Until well into the 19th century, if you lived in the U.S. and wanted to heat your house, you chopped down a tree and burned it.

U.S._Energy_Consumptim_History_Graph_SmallUntil well into the 19th century, if you lived in the U.S. and wanted to heat your house, fire your forge, or whatever, you did what people had done for thousands of years: You chopped down a tree and burned it.

It wasn’t until the rise of the railroads in the mid 19th-century that coal became a significant energy source in this country. As industrialization continued in the second half of the century, the use of coal continued to rise, powering heavy industry, heating urban homes, and generating electric power.

The 20th century (the first three quarters of it, anyway) was the age of the internal combustion engine — and, by extension, the age of oil.

Natural gas came in in a big way after World War II, heating homes and generating electricity.

The energy shock of the 1970s, which drove up the price of both oil and natural gas, ended the 200-year-long rise in per capita energy use — not just during the shock, but for decades after, as energy efficiency continued to improve.

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Source: Jacob Goldstein and Lam Thuy Vo | NPR | April 10, 2013
Image: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Census Bureau