It is unknown specifically who discovered coal, but evidence of its use as a light and heat source is documented as far back as several thousand years ago. Archaeological evidence exists of the use of coal by the ancient Chinese and the Romans.
Coal was first discovered by settlers in the United States in 1673 along the Illinois River, although the Hopi Indians were known to have used it for cooking long before that. In the 18th century, the British figured out how to convert coal into fuel, and by the mid-18th century, the first coal mine had been established in the American colony of Virginia. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal played a major role during the Industrial Revolution.