Publication Date


Document Type

Working Paper


Professor John Hall

Journal of Economic Literature Classification Codes

N53, Q32, Q35

Key Words

Coal, Industrialization, Nonrenewable Resources, Resource Depletion, William Stanley Jevons


Nineteenth century Britain emerged as the center for the industrial world; with coal serving as the energy carrier which would prove itself as a key resource for powering Britain’s industry and for generating her prosperity. At the same time, coal served as a sector in which innovations were also being devised and introduced. This inquiry seeks to establish that one W. Stanley Jevons, an academic lecturing at the University of Manchester, expressed concerns regarding what he and some others phrased as Britain’s “coal question,” and took to addressing issues associated with its depletion. In so doing, Jevons’ writings would offer novel approaches regarding our understanding of an important national resource, like coal. The first part of this inquiry explores what is known as the “Great Exhibition,” along with what the mining of coal meant for the industrialization of Britain. The second part reconsiders some of the concerns British society would raise regarding the potential depletion of coal as a key resource. The third part explains how ideas advanced in Jevons’ book, The Coal Question (1866), would help to shape thinking (including public opinion), regarding the severity of coal depletion, and in novel ways that in his day had not previously been considered.


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