March 9, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Posted in Books, Economics, Financial, Research, Science & Technology | Leave a comment










William Stanley Jevons


Born: 1 Sept 1835 in Liverpool,



Died: 13 Aug 1882 in Hastings,


Stanley Jevons’s father was Thomas Jevons and his mother was Mary Anne Roscoe. Thomas Jevons was an iron merchant but showed lots of talent both as an inventor of iron boats and as a writer on various legal and economic topics. Mary Anne Roscoe was the daughter of the historian William Roscoe. Thomas and Mary Roscoe had eleven children and Stanley was the ninth. The family were Unitarians, a liberal branch of the Protestant Church that bases its religious beliefs on reason, and Stanley was brought up with these beliefs. There is very clear evidence in Jevons later writings of the Unitarian influence.

Stanley was sent to London to became a boarder at University College School in 1850. In the following year, still only sixteen years of age, he entered University College with a view to study chemistry and botany. He later wrote that his interest in the way that society worked began in his early days as a student, particularly since he could observe the condition of the poor in London as he walked about the city. He wrote

(see [Letters and journal of W Stanley Jevons (London, 1886).’,5)”5]):

I began to think that I could and ought to do more than others. A vague desire and determination grew upon me.

He was filled with a desire to help but his aims were on a grand scale for he wanted to be

[Letters and journal of W Stanley Jevons (London, 1886).’,5)”5]:

… powerfully good, that is to be good, not towards one, or a dozen, or a hundred, but towards a nation or the world.

He broke off his studies of natural sciences at University College in 1854 to take a job in Sydney in Australia. He was offered a position as an assayer at the new Australian mint. This involved determining the characteristics such as weight, measure, or quality of the coinage, and Jevons was offered the post because of his already impressive abilities at chemistry. He probably would not have been interested in such a post before he had completed his degree had his family not been in financial difficulties. His father’s business had collapsed in 1848 and the attractively paid post in Sydney was too tempting for him to refuse since it allowed him to contribute substantially to his family’s finances.

In Australia he had much leisure time, and little to occupy that time, so the five years he spent there were important ones for his mental development. Jevons became interested in meteorology (writing a paper on the topic), geology and political economy. He became more and more interested in economics yet it was a topic in which he was entirely self-taught. In February 1858, while still in Australia, he wrote to his sister back in England

[Letters and journal of W Stanley Jevons (London, 1886).’,5)”5]:

I am glad you find political economy tolerable. The Wealth of Nations is perhaps one of the driest on the subject. You will perceive that economy, scientifically speaking, is a very contracted science, it is in fact a sort of vague mathematics which calculates the causes and effects of man’s industry, and shows how it may be best applied.

In the letter Jevons then goes on to express the same feeling of mission that he felt when a student [Letters and journal of W Stanley Jevons (London, 1886).’,5)”5]:

I have an idea … that my insight into the foundations and nature of the knowledge of man is deeper than that of most men or writers. In fact, I think that it is my mission to apply myself to such subjects, and it is my intention to do so. … Thoroughly to understand the principles of society appears to me now the most cogent business.

To some extent his job in the mint, involved in actually making money, must have influenced Jevons interests in economics, as must the failure of his father’s family business. Now, filled with the feelings of mission he described, Jevons gave up his lucrative job and returned to England in 1859 to complete his education. Back in University College, London, he completed his B.A. and then was awarded his Master’s Degree in 1863. An important influence on Jevons while he was studying in London was De Morgan, not in terms of Jevons thoughts on economics but certainly in terms of his thoughts on logic and probability.

Jevons’ developing thoughts on economics are evident in his correspondence. In 1860 when he was studying in London, Jevons wrote to his brother saying that he had recently found

[Letters and journal of W Stanley Jevons (London, 1886).’,5)”5]:

… what I have no doubt is the true theory of economy, so thorough-going and consistent, that I cannot read other books on the subject without indignation.

In the same letter to his brother he outlined his ideas:

One of the most important axioms is, that as the quantity of any commodity, for instance plain food, which a man has to consume, increases, so the utility or benefit derived from the last portion used decreases in degree.

He outlined these ideas on the marginal utility theory of value in General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy which he read to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1862 (it was published in 1866).

After being awarded his Master’s Degree, Jevons was appointed as a tutor at Owens College, which went on to become the University of Manchester. He was appointed to a second post in 1865 when he became a part-time professor of logic and political economy at Queen’s College, Liverpool. Then in 1866 he was appointed to a chair of political economy at Manchester and also to a professorship in logic and mental and moral philosophy.

In 1867 Jevons married Harriot Ann Taylor, one of the daughter’s of the founder and first editor of the Manchester Guardian (founded in 1821 as the weekly, it had become a daily paper in 1855). They had three children, one son Herbert Stanley Jevons following in his father’s footsteps and becoming well known as an economist.

Jevons remained in Manchester until he moved to University College, London in 1876. His time at Manchester was a highly productive one. He published Pure Logic in 1864, developed the ‘logical piano’ which was exhibited at the Royal Society in 1870, and he published The Theory of Political Economy in 1871. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1872.

Jevons’s main contributions outside economics are in mathematical logic. It was Boole, particularly with his book The Laws of Thought (1854), who strongly influenced Jevons’ ideas on mathematical logic. On the one hand Jevons can be seen as a strong supporter of Boole‘s ideas, and someone who both worked on improving them and bringing them to a wider audience. On the other hand his own version of the ideas contained certain weaknesses. Jevons and Boole corresponded in 1863 and 1864, and this correspondence is published in [Hist. Philos. Logic 12 (1) (1991), 15-35.’,12)”12]. The article [Mathesis 7 (3) (1991), 351-362.’,11)”11] discusses the differences between Boole‘s and Jevons’ concepts of logic. Grattan-Guinness [Studies in the History of Statistics and Probability II (London, 1977), 180-212.’,10)”10] suggests that the main difference between their approach was that, although both believed they were studying the laws of thought, Boole had a more algebraic concept of logic while Jevons argued that mathematics proceeds from logic. Jevons was fond of syllogistic methods.

However, Jevons criticised certain aspects of Boole‘s work writing that (see for example [Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York 1970-1990).’,1)”1]):

… the mathematical dress into which [Boole] threw his discoveries is not proper to them, and his quasi-mathematical processes are vastly more complicated than they need have been.

In many ways this showed one weakness that Jevons had, namely that although he was advocating a mathematical approach to many problems, his lack of understanding of Boole‘s mathematics in particular shows that he could not fully appreciate it.

The ‘logical piano’, a machine designed by Jevons and constructed by a Salford watchmaker, had 21 keys for operations in equational logic. It has many features which were later incorporated into computer design.

As Gridgeman writes in [Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York 1970-1990).’,1)”1]:

Although its principal value was as an aid to the teaching of the new logic of classes and propositions, it actually solved problems with superhuman speed and accuracy …

His most important book in logic was Principles of science (1874). This work made important contributions to probability as well as to logic. Jevons claims in this work that absolute precision in observations is impossible, as is a complete correspondence between a theory and the physical situation that it models. He stresses the interrelation between concepts rather than the more strictly ’cause and effect’ philosophy which was then current. Although the work contains much in the way of innovative ideas perhaps its weaknesses are illustrated by one of his examples on the use of probability.

Jevons, writing in 1873, knew 64 chemical elements had been discovered of which 50 are metals.

He then naively claims that the probability that the next element discovered will be a metal is (50 + 1)/(64 + 2) = 17/22. Can the reader see what is wrong with this argument?

We have already noted that Jevons left Manchester in 1876 when he moved to University College, London. He was never as ease when lecturing and he felt that he would have to teach less in London than Manchester. However, he found that the London chair also required him to speak in public which he seemed to hate more and more. He resigned his chair in London in 1880 so that he might concentrate on writing. His health deteriorated despite many holidays in which he tried to recover. He drowned while swimming when on holiday in the south of England, but the most likely cause of the accident was that he suffered a heart-attack or stroke.

Jevons’ work is very highly regarded by most. Keynes, on first meeting Jevons’ writings when he was 22 years of ag,e wrote:-

I am convinced that he was one of the minds of the century. He has the curiously exciting style of writing which one gets if one is good enough.

Hutchison writes in [International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 8 (New York, 1968), 254-260.’,14)”14]:

For breadth, variety, originality, and incisive penetration, Jevons’ work as economist, statistician, logician, and philosopher is among the greatest on modern times.

