 million t a year. Mot of this coal was imprted from Britain, boyr 10 million t with smaller quabtities from Bekgium and Germany. Coal was availavle in America, but shioments were limited because of the inadequate capacity od coal-carrying vessels France increased coal imports from Britain, reaching a high of 21 million tons (1916). Coal prices increased substaniall, placing a further burden on French civilians. [Notz]


Tsarist Russia was another producer, one of several minor producers, ramking jist below France, producing over 35 million t nefore the War (1913). Data os incomplete, but mine output declined to only 13 million tons (1916). This is in psrt due to the concripotion of minrs, but the larger reason is German military advances into Tsaist territory, espcially Poland. Russia like France lost some of its most important coal-producing areas. The loss of the Dombrava coal field in Poland was especilly important. That amount to some 7 million t of annual production. Production in th Donez basin declined by half. The closing of the Baltic and Black Seas shut off British imports. [Notz] Civilians might be able to replace coal to some extent with wood, and peat, but this was nore difficult for industry.



Italy was aligned with the Central Powers before World War I. Thet decided nit to go to war in 1914, and than in 1915 decided to join the Allies and declare war in Gernany abd Austria-Hungary. Italy before the War produced only minor quan=tities of coal. It imported most of its coalk from Germany. This placed the Italian erconomy in a difficult posdition. Britain replaced most of the German exports, roughly 10 million tons. The United States privided small anounts (1916-18). High war toime freight rates meant that the imprts from Britain and America were expensive, resulting in high prices to consumers. The Givernent cted to limit prices. Efforts were made to increase dimestic proiductuin with onlky limited success. [Notz]


British Geological Society (BGS). "Mineral Profile - Coal" (March 2010).

Bauerman, Hilary (1911). "Coal" in Hugh Chisholm (ed.) Encyclopædia Britannica Vol. 6, 11th ed. (Cambridge University Press: 1911). There were many other small coal producer, but none even approached the big three.

Bell, Archibald Colquhoun. A History of the Blockade of Germany and of the Countries Associated with Her in the Great War: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, 1914-1918 (London: H.M Stationary Office, 1937).

Friedensburg, Ferdinand. "Das Erdöl auf dem Gebiet des galizischen und rumánischen Kriegsschauplatzes, 1914-1918," Militárwissenschaftl iche Mitteilungen Vol. 70 (1939).

Clark, Gregory and David Jacks. "Coal and the Industrial Revolution, 1700-1869" European Review of Economic History (April 2006) Vol. 11, No. 1, pp.39–72.

Gross, Nachum T. "Economic growth and thecConsumption of coal in Austria and Hungary 1831-1913," The Journal of Economic History Vol. The Journal of Economic History Vol. 31, No. 4 (December 1971), pp. 898-916.

Luebsen, G. "The German Coal Situation," in Reconstruction in Europe (Manchester Guardian Commercial: 1922).

(R.A.S. Sir b) Redmayne. The British Coal-Mining Industry During the War (Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 1923).

Martin, J.F. The Government and the Control of the British Coal Industry, 1914-1918 (1981).

Muller, Max. Note to Lord Hardinge of Penshurst. "The Economic Situation in Germany in November 1917, Being the Fortieth Month of the War." British National Archives: CO 323/775, General 1918. 180-18.

Notz, William. "The world's coal situatioin during the war," Journal of Political Eonomy Vo. 26, No. 6 (June 1918), pp. 567-611).

U.S. Department of Commerce. Historical Statistics of the United States, 1957.

U.S. Federal Reserve. "Exports from the United States before and after the outbrrak of the war," Federal Reserve Bulletin (October 1, 1919). pp. 952-57.


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