Meanwhile, English beer brewers were encountering the very same problem -- toasting their malt with coal simply wouldn't do, because coal smelled (and tasted) horrible, and this was still a good few-hundred years before American breweries figured out how to trick the public into buying shitty beer via bouncing breasts and Clydesdales. In 1640, brewers discovered the solution: by taking cheap coal and baking the ever-loving shit out of it in an airtight oven, they produced a chemically pure fuel called coke. Though they didn't realize it, they had just discovered the perfect material to cast the iron wheels of human progress.
Why Didn't It Take Off?
The brewers didn't tell anybody. Why would they? They were only concerned with human advancement inasmuch as selling a beer advances money into their pockets. While this was admittedly shortsighted on their part -- the Industrial Revolution created tools and technology that made it possible to mass produce beer, after all -- they can hardly be blamed for not being prophetic enough to realize that their twice-baked coal was the very key to transforming them from humble tradesmen into wealthy titans of industry.
Don't put too much trust in people mixing beer and coke.
It would take 70 years and the nigh-complete decimation of England's forests for charcoal production before metallurgist Abraham Darby discovered the brewmasters' best-kept secret. Darby was the first to fire an iron blast furnace with coke in 1709, leading to the incidental discovery that coke allowed for larger blast furnaces, which, in turn, led to an explosion in iron production.
The World-Changing Consequence:
More iron changed everything. Darby's foundry helped create the first iron rails for railways and the first cast iron components for civil engineering. If metallurgists had been aware of coke in the 1640s, said knowledge could conceivably have kick-started the Industrial Revolution the better part of a century earlier. That means mass manufacturing, steam power, machine tools, and urbanization would have all arrived on the scene earlier as well. Imagine the Founding Fathers arriving at the Constitutional Convention on trains, Lewis and Clark writing about their expedition on typewriters, and Abraham Lincoln never attending that fateful play -- because he waited for the movie.
Instead, we focused on beer.
We may have made the right call this time, actually.
When Logan Strain isn't writing about the history of technology, he's writing about the future of ecotechnology at GreenFuture.io. Follow him on Twitter.
Deep inside us all behind our political leanings, our moral codes and our private biases, there is a cause so colossally stupid, we surprise ourselves with how much we care. Whether it's toilet paper position, fedoras on men or Oxford commas, we each harbor a preference so powerful we can't help but proselytize to the world. In this episode of the Cracked podcast, guest host Soren Bowie is joined by Cody Johnston, Michael Swaim and special guests to discuss the most trivial things we will argue about until the day we die. Get your tickets here!
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