However, Mosselmans in [Hist. Philos. Logic 19 (2) (1998), 83-99.’,18)”18] takes a somewhat less positive attitude. He writes:

… Jevons was not a precursor of logical positivism despite his attempt to build up a unified science. His mechanical reductionism was directed towards this project, and Jevons tried to found mathematics on logic through the development of a theory of number. … his attempts were unsuccessful, and … his errors remain visible within the totality of his mechanical system, including his economics. … Although Jevons did not succeed in establishing a unified science, his flawed methodology resulted in one of the first applications of statistics to the social sciences.

References for Stanley Jevons

  1. N T Gridgeman, Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York 1970-1990).

  2. Biography in Encyclopaedia Britannica.

  3. Obituary in The Times


  1. E W Eckard, Economics of W S Jevons (Washington D.C., 1940).

  2. H A Jevons, Letters and journal of W Stanley Jevons (London, 1886).

  3. M Schabas, A world ruled by numbers : William Stanley Jevons and the rise of mathematical economics (Princeton, 1990).


  1. R D C Black, W S Jevons and the economics of his time, Manchester School of Economics and Social Studies 30 (1962), 203-221.

  2. G H Buck and S M Hunka, W Stanley Jevons, Allan Marquand, and the origins of digital computing, IEEE Ann. Hist. Comput. 21 (4) (1999), 21-27.

  3. P J FitzPatrick, Leading British statisticians of the nineteenth century, Journal of the American Statistical Association 55 (1960), 38-70.

  4. P J FitzPatrick, Leading British statisticians of the nineteenth century, in M G Kendall and R L Plackett (eds.), Studies in the History of Statistics and Probability II (London, 1977), 180-212.

  5. I Grattan-Guinness, Boole and his semifollower Jevons (Spanish), in 2nd International Colloquium on Philosophy and History of Mathematics, Mexico City, 1990, Mathesis 7 (3) (1991), 351-362.

  6. I Grattan-Guinness, The correspondence between George Boole and Stanley Jevons, 1863-1864, Hist. Philos. Logic 12 (1) (1991), 15-35.

  7. R Harley, Obituary of William Stanley Jevons, Proc. Roy. Soc. London 35 (1883), 1-12.

  8. T W Hutchison, William Stanley Jevons, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 8 (New York, 1968), 254-260.

  9. J M Keynes, William Stanley Jevons, in J M Keynes, Essays in biography (New York, 1951), 225-309.

  10. R Könekamp, William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) : Some biographical notes, Manchester School of Economics and Social Studies 30 (1962), 223-249.

  11. H Maas, Mechanical rationality : Jevons and the making of economic man, Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. 30A (4) (1999), 587-619.

  12. B Mosselmans, William Stanley Jevons and the extent of meaning in logic and economics, Hist. Philos. Logic 19 (2) (1998), 83-99.

  13. M Schabas, Alfred Marshall, W Stanley Jevons, and the mathematization of economics, Isis 80 (301) (1989), 60-73.


See also:

J M Keynes, William Stanley Jevons in

J M Keynes, Essays in biography

(New York, 1951), 225-309

Jevons’s main contributions outside economics are in mathematical logic. It was Boole, particularly with his book The Laws of Thought (1854), who strongly influenced Jevons’ ideas on mathematical logic.


March 9, 2008 at 9:56 am | Posted in Books, Economics, Financial, Globalization, History, Research, Science & Technology, United Kingdom, World-system | Leave a comment










Author: Jevons, William Stanley


Title: The Coal Question: An

Inquiry Concerning the Progress

of the Nation, and the Probable

Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines

Published: London:

Macmillan and Co., 1866.

(Second edition, revised)

First published: 1865

Chapter VII


IT is very commonly urged, that the failing supply of coal will be met by new modes of using it efficiently and economically. The amount of useful work got out of coal may be made to increase manifold, while the amount of coal consumed is stationary or diminishing. We have thus, it is supposed, the means of completely neutralizing the evils of scarce and costly fuel.*1 It is shown, in fact, by the mechanical theory of heat, that the work done by coal, in a good engine of the present day, does not exceed about one-sixth part of what the coal is capable of doing. In furnaces, too, the portion of heat actually used is a small and often infinitesimal fraction of the heat wasted; and in the domestic use of coal, in open grates, at least four-fifths of the heat escapes up the chimney unheeded.


