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European Themeroute | Mining

Coal from European and American collieries was the universal fuel during the Industrial Revolution. Nonetheless technical inventions in mining played a relatively insignificant role. The main cause was the ongoing abundance of workers. Colliery owners were able to attain higher outputs simply by ... more

Icon: MiningThe treasures of the Earth. European Theme Route Mining

Coal from European and American collieries was the universal fuel during the Industrial Revolution. Nonetheless technical inventions in mining played a relatively insignificant role. The main cause was the ongoing abundance of workers. Colliery owners were able to attain higher outputs simply by employing more workers. For the same reason they were able to postpone any improvements to the catastrophic working conditions for a long time.

Thus, for centuries technical developments failed to move on from the Middle Ages, when mining in central Europe had been dominated by silver and gold. Hydraulic power was the main source of energy. In order to remove unwanted water from the pits, large water-wheels were installed both above and below the surface, linked by a clever system of rods with extraction pumps. In order for collieries to remain independent of fluctuations in natural water supplies. coal was also brought to the surface with the help of hydraulic power. The Oker pond in the German Harz region, constructed in 1720, is generally regarded as the first reservoir in Europe.

By this time surface supplies had been exhausted in many places; but digging to greater depths involved the use of ever larger water wheels to drive the pumps. The water column machine, first presented in France in 1731, offered a more efficient solution. Water falling from a great height drove a piston downwards, which was then emptied and rose back up again. However, the decisive innovation was the invention of the steam engine in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen. This was first used to raise pit water in a colliery near Wolverhampton. Other British collieries soon followed. True, Newcomen’s invention needed huge amounts of fuel, but this was practically irrelevant because they were erected directly over the coal supplies. Only a few steam engines went into operation on the continent; in the Belgian mining areas around Liège and Mons. Improvements to Newcomen’s model, and new machines developed by James Watt, made steam technology truly viable around 1800.

By that time coal was the leading mining branch. By 1709 the English had already succeeded in making coke from coal. Around the end of the century the new fuel was in wide use in ironworks. This development rapidly increased the demand for coal on the British Isles. But further improvements in mining were necessary. The use of steam engines make the process more efficient. In addition the old winding cables made of hemp were replaced by wire rope, developed in metal-ore collieries in the Harz mountains in 1834. Lifts were then built into the shafts in British collieries, and wooden pithead scaffolding erected to hold the cable wheel.

New technical developments in ventilation were not put into operation for purely economic reasons. Fresh air was not only needed by the miners underground, it was also necessary to reduce the levels of explosive pit gas. For this reason experiments began with air pumps in British collieries: but colliery owners regarded the investment costs as too high. Many colliers continued to lose their lives as a result of explosions underground, and the risks were made greater by the use of open lighting; candles and oil lamps. In 1815 a scientist by the name of Humphry Davy came up with the first effective safety lamp, whose flame was screened off from the pit gas by an extremely thin wire trellis.

Work underground remained highly dangerous and extremely dangerous to health because of the risk of explosions, roofs collapsing and the bone-breaking labour beneath the surface. Hewers equipped with pick, chisel and hammer were sent along appallingly insecure, badly ventilated galleries which were sometimes so low that they were forced to lie down whilst working. The coal was then loaded into baskets or low wagons, to be drawn by horses over wooden or iron rails – when the galleries were high enough to allow this. If not, people had to push and pull the wagons. In British collieries this work was often done by women and children crawling on all fours. The loads of coal they had to push, weighed up to 250 kg.

Starting in the 19th century a huge number of mining engines were patented: the Englishman Richard Trevithick invented a rotating steam-driven drill; this was then followed by a piston drill that worked along the same principle as a steam engine. These inventions would have made work underground much easier, were it not for the fact that they were considered too expensive by the colliery owners. Real progress was only made after 1853 with the introduction of compressed-air drives.
Starting in the 1840s massive pithead towers made of quarrystone or redbrick, began to be introduced, mainly on the continent. They were able to bear the loads imposed on the cables, which were being let down to ever greater depths, better than the old wooden constructions. After only a few decades these so-called "Malakoff towers" (named after the fortress in the Crimea), often had to be made higher by the addition of a steel frame. Around the turn of the 20th century Malakoff towers were replaced completely by even higher steel frames.

About the same time the use of disc-cutting machines – a British innovation – was gradually spreading in the USA and Great Britain. These were equipped with chisels on moving discs, rods or chains to cut a horizontal rift beneath the level of the coal and thereby facilitate hewing. Although this invention lightened miners’ physical labour, it introduced a new stress: noise. Furthermore, the noise of the machines often made it impossible for miners to detect the cracking sound in gallery roofs, that preceded collapses. At first the disc cutters were driven by compressed air, but this was replaced by electricity after people found a way of preventing sparks from intruding into the galleries, and dirt getting into the machines.
Where there were suppliers of soft coal, it proved more advantageous to use a mechanical pick. This was introduced into Belgian coalmines and, after the First World War, into the pits along the Ruhr. Hand labour underground, which had continued almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, was gradually coming to an end.

