>ANS: The item was charcoal. Road making and iron making did more to destroy the eastern U.S. forests than did any shipbuilder, lumberman, farmer, or tanning business. Charcoal road building required a pile of lumber to be nine feet wide and five feet high. It was then covered with earth and set afire. When charred the earth was removed to the side of the road, the coal raked to 15 ft wide and 2 feet in the crown and 1 foot at the edge. The burning also reduced the stumps and roots that would break wheels and injure animals. Roads made in this manner developed existing paths through the wooded areas and were cheap--even by colonial standards. Charcoal roads cost five-six hundred dollars a MILE!
Iron making furnaces went through 5000 cord per season per furnace (remember a cord is a stack 8 feet x 4 feet, x four feet). If viewed from above, furnace locations looked roughly like a patchwork target and/or similar to the driven central pivot irrigation circles you might see today. Each year the radius increased with the clear-cut of the land. Once the land was cleared for miles around wagon trains and then short haul railroads imported lumber and sent out iron. Only after the lumber was exhausted did coal come into play. U.S. businesses then were little different in attitude than South America is today in wiping out the forests of interior South America. Availability, income, employment, development, and markets are little different in motivation for entrepreneurs, yesterday or today.