I speak not here of the domestic consumption of coal. This is undoubtedly capable of being cut down without other harm than curtailing our home comforts, and somewhat altering our confirmed national habits. The coal thus saved would be, for the most part, laid up for the use of posterity. But even if our population could be induced to abstain from the enjoyment of a good fire, the saving effected would not extend over more than about one-third of the total consumption of coal; the domestic consumption being, on an average, about one ton per annum, per head of the population. Of the other two-thirds, nearly one-third is used in our iron manufactures; and the remainder in our factories, furnaces, and machine shops generally.


But the economy of coal in manufactures is a different matter. It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.


As a rule, new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumption according to a principle recognised in many parallel instances. The economy of labour effected by the introduction of new machinery throws labourers out of employment for the moment. But such is the increased demand for the cheapened products, that eventually the sphere of employment is greatly widened. Often the very labourers whose labour is saved find their more efficient labour more demanded than before. Seamstresses, for instance, have perhaps in no case been injured, but have often gained wages before unthought of, by the use of the sewing-machine, for which we are so much indebted to American inventors.


So it is a familiar rule of finance that the reduction of taxes and tolls leads to increased gross and sometimes even nett revenues; and it is a maxim of trade, that a low rate of profits, with the multiplied business it begets, is more profitable than a small business at a high rate of profit.


Now the same principles apply, with even greater force and distinctness, to the use of such a general agent as coal. It is the very economy of its use which leads to its extensive consumption. It has been so in the past, and it will be so in the future. Nor is it difficult to see how this paradox arises.


The number of tons of coal used in any branch of industry is the product of the number of separate works, and the average number of tons consumed in each. Now, if the quantity of coal used in a blast-furnace, for instance, be diminished in comparison with the yield, the profits of the trade will increase, new capital will be attracted, the price of pig-iron will fall, but the demand for it increase; and eventually the greater number of furnaces will more than make up for the diminished consumption of each. And if such is not always the result within a single branch, it must be remembered that the progress of any branch of manufacture excites a new activity in most other branches, and leads indirectly, if not directly, to increased inroads upon our seams of coal.


It needs but little reflection to see that the whole of our present vast industrial system, and its consequent consumption of coal, has chiefly arisen from successive measures of economy.


Civilization, says Baron Liebig, is the economy of power, and our power is coal. It is the very economy of the use of coal that makes our industry what it is; and the more we render it efficient and economical, the more will our industry thrive, and our works of civilization grow.


The engine is the motive power of this country, and its history is a history of successive steps of economy. Savery recommended his engine for its cheap drawing of water and small charge of coals. But as he allowed the steam to act straight upon the water, without the intervention of a piston, the loss of heat was tremendous. Practically, the cost of working kept it from coming into use; it consumed no coal, because its rate of consumption was too high.*2 Newcomen made the first step towards the future use of the engine, by interposing a piston, rod, beam, and pump, between the steam and water. It was asserted that mines formerly drowned out and abandoned might sometimes, when coal was very cheap, be profitably drained by his rude atmospheric engine. But when Brindley went to Wolverhampton, to inspect one of these engines, he formed the opinion “that, unless the consumption of coal could be reduced, the extended use of this steam-engine was not practicable, by reason of its dearness, as compared with the power of horses, wind, or air.”*3


Smeaton, the most philosophical of engineers, after a careful study of the atmospheric engine, succeeded in nearly doubling its efficiency. The engine had long been hanging on the verge of commercial possibility; he brought it into successful use, and made it both possible and profitable. But in this branch of his art he willingly gave place to that even greater man, who, after long continued scientific and practical labours, made the steam-engine the agent of civilization. I need hardly say that Watt’s two chief inventions of the condenser and the expansive mode of working are simply two modes of economising heat. The double cylinder of Woolf, the method of surface-condensing, of super-heating, &c. are other inventions, directed to economy of coal. To save the loss of heat in the boiler, and the loss of power by friction, are two other points of economy, to which numberless inventions are directed. And with the exception of contrivances, such as the crank, the governor, and the minor mechanism of an engine, necessary for regulating, transmitting, or modifying its power, it may be said that the whole history of the steam-engine is one of economy.

