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CW Journal : Summer 08 : Powering the Eighteenth Century

Powering the Eighteenth Century

by Abigail Schumann
Photos by Dave Doody

Wind generation. Solar collection. Waterpower. Chemical reactions. Modern alternative energy sources? Or technologies that drove the eighteenth century? Both, as photographer Dave Doody saw when he focused on the wind, water, physics, and chemistry that power Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area.

Doody turned his lenses on the applications of power to colonial transportation, industry, agriculture, the military, and daily life. He saw that the sun’s energy fueled every crop, including the tobacco levered into hogsheads, and the grain ground at wind and water mills. Propulsion and buoyancy by wind and water made possible the transatlantic commerce that traveled on canvas and wood.

Ashore, the energy to move people from point to point often came from muscle. Whether on the hoof or in a man’s arm, muscles powered engines of daily life—like that simple machine the yoke that eased the burden of a woman shouldering buckets of milk or well water.

The heat of a bellows-fed coal fire and the wood-fueled inferno of a brick kiln domesticated nature’s might to man’s purpose. The chemistry of gunpowder on the battlefield and the physics of a pump fire engine example the applied science of the times, when the eighteenth century was the modern era and its technologies the latest. Doody’s camera captured the power of the past, and glimpsed something of the future.