Historic Charcoal Production in the US and Forest Depletion: Development of Production Parameters
Thomas J. Straka
Charcoal Iron Industry, Forest Depletion, Charcoal Production, Iron Plantations
Advances in Historical Studies,
ABSTRACT: Charcoal was the fuel of choice for the early nineteenth century for iron making and smelting of other metals in the United States. The industry involved massive amount of woodcutting and entire woodlands were depleted. The problem is somewhat exaggerated in the literature. While forest destruction tended to be quite complete near smelters and furnaces, it was generally localized near the demand for the fuel. Many authors attempt to equate furnace production to forest area depletion as one measure of environmental destruction. This is not as easy as it appears. The mathematics seems simple and uses a few basic ratios: furnace yield or bushels of charcoal needed to produce a ton of output; charcoal yield or bushels of charcoal produced from a cord of wood, and forest yield or cubic meters per ha. Different furnaces, colliers, and forests have different yields. Production parameters are critical to estimate productivity and costs. These parameters are discussed in terms of estimation problems and average expected values. This valuable information will make estimation of forest area use in charcoal production more reliable.