What is it about?

In this article, I compare the wood consumption in the production of potash, saltpeter and pinewood tar in 19th century Finland. My calculations show that in the 19th century the cumulative wood consumption in the production of potash might have been higher or at least on the same level as in the production of tar, while the production of saltpeter consumed only a fraction. In the 1830s their combined wood consumption reached the level of slash-and-burn cultivation.

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Why is it important?

Quantitative calculations on the use of natural resources provide valuable tools, which can give new insights to old questions and rise new ones.


I think that the calculations done in this article gives quite surprising results, which shows the value of quantification in history. At its height, the production of potash might have consumed more wood than tar burning. Despite its short period of glory, potash can thus not be neglected if we want to achieve a comprehensive picture of protoindustrial forest utilization in Finland.

Dr Jan Kunnas
University of Eastern Finland

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: POTASH, SALTPETER AND TAR, Scandinavian Journal of History, September 2007, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/03468750701395419.
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