“The economy of fuel is the secret of the economy of the steam-engine; it is the fountain of its power, and the adopted measure of its effects. Whatever, therefore, conduces to increase the efficiency of coal, and to diminish the cost of its use, directly tends to augment the value of the steam-engine, and to enlarge the field of its operations.”*4


The result of these efforts at economy is clearly exhibited in a table of the duty done by engines at different periods. This work or duty is expressed by the number of pounds of water raised one foot high by the expenditure of a bushel (84 lbs.) of coal.*5

Duty in lbs

1769. Average of old atmospheric engines… 5,590,000

1772. Smeaton’s atmospheric engine… 9,450,000

1776. Watt’s improved engine… 21,600,000

1779-1788. Watt’s engine working expansively… 26,600,000

1820. Engine improved by Cornish engineers… 28,000,000

1830. Average duty of Cornish engines… 43,350,000

1859. Average duty of Cornish engines (per 112 lbs.?)… 54,000,000

1859. Extreme duty of best engine (per 112 lbs.?)… 80,000,000


In less than one hundred years, then, the efficiency of the engine has been increased at least ten-fold; and it need hardly be said that it is the cheapness of the power it affords that allows us to draw rivers from our mines, to drive our coal-pits in spite of floods and quicksands, to drain our towns and lowlands, and to supply with water our highest places; and, finally, to put in motion the great system of our machine labour, which may be said, as far as any comparison is possible, to enable us to do as much as all the other inhabitants of the world with their unaided labours.


Future improvements of the engine can only have the same result, of extending the use of such a powerful agent. It is usual with a certain class of writers to depreciate science in regard to the steam-engine, and to treat this as a pure creation of practical sagacity. But just as the origin of the engine may be traced to a scientific work, so it is now theory and experiment in their highest and latest developments, which give us a sure notion how great will be the future improvement of the engine, and through what means it is to be aimed at.

“A well constructed and properly working ordinary double-acting steam-engine,” of the present time, consumes about 4.00 lbs. of bituminous coal per horse-power per hour. “A double-acting steam-engine, improved to the utmost probable extent, would use 2.50 lbs. of the same coal;” while a theoretically perfect engine, working between such limits of temperature as are usual in steam-engines, “would require only 1.86 lbs.”*6


But theory further points out, what practice has partially confirmed, that the work done by an engine for a certain expenditure of fuel is proportional to the difference of the temperatures at which steam enters and leaves the engine. From this principle arises the economy of using high-pressure and super-heated steam; for we have, as it were, all the old force of the low-pressure and less-heated steam, with a great addition from the initial high pressure and the increased store of useful heat in the steam. The economy already effected in this manner is wonderful. The very engines which had burned 12 or 14 lbs. of coal per hour, when worked with steam at 4, 6, or 8 lbs. pressure, have been found to burn only 3½ or 4 lbs. of coal when supplied with stronger boilers, and worked at steam-pressures from 30 to 70 lbs. per square inch.*7


Such simple changes as the shortening of the steam supply, the addition of a second cylinder, the felting of the boiler and steam-vessels, the enlarging of the boiler, the raising of the pressure, or the acceleration of the speed of travelling of an engine, are the simple means by which the self-same engine has often been made to give a manifold result.


It is true that, as we go on improving, the margin of improvement becomes narrower, and its attainment more difficult and costly. The improvement of the boiler mainly depends upon the amount of capital expenditure against current expenditure. For the efficiency of a boiler grows with the surface of water we can expose to absorb the heat of the fire; but the more we extend this surface, the less additional economy will an equal extension effect.


So the accomplishment of a new steam-engine, with much increased limits of temperature and economy, will probably require a wholly new set of mechanical expedients, because heated steam destroys the lubricating oil which is an essential part of all machinery, and is even said to attack the iron itself. Many of the difficulties inherent in the steam-engine are, however, absent in the air-engine, which presents a wide prospect of economy, as seen in the following numbers:—

Actual consumption of

Coal per horse-power, per hour.

Consumption of theoretically perfect engine.

Sterling’s air-engine… 2.20lb. 0.73lb.

