Energy: a revolution with steam

Harry Lintsen, H.N.M. Hölsgens, Ben P.A. Gales

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The chapter analyses the radical changes in the supply chain of fossil fuels between 1850 and 1910. It does this in relationship to the development of industry and investigates the consequences for the factory system, the environment and class relations. The modernisation of the economy was an important precondition for the increase in welfare and the decline of extreme poverty. It involved agriculture and nutrition, infrastructure and transportation, industry and steam technology. Agriculture, foods, infrastructure and transportation were discussed in previous chapters. Industry and steam technology are the focus of this chapter. The transition to coal and steam was accomplished in this period. It was typical of the Netherlands that the development of steam technology did not in the first place lead to the establishment of factories, but to the modernisation of workshops and small firms. Craft production remained dominant. To be sure, labour relations became more business-like due to liberalisation and sharp competition, especially in the cities, but it never came to social disruption or class conflict. The emergence of steam technology raised questions about the safety of the vicinity and the nuisance inflicted on residents. A Steam Law and a Steam Inspectorate were relied on to minimise the risks of possible explosions. The nuisance law was intended to prevent irritating smoke, smell and vibrations as far as possible. However complaints about nuisance were almost never sufficient cause to refuse a permit. In most cases the interests of industry prevailed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWell-Being, Sustainability and Social Development
Subtitle of host publicationThe Netherlands 1850-2050
EditorsHarry Lintsen, Frank Veraart, Jan-Pieter Smits, John Grin
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-76696-6
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-76695-9
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2018


  • Class struggle
  • Modernisation
  • Nuisance
  • Safety
  • Small firm
  • Steam technology


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