Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the United States, which has more coal reserves than any other country in the world. It has been used for thousands of years for heating, cooking, and making clay pots.
At the end of the 18th century, coal usage increased dramatically in order to fuel steam engines that ushered in the Industrial Revolution. Steam engines powered the machines that were used in manufacturing. Steam-powered ships and railways enabled the establishment of lucrative trade routes across the globe and deep into the enormous continental land masses. The role played by coal as a major factor in the development of modern industrial society cannot be overestimated.
In North America, commercial mining operations began in Virginia in the 1740s. During the Civil War, coal was an important resource for the munitions industry. By 1875, coal replaced charcoal as the primary fuel used in making steel.
At about the same time, coal began to be used to generate electricity for homes and factories. Coal continues to be used as an important source of energy for homes and factories across the United States providing almost 50 percent of electricity generating needs.