Ericsson’s engine of 1852… 2.80 0.82


“Sterling’s engine,” it is said, “as finally improved, was compact in its dimensions, easily worked, not liable to get out of order, and consumed less oil, and required fewer repairs, than any steam-engine; still, the advantages shown by that engine over steam-engines were not so great as to induce practical men to overcome their natural repugnance to exchange a long-tried method for a new one.”*8


Still, the fact is established, that an engine has worked at about one-half the expenditure of an ordinary good engine of the present day.*9 The ultimate improvement of the air-engine will probably reduce the consumption to less than one-third of the present consumption. The gradual progress of mechanical workmanship, and long continued efforts incited by the extraordinary profits of success, can alone lead to such an advance. The inventor who can bring a new and economical air-engine into use will reap a fortune to be counted by millions, and will gain the rank of a second Watt.


But such an improvement of the engine, when effected, will only accelerate anew the consumption of coal. Every branch of manufacture will receive a fresh impulse—hand labour will be still further replaced by mechanical labour, and greatly extended works will be undertaken by aid of the cheap air-power, which were not commercially possible by the use of the costly steam-power. At least three great employments of the steam-engine are now in their germ, or scarcely beyond it, which would grow beyond conception by a great improvement of the engine. The pumping of liquid sewage out of our great towns, and its distribution over the country, is one mode which would return a clear profit of many millions a year. The steam-plough is a second instance. Its efficiency is beyond question, and the soil is said to be quickened by its irresistible tillage, as a fire is quickened by the poker. But it yet hangs upon the verge of commercial possibility, as did Stephenson’s locomotive-engine, when he had got it to draw, but scarcely cheaper than horses. Taking the first and current costs into account, it is yet doubtful whether the steam-plough works as cheaply as the old horse-plough; but James Watt, to the surprise of his contemporaries, asserted that steam-ploughing was possible;*10 and Mr. Fairbairn, at the British Association in 1861, confessed his belief that many of those present would live to see the steam-plough in operation over the length and breadth of the land. Now, an improvement in the engine, reducing the cost of fuel, will turn the balance in favour of coal-power, and its common use in agriculture will be a certainty.


But it is in steam navigation that the improvement of the engine will have most marked effects. Any extensive saving of fuel, saving its stowage-room as well as its cost, will still more completely turn the balance in favour of steam, and sailing-vessels will soon sink into a subordinate rank.


What is true of economy in the engine is true of several other important, and many less important instances of economy. The extraordinary increase of the iron trade is a trite example. “This rapid and great increase, shown in the last few years, has been, in some part, caused by the economy introduced through the use of the hot blast in smelting, a process which has materially lowered the cost of iron, and, therefore, has led to its employment for many purposes in which its use was previously unknown.”*11 In fact, as shown in a subsequent chapter,*12 the reduction of the consumption of coal, per ton of iron, to less than one-third of its former amount, has been followed, in Scotland, by a ten-fold total consumption, not to speak of the indirect effect of cheap iron in accelerating other coal-consuming branches of industry.


Siemens’ regenerative furnace is a very good example of economy, now coming into use. It is somewhat on the principle of the hot blast. The current is passed alternately in opposite directions through two brick chambers, between which lies the furnace. Much of the waste heat, on its way to the chimney, is absorbed by the bricks, and again given out, when the current is reversed, to the cool air on its way to the furnace. Much less fuel is required, in such a furnace, to maintain a given temperature, than if cold air were allowed to flow directly into the fire. The general application of such regenerative chambers to furnaces would require the investment of a large amount of capital; and the question in such improvements, as in the case of the boiler, lies between a large initial investment and large current expenses.


The utilization of spare heat from a puddling or reheating furnace, by passing it through a steam-boiler; the saving of the waste gases of a blast-furnace, to heat the blast, or work the engines; the employment of spare heat in salt pans; the use of small gas flames, or gas furnaces, where large coal fires were before used: such are a few of the very many modes in which coal may be greatly saved. In fact, there is hardly a single use of fuel in which a little care, ingenuity, or expenditure of capital may not make a considerable saving.


But no one must suppose that coal thus saved is spared—it is only saved from one use to be employed in others, and the profits gained soon lead to extended employment in many new forms. The several branches of industry are closely interdependent, and the progress of any one leads to the progress of nearly all.


