United States and world energy systems are in a period of tremendous change, driven by technological advances, cultural and social pressures, and government policies to respond to the threat of climate change. Studying the history of energy illuminates this current moment, helping us to identify what questions to ask, to see what trends and patterns might repeat themselves, and to understand what is truly new and unprecedented.  

Through curated teaching units and a library of curated teaching materials, Energy History Online seeks to promote energy literacy among students, practitioners, and the interested public.  Only by understanding the complex historical forces that created our current predicament can we hope to create a more just and sustainable energy system in the future. 

From the time Puritans settled in New England in the seventeenth century to the decades after the American Revolution, the region’s landscape was dotted by small mills that used water power for sawing wood, grinding grain, and carding wool to meet

This module covers the New England-based commercial whale fishery in the middle of the nineteenth century.

After human muscle power, domesticated animals provided the most accessible, economical and efficient source of power available to Americans in the nineteenth century.

Coal can easily appear mundane to modern eyes—an inferior product from a bygone era.

In 1859, the completion of the first successful petroleum well in northwestern Pennsylvania set off a wild speculative oil boom. Independent oil producers dominated this early oil extraction.

The rapidly increasing use of coal in the late nineteenth century required hundreds of thousands of workers to dig that coal out of the ground, sort and load it into railroad cars, and ship it to the urban and industrial centers that consumed it.