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Environment | Energy | Ecotrope

Chart: How Energy Use Has Changed Since The U.S. Was Born

Energy Information Administration

Tomorrow’s Fourth of July holiday marks the 237th birthday of the United States of America. This chart from the U.S. Energy Information Administration illustrates how energy use has changed since the country was founded.

The typical American family was using wood as its primary source of energy when the country was founded, while industry was powered by water mills.

Coal had become the dominant energy source by the late 1800s, and it remained king until the 1950s, when it was surpassed by petroleum products and natural gas.

After the 1950s, coal surged once again as a source of electrical power, and nuclear power emerged as a new source of energy. Petroleum and natural gas hit a lull in the 1970s, but they rebounded thereafter.

According to the EIA, three major fossil fuels – petroleum, natural gas and coal – have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for more than a century. Over the past 10 years, they’ve provided 87 percent of the country’s primary energy.

In recent years, natural gas production in the U.S. has caused a downturn in coal use and an uptick in natural gas.

The EIA projects petroleum, natural gas and coal will continue to dominate U.S. energy use through at least 2040, and at that point they are still projected to provide more than three-quarters of the nation’s energy.

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