And if economy in the past has been the main source of our progress and growing consumption of coal, the same effect will follow from the same cause in the future. Economy multiplies the value and efficiency of our chief material; it indefinitely increases our wealth and means of subsistence, and leads to an extension of our population, works, and commerce, which is gratifying in the present, but must lead to an earlier end. Economical inventions are what I should look forward to as likely to continue our rate of increasing consumption. Could we keep them to ourselves, indeed, they would enable us, for a time, to neutralize the evils of dearness when coal begins to get scarce, to keep up our accustomed efficiency, and push down our coal-shafts as before. But the end would only thus be hastened—the exhaustion of our seams more rapidly carried out.


Let us remember that we are dependent on the comparative cheapness of fuel and motive power. Now comparative cheapness of fuel cannot be procured or retained by inventions and modes of economy which are as open to our commercial competitors as to ourselves, which have in many cases been introduced by them, and are more readily adopted by versatile foreigners than by English manufacturers bound by custom and routine. Even our superior capital will not avail us against dear fuel, because nothing more readily flows abroad in search of profitable employment than capital. And if we are to uphold a worldwide freedom of intercourse, let us not deceive ourselves as to its natural results upon the material basis of our prosperity.

“The economy of fuel is the secret of the economy of the steam-engine; it is the fountain of its power, and the adopted measure of its effects. Whatever, therefore, conduces to increase the efficiency of coal, and to diminish the cost of its use, directly tends to augment the value of the steam-engine, and to enlarge the field of its operations.”*4


March 9, 2008 at 8:54 am | Posted in Books, Earth, Economics, Financial, Globalization, History, Oil & Gas, Research, Science & Technology, United Kingdom | Leave a comment









Author: Jevons, William Stanley


Title: The Coal Question: An

Inquiry Concerning the Progress

of the Nation, and the Probable

Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines

Published: London:

Macmillan and Co., 1866.

(Second edition, revised)

First published: 1865

Chapter I


DAY by day it becomes more evident that the Coal we happily possess in excellent quality and abundance is the mainspring of modern material civilization. As the source of fire, it is the source at once of mechanical motion and of chemical change. Accordingly it is the chief agent in almost every improvement or discovery in the arts which the present age brings forth. It is to us indispensable for domestic purposes, and it has of late years been found to yield a series of organic substances, which puzzle us by their complexity, please us by their beautiful colours, and serve us by their various utility.


And as the source especially of steam and iron, coal is all powerful. This age has been called the Iron Age, and it is true that iron is the material of most great novelties. By its strength, endurance, and wide range of qualities, this metal is fitted to be the fulcrum and lever of great works, while steam is the motive power. But coal alone can command in sufficient abundance either the iron or the steam; and coal, therefore, commands this age—the Age of Coal.


Coal in truth stands not beside but entirely above all other commodities. It is the material energy of the country—the universal aid—the factor in everything we do. With coal almost any feat is possible or easy; without it we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times.

CQ: The Coal Question

CQ: Chapter 16 in paragraph XVI.2

But as we are, unfettered commerce, vindicated by our political economists, and founded on the material basis of our coal resources, has made the several quarters of the globe our willing tributaries. “Though England,” it has been truly said, “were one vast rock, where not an acre of corn had never waved, still those four hundred millions of men, whose labour is represented by the machinery of the country, would extort an abundance of corn from all the surrounding states.”*76 The plains of North America and Russia are our corn-fields; Chicago and Odessa our granaries; Canada and the Baltic are our timber-forests; Australasia contains our sheep-farms, and in South America are our herds of oxen; Peru sends her silver, and the gold of California and Australia flows to London; the Chinese grow tea for us, and our coffee, sugar, and spice plantations are in all the Indies. Spain and France are our vineyards, and the Mediterranean our fruit-garden; and our cotton-grounds, which formerly occupied the Southern United States, are now everywhere in the warm regions of the earth.

CQ: Chapter 16 in paragraph XVI.3

But great as is our own system, it is not the whole. Commerce is undoubtedly making its way by its own subtle force, and is uniting the parts of the globe into a web of interchanges, in which the peculiar riches of each are made useful to all. The sum of human happiness is thus being surely increased, but we should be hasty in assuming that the growth of general commerce ensures for this island everlasting riches and industrial supremacy.

