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This timeline highlights some important events in energy. It is broken up into energy sources, uses, and issues.

Fossil Fuels

4,300,000 B.C.E. Photosynthesis occurs in early plants
200 B.C.E. Chinese mine coal.
100 C.E. Plutarch writes about "eternal fires," probably a reference to natural gas
100 C.E. Romans use coal for heating
1300s Hopi Indians use coal for cooking, heating, firing pottery
1740 Commercial coal mining starts.
1880 Coal used to generate electricity
1821 First natural gas well drilled in Fredonia, New York
1859 First oil production well drilled in Pennsylvania
1891 First natural gas pipeline built. 120 miles long, from Indiana to Chicago


1500 B.C.E. Hotsprings used for bathing, cooking, and heating by Romans, Japanese, Chinese, and others
1841 Drilling for geothermal water at Larderello, Italy intensifies due to new methods

1998 Chicago adds hydrogen cell buses to mass transit


1898 Marie Curie, Polish discovers the radioactive elements radium and polonium
1938 Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, German, demonstrate nuclear fission
1942 Manhattan Project is formed to secretly build the atomic bomb before the Germans
1944 The first nuclear reactor begins operation in Richland, Washington
1945 The U.S. explodes the first atomic device near Alamagordo, New Mexico
1945 The U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders
1946 The Atomic Energy Act is passed, establishing the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC places further development of nuclear technology under civilian (not military) control
1951 The first electricity producing breeder reactor is built by the Atomic Energy Commission
1961 President Kennedy advises Americans to build fallout shelters in case of a nuclear war
1974 The Atomic Energy Commission is abolished. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is developed
1976 The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is passed to protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of nuclear waste disposal
1977 The Voyager 2 spacecraft's electricity is generated by the decay of plutonium pellets
1979 Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania suffers a partial core meltdown
1983 The U.S. looks into a high-level nuclear waste repository (storage)
1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor meltdown and fire occur in the Soviet Union. Massive quantities of radioactive material are released. Winds carry radioactivity across western Europe
2001 President Bush approves an energy policy that looks at nuclear energy as a significant part of America's energy


5 billion B.C.E. Our sun forms
3rd century B.C.E. Greeks and Romans use magnifying glasses to burn the sails of enemy ships
50 C.E. Romans perfect making glass windows
1300s Anasazi Indians build cliff dwellings with southern exposures, providing passive solar heating and cooling
early 17th century Solomon de Caux constructs a solar water pump
1695 Italian scientists Averoni and Targioni use a large glass and the sun's rays to melt a diamond
August Mouchat, French, designs a solar food cooker
1826 Swedish born American john Ericsson builds a hot-air engine powered by the sun
1890s Abel Pifre, French, designs a solar engine used to run a printing press for a paper called Le Journal Soleil (Sun Journal)
1954 D.M. Chaplin, C.S. Fuller, and G.L. Pearson invent solar voltaic cells
1983 Wisconsin passes a law on the "right to light" for gardens


644 C.E. First vertical axis windmill recorded in Iran
1100 C.E. Windmills introduced to Europe
1887 Charles Brush, American, builds first modern automatically operating wind turbine
1950s Johannes Juul developed the first alternating current (AC) windmill
1931 French engineer, George Darrieus, patents the wind turbine bearing his name

1875 Thomas Edison invents the telegraph machine
1891 Nikola Tesla invents the tesla coil
1904 The first geothermal powerplant is built in Laderello, Italy


1698 Steam pump invented by Thomas Savery
1712 Thomas Newcome's 2500 horsepower reciprocating steam engine ran every piece of equipment in Machinery Hall at the World's Fair
1760 Richard Arkwright invents the spinning frame (makes thread)
1785 Edmund Cartwright invents the water powered loom (makes fabric)
1789 Samuel Slater and Moses Brown create the first textile factory
Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin
1801 Eli Whitney mass produces guns


1765 James Watt invents the steam engine
1769 Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot invents the first motorized carriage
1787 John Fitch invents the steamboat
1803 Richard Trevithick invents the steam locomotive (train)
1814 George Stephenson invents the railway locomotive
1834 Thomas Davenport invents the electric streetcar

Etienne Lenoir invents the gasoline engine
1885 Karl Benz invents the gasoline powered automobile
1892 Rudolph Diesel invents the diesel engine
1902 The Wright Brothers build an airplane that flies