The coal was increasingly transported from the surface via chutes hanging on chains and shaken with the aid of compressed air. In the 1920s companies began to equip their collieries with electrically-driven conveyor belts. Pit railways with electric locomotives were used along longer stretches. In 1934 a cutter loader was introduced in Great Britain for the first time. This not only cut coal but loaded it in a single working process. In areas where the coal was softer a coal plane was used as an alternative. The first experiments were made in France and the USA and improved to mass production standards by engineers in Westphalia (Germany). The plane was drawn along the surface of the coal, which simultaneously fell on to a moving belt. Finally, fully mechanised coal mining began in the 1940s.

Eisenerz | Austria
Radlader
The world's biggest taxi is as high as a house, goes by the name Hauly and has 860 hp. The converted heavy goods vehicle takes visitors right in the middle of the largest surface mining of Central Europe. Starting from the valley of the small Styrian town Eisenerz the ore mine rises like the steps ...
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Erzberg Adventure
Erzberg 1
8790 Eisenerz, Austria

Beringen | Belgium
What a sight! The long line of carefully built individual showers in the miners’ washroom appears to be never-ending. Here every man had his own cabin. The progressive features on the site are mainly due to the fact that the colliery was built relatively late – shortly after 1900. For this reason it ...
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be Mine Mining Museum
be Mine. Mijnmuseum
Koolmijnlaan 201
3582 Beringen, Belgium

Les Gueules Noires - the black faces: That’s the way the Walloons called their coal buddies. Italians, Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, Russians, Turks and of course Belgians labored in teams to feed the insatiable blast furnaces around Liege with coal. At the closing in 1980 Blegny mine was the oldest ...
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Blegny Mine World Heritage Site
Domaine Touristique de Blegny-Mine
Rue Lambert Marlet, 23
4670 Blegny, Belgium

Two silent pithead winding gears tower over the redbrick gable of the Bois de Cazier colliery near Charleroi. The colliery has now ceased operations but in August 1956 it was the site of one of the most tragic accidents in European mining history; a disaster that killed a total of 262 workers. A ...
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Le Bois du Cazier World Heritage Site
Rue de Cazier 80
6001 Marcinelle, Belgium

Ostrava | Czech Republic
Not even 20 years ago Ostrava was called the ‘Republic’s Iron Heart’, referring to the production facilities of Dolní Vítkovice right in the center of the third-largest Czech city. The local concentration of industrial sectors is unique. The Hlubina colliery produced coal that was coked next door to ...
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Lower Area of Vitkovice
Dolní oblast Vítkovice
Ruská 2887/101
706 02 Ostrava, Czech Republic

Ostrava-Michálkovice | Czech Republic
One might almost imagine that the smell of soap and sweat, tiny specks of coal dust and the hum of voices at a change of shift still hang somewhere in the air. Dozens of helmets, working clothes and boots hanging down from chains on the ceiling, and the tiled washrooms recall the activities that ...
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Michal Mine
Důl Michal
Československè armády 95/413
715 00 Ostrava, Czech Republic

The sheer size of the central tip is enough to give you an idea of what was going on here once. Rising into the sky to the north is the stripped face of a sand stone quarry which once supplied filling material for the mined-out seams of coal below. Two gigantic buildings - the washeries for coke and ...
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Musée les Mineurs Wendel | La Mine Wendel
F 57540 Petite-Rosselle, France

Angle towers and gables with battlements, artistically ornate staircases, an imposing boulevard of lime and plane trees against the background of a palatial redbrick façade! Was this once supposed to be a colliery? Indeed it was. The original owners consciously set out to build a magnificent ...
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Zollern II/IV Colliery LWL Industrial Museum
Grubenweg 5
44388 Dortmund, Germany

Zollverein is the meeting place for past, present and future. The past are the Ruhr Museum with its presentation of the exciting natural and cultural history of the Ruhr Region and the "Monument Path" which brings industrial history back to life. Zollverein was once the largest coal mine in Europe, ...
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Zollverein Mine and Coking Plant World Heritage Site
Besucherzentrum Zollverein Zeche Zollverein Schacht XII Gebäude A 14 / Kohlenwäsche
Gelsenkirchener Str. 181
45309 Essen, Germany

