Segments in this Video

Controlling Fire (02:56)


The quest for energy has shaped human history and accelerated our evolution. Early hunter-gatherers discovered that cooking food improved nutrition. Greater nutrient uptake increased brain volume and intelligence, leading us to desire a better life.

Charcoal and Metals (03:04)

In 5000 B.C., humans discovered that combining copper and tin created bronze. Burning partially burned wood produced greater temperatures that produced iron. Empires used iron weapons to conquer subjects, but deforestation devastated landscapes.

Discovering Coal (02:19)

Charcoal supplies were waning in 18th century Britain. Coal burned at a lower temperature, but the steam engine harnessed greater energy. This innovation led to industrialization and urbanization.

Whale Oil (02:13)

Cities in the 19th century required street lighting. North American and European whalers hunted whales to near extinction.

Petroleum Deposits (03:44)

A Texas oil well discovered in 1901 led to oil becoming the modern world's energy source. With the internal combustion engine, Henry Ford produced the first affordable automobile running on gasoline. It led to suburban development and helped America prosper.

Attack on Pearl Harbor (03:02)

Japan wanted American energy resources, including Texas oil; America refused to trade. In December 1941, Japanese bombers and fighters destroyed the Pacific Fleet, bringing the U.S. into the war.

Nuclear Energy (03:58)

Oil drew America into World War II, during which nuclear power was developed. The U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945—killing over 70,000 civilians and leading to Japan's surrender. View a summary of energy innovations over time. (Credits)

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Fire, Coal, and Oil

Part of the Series : Mankind Decoded
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $99.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $149.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $99.95



Early hunter-gatherers rubbed two sticks together and created fire. By cooking our food and increasing its nutrition, our brains expanded—making us the most intelligent species on the planet. This documentary highlights human ingenuity in the ongoing search for new energy sources. Charcoal enabled iron production; coal powered the steam engine, driving industrialization and urbanization; whale oil lit 19th century street lamps; oil and the internal combustion engine altered American lifestyles; and World War II brought about nuclear energy and the atomic bomb. The next challenge will be to harness solar power on a massive scale.

Length: 22 minutes

Item#: BVL130781

Copyright date: ©2013

Closed Captioned

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Only available in USA and Canada.