CQ: Chapter 16 in paragraph XVI.35

Of course at the worst we shall not be devoid of many resources. Our position, “anchored by the side of Europe,” and close to the terrestrial centre of the globe, gives us a claim to the carrying and trading business of the world, which previously belonged to our close neighbours the Dutch. And our manufactures, though they must diminish in size and importance, may improve in finish and artistic merit. Our work will be that of the trinket and the watch rather than that of the Herculean engine—handiwork rather than machine work. We shall probably approximate to the manufacturing condition of Western Europe, and the extreme elegance of our earthenware, glass, and many small manufactures raises the hope that we may attain a high rank in artistic manufactures.

CQ: Chapter 8 in paragraph VIII.42

Petroleum has of late years become the matter of a most extensive trade, and has even been proposed by American inventors for use in marine steam-engine boilers. It is undoubtedly superior to coal for many purposes, and is capable of replacing it. But then, What is Petroleum but the Essence of Coal, distilled from it by terrestrial or artificial heat? Its natural supply is far more limited and uncertain than that of coal, its price is about 15l. per ton already, and an artificial supply can only be had by the distillation of some kind of coal at considerable cost. To extend the use of petroleum, then, is only a new way of pushing the consumption of coal. It is more likely to be an aggravation of the drain than a remedy.

CQ: Preface in paragraph P.21

As regards the supremacy of coal as a source of heat and power, and the impossibility of finding a substitute, I have again only interpreted the opinions of Professor Tyndall. He has kindly allowed me to extract the following from a recent letter with which he favoured me:—

“I see no prospect of any substitute being found for coal, as a source of motive power. We have, it is true, our winds and streams and tides; and we have the beams of the sun. But these are common to all the world. We cannot make head against a nation which, in addition to those sources of power, possesses the power of coal. We may enjoy a multiple of their physical and intellectual energy, and still be unable to hold our own against a people which possesses abundance of coal; and we should have, in my opinion, no chance whatever in a race with a nation which, in addition to abundant coal, has energy and intelligence approximately equal to our own.

“It is no new thing for me to affirm in my public lectures that the destiny of this nation is not in the hands of its statesmen but in those of its coal-owners; and that while the orators of St. Stephen’s are unconscious of the fact, the very lifeblood of this country is flowing away.”

CQ: Chapter 3 in paragraph III.14

Now, when all these disturbances took place, the surface of the ground must have been affected as well as the underground strata. We might expect to find on the south side of the ninety fathom dyke at Newcastle, a perpendicular rocky cliff of corresponding height. But no such thing is known on any of the coal-fields. The surface of our English coal-fields is either quite flat, or only swelling in one direction into round topped hills, showing no conformity to the underground disturbances. We cannot mistake the reason. While earthquakes and intrusions of lava were breaking up the strata, winds and rains and streams, or perhaps the tides of a shallow estuary, were wearing away all prominences, and carrying off great masses of rock. It has been shown, for instance, by Professor Ramsay, that the whole body of the coal measures between the South Wales field and that of the Forest of Dean, has been swept away; and the missing portion, far larger than mountains in mass, is conjecturally restored in the plates to one of the earlier memoirs of the Geological Survey.

CQ: Chapter 8 in paragraph VIII.8

The tides arising from the attractions of the sun, earth, and moon, present another source of power, which is, and often has been, used in one way or another, and shall be considered.

CQ: Chapter 8 in paragraph VIII.35

The application of the tides to machine labour is rendered difficult on account of their variation from day to day. To gain a constant head of water always available we must either construct elaborate and costly high and low tide basins, or else we must use the variable tidal wheel to pump up water into a great reservoir. The estuary of the Dee is one of the places best adapted to give a vast tidal power, and an anonymous but apparently able engineer has calculated what power might be utilised there.*33 He considers that the equivalent steam power might be had at a capital cost of £4,000,000, a sum wholly insufficient to provide the tidal works. Hence he concludes that the tidal scheme would be at least commercially impracticable, and he doubts whether it would be at all possible mechanically speaking to construct embankments and tidal basins on loose sands.

William Stanley Jevons (September 1, 1835August 13, 1882)

The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines

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