Narrow, crudely hewed out mining galleries: damp rock: glittering coloured crystal minerals. Suddenly the seemingly enchanted underground kingdom springs to life. Rushing water: a mighty scoop wheel creaks into action: above it rises the remarkably genuine sound of crackling fire and bursting rock. ...
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World Heritage Site Rammelsberg - Museum and Visitors Mine
Bergtal 19
38640 Goslar, Germany

Gräfenhainichen | Germany
Its nickname was “Racehorse” and in its life it travelled a total of 221 kilometres – a long way for a crawler swing excavator. In 1995 the old steel giant went into retirement in Ferropolis, the town of iron. Here it is surrounded by four other examples of decommissioned giant building machines, ...
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Ferropolis - Town of Iron
Ferropolisstraße 1
06773 Gräfenhainichen, Germany

The red bricks of the 100 year old briquette factory can already be seen from a distance. Today, it is at the heart of the Museum Energy Factory Knappenrode und at the same time its most fascinating exhibit. The time of the shout down in 1993 seems to have been uniquely preserved. Hammer mills, disk ...
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Saxon Museum of Industry | Energy Factory Knappenrode
Ernst-Thälmann-Straße 8
02977 Hoyerswerda, Germany

Lichterfeld | Germany
It looks like the Eiffel tower, only it’s called F60 and is situated in the Lausitz countryside near Lichterfeld. We’re talking about the largest existing overburden conveyor gantry which has ever been built. Now it’s the star attraction at the F60 visitor colliery. It doesn’t take you underground ...
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F60 Overburden Conveyer Bridge
Bergheider Straße 4
03238 Lichterfeld, Germany

Carbone, the Italian word for coal has given its name to the Sardinian town of Carbonia. Its former colliery - Serbariu – now houses the most important coalmining museum in Italy. Just as the colliers once did, visitors first enter the lamp room which in this case has the dimensions of an extended ...
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Italian Centre for Coal Mining Culture
Centro Italiano della Cultura del Carbone
Grande Miniera di Serbariu
09013 Carbonia, Italy

Rumelange | Luxembourg
Rumelange lies to the south of the Duchy of Luxembourg near the French border, in an area rich in iron ores, called ‘les roches rouges’ (the red rocks). Large-scale mining of ore began with a concession granted to Charles Joseph Collardt, owner of an ironworks at Dommeldange, in 1824. The scale of ...
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National Museum of Iron Ore Mines
Musée National des Mines de Fer Luxembourgeoises
Carreau de la Mine Walert
3714 Rumelange, Luxembourg

Tarnowskie Góry | Poland
The shine of the carbide lamps flit about the underground "Silver Chamber". Look over there! Aren't these two miners working the dolomite rock with hammer and chisel? In the distance you can hear the rattle of pit cars, interrupted by the sound of explosions and hammer strikes. The next gallery is ...
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Historical Silver Mine World Heritage Site
Zabytkowa Kopalnia Srebra
ul. Szczęść Boże 81
42-600 Tarnowskie Góry, Poland

Wałbrzych | Poland
What a drudgery: Up to three tons of coal per shift once were hauled by one miner's power only along the galleries of the Wałbrzych coal field. Horse-drawn carts occurred not before the 1820s, eventually followed by tipper trucks only a decade later. Today a cutting-edge Science and Art Centre ...
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Old Mine Science and Art Centre
Stara Kopalnia Centrum Nauki i Sztuki
ul. Wysockiego 29
58-305 Wałbrzych, Poland

Zabrze | Poland
You can’t get any lower than this! The shafts in the old Guido colliery in Upper Silesia descend to a depth of 320 metres, making it the deepest visitor mine in Europe. A 250 ton rough coal container, conveyor belts, an Alpina tunnelling machine in full working action, hydraulic supporting pillars, ...
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"Guido" Coal Mine
Kopalnia "Guido"
3 Maja 93
41-800 Zabrze, Poland

The "Sistine Chapel" of mining heritage lies 50 metres below the surface of Almadén: the gallery of San Andrés. Visitors of the Mining Park are able to reach it by taking a miner's cage down into the former cinnabar mine of the village. Tunnels and drifts that are centuries old lead them to a huge ...
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Almadén Mining Park World Heritage Site
Parque Minero de Almadén
Cerco San Teodoro
13400 Almadén, Spain

Minas de Riotinto Huelva | Spain
5,000 years of mining history, Europe's largest open cast mine, and a piece of Great Britain right in the middle of Andalusia – the Parque de Minero de Riotinto is not at all short of attractions. The enormous scale of the open pit Corta Atalaya - 350 m deep, and 1,200 m X 900 m in extent - ...
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Riotinto Mining Park
Parque Minero de Riotinto
Plaza del Museo s/n
21660 Minas de Riotinto, Spain