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The State Museum Tour of Energy

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Discover Energy at The State Museum of Pennsylvania
The Industry and Technology Gallery showcases important artifacts associated with Pennsylvania over the past three centuries. Its main exhibit, “Man and Machine,” also offers an opportunity to explore the energy sources which fueled innovations in manufacturing and transportation.




  Animal The most common source of energy in early Pennsylvania was animal power. Domesticated animals such as horses, mules, and oxen were harnessed to power machines and move people and goods.

Conestoga Wagon Beginning in the 18th century, teams of horses hitched to Conestoga wagons transported freight across rugged terrain. An icon of the early American frontier, the wagon is named for the valley in Lancaster County where it was developed.
Pennsylvania Canal Horses and mules towed boats along the Pennsylvania Canal; its Main Line, completed in 1834, moved people and goods more efficiently than existing overland routes.

  Water Pennsylvania’s ample streams, creeks, and rivers were used to power mills in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, hydroelectric dams convert water power into electricity. Sawmill and Gristmill The gravity of falling water from streams and rivers turned large water wheels to operate sawmills. Eventually, water wheels were replaced by more efficient cast-iron reaction turbines, like the one that powered the Rose Garden Mill along the Yellow Breeches Creek in Cumberland County.

Coal Pennsylvania’s ample deposits of coal became a valuable source of energy during the 19th century. Soft coal (bituminous) mined in western Pennsylvania still provides the fuel for modern electric plants.

Cast Iron Stove Hard coal (anthracite), first burned experimentally as a home heating fuel in Wilkes-Barre in 1808, was America’s domestic heating source of choice well into the 20th century. At one time, nearly every home in Pennsylvania had a coal-burning cast iron stove.
Steamboat and Steam Locomotive By the mid-19th century, coal had replaced wood as the fuel for steam-powered engines. Coal-burning steam engines moved boats along Pennsylvania’s navigable rivers and locomotives on the state’s numerous railroads.


Oil The world’s first commercial oil well was drilled at Drake Well, Venango County, in 1859. With the development of the internal combustion engine, petroleum became a critical transportation fuel.

Kerosene Lamp During the second half of the 19th century, oil was used extensively for illumination. Most homes were lit by lamps that burned kerosene, a refined petroleum.
Gasoline-powered Engines Petroleum, refined into gasoline, fueled stationary gasoline engines and automobiles like the 1906 roadster made by the Autocar Company of Ardmore, Montgomery County.


Natural Gas Natural gas has been used as a home heating fuel and as a source of power for electric generation plants. While the Commonwealth’s petroleum reserves have been largely depleted, Pennsylvania still boasts reserves of natural gas.

Marcellus Shale The Marcellus Shale, which extends in an arc from southwestern to northeastern Pennsylvania, is thought to contain an extensive reservoir of natural gas. Recently, there has been renewed interest in exploring and drilling this formation, which lies deep under ground.

Nuclear The world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant opened in Shippingport, Beaver County, in 1957. Although an important power source, debates about nuclear safety have limited its development.

TMI “Rover” The worst accident in the history of the U.S. nuclear power industry occurred in 1979 at Three Mile Island in Middletown, Dauphin County. A specially designed remote reconnaissance vehicle (RRV), nicknamed “Rover,” assisted with the clean up of the plant’s contaminated reactor.

Renewables Recently, Pennsylvania has been striving to
develop wind, sun, and other forms of energy which are domestic, renewable, and environmentally friendly.

Windmill Windmills have been used for centuries, including at one time on many Pennsylvania farms. Plans are underway today to harness this power on an unprecedented scale through modern industrial wind farms.

Electricity Electricity is a form of energy rather than a source. Once generated by other energy sources, electricity is distributed through power lines (aka “the grid”) to provide energy for homes and businesses.

Electric Truck In the early 20th century, electricity, stored in batteries, was used to power some vehicles, including a c. 1910 ice delivery truck used in Lancaster.
Household Appliances Electricity powers light bulbs and countless modern household appliances— from fans and refrigerators to radio and television sets.

This tour is sponsored in part by Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania