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Technology History - Energy

Historical pictures show foot travel was the most common means of transportation through most of history. Next,animal power became widely used. Travel on horseback predominates in historical images, but other animals were ridden or used as pack animals, including donkeys, camels, oxen, dogs, reindeer, and elephants Horses and other draft animals have pulled plows, chariots, carts, carriages, coaches and stagecoaches, sleighs and skidders, wagons, and the Native American travois. Vintage images show dogsleds provided transportation in snowy northern locations.

Wood fires kept early people warm, and over the same fires, people cooked their food. As seen in historical images, family members gathered in the firelight to tell stories, to do chores, and for protection. In later times, candles lit people's homes. Besides the use of fire for heat and light, manual labor was the best available source of power. In ancient cities workers dragged stones to build ziggurats and pyramids. Early household goods were hand made or fashioned with the aid of hand-tools like grinding stones or hammers. Trees were cut with axes or hand-saws, and historical pictures show women cleaning laundry on washboards and hanging clothes out to dry.

Another early source of energy was wind power. As historical pictures show, sails propelled boats, although oars were used, too. Windmills pumped water or rotated millstones to grind flour. Water power was also harnessed, resulting in the growth of many towns and mills located on rivers. Logs were floated down rivers to sawmills and seaports, as historical pictures show. Although solar energy has only recently been recognized as applicable to industrialized nations, since prehistoric times humans have honored a sun-god as the most powerful deity in many early religions, as seen in historical pictures, acknowledging the sun as the ultimate source of heat and light.

As seen in historical images, during the Industrial Revolution, many unreliable or labor-intensive sources of power were replaced by steam engines after the initial invention was improved by James Watt. Coal mining became important to fuel the fires for steam boilers powering factories, and coal or wood also fired steam trains and steamboats. An amazing array of steam-powered vehicles arose in the 19th century, replacing horse-drawn wagons and stagecoaches, oxcarts, and pack animals on roads and farms. Use of steam power then gave way to automobiles with gasoline engines early in the 20th century, as pictures of vintage cars show.

Vintage lighting pictures show that gas lamps became popular because they burned longer than candles or oil lamps. However, all these lamps were replaced by electric lights after Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb in the 1800s. Electricity quickly became the power source of choice for household and industrial use. Dozens of electrical appliances and gadgets were devised in the late 19th century, and pictures of these devices and of electric lights installed on city streets show how lifestyles were changed by the new energy source. In the late 1900s, as well, oil and gas wells emerged on the landscape, becoming especially important as a source of fuel for transportation.


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