The cast iron pot is believed to be the oldest known coke iron casting in the world, and proves that Abraham Darby smelted iron with coke, as opposed to charcoal from wood, as previously believed.
Without using coke to smelt iron, there would have been no Industrial Revolution as there was not enough supply of wood.
It has previously been thought that Abraham Darby invented the process because wood was already becoming increasingly scarce and coke was more economic, but Dr Richard Williams has established that it was all about cooking pots.
Working on behalf of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust he said: "We have now shown how Abraham Darby was the first man to make a profitable business from smelting iron with coke rather than charcoal.
"He saw an opportunity that no-one else did, applied for a patent to protect it and got on with creating the business to exploit it."
The key to the findings is a 300-year-old unique cast iron pot dated 1714 in the collection of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
Dr Williams wondered how it had been cast in order to have exactly the right structure. He saw the relationship between the only patent that Abraham Darby filed and his modified blast furnace. It had been thought that the two inventions were separate from each other, but Dr Williams realised that Darby's patent would only work if the liquid iron he used to pour into his moulds was made with coke and not with charcoal.