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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.

A large nave with pointed arches in masonry work, bathed in light and flanked by two lower aisles: doesn’t that look like a church at first sight? Not at all church-like, however, is the heavy machinery scattered all over the place, including the first steam engines of the northern Spanish province ...
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Museum of the Iron and Steel Industry and Mining of Castilla and León
Museo de la Siderurgia y la Mineria de Castilla y Leon (MSM)
Plaza de San Blas 1
24810 Sabero, Spain

San Martín del Rey Aurelio | Spain
How does it feel to be a miner? In Pozo Sotón, visitors can find the answer in a literally up close manner, since the guided tour through the underground galleries is a sweaty experience and requires a good physical condition. The trip starts with putting on the right dress: change of underwear, ...
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Pozo Soton Mine
Linares, AS-17
33950 San Martín del Rey Aurelio, Spain

The contrast could not be greater, hamlets and small villages bordering idyllic lakes, set within an expanse of woodland. Then, suddenly a red gorge appears: The Falun Mine. Once the world’s largest copper mine and today the heart of a unique historic industrial landscape, which was designated by ...
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Falun Mine, World Heritage
Falu Gruva
Gruvgatan 44
791 61 Falun, Sweden

Barnsley | United Kingdom
There was heavy industry in Elsecar from the early 18th century. Elsecar and the adjacent villages were packed with collieries, ironworks, and other industrial concerns, playing a critical role in the economic development of the region.The Heritage Centre is the former foundry and colliery workshops ...
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Elsecar Heritage Centre
Wath Road Elsecar
S74 8HJ Barnsley, United Kingdom

A small town – with a huge effect. The South Wales town of Blaenavon was once the spearhead of the industrial revolution. For 200 years everything revolved around coal and iron here in the Afon Lwyd Valley. This not only affected the landscape. It also affected the people. To such an extent that ...
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Big Pit: National Coal Museum World Heritage Site
NP4 9XP Blaenavon, United Kingdom

Dudley | United Kingdom
It could hardly be easier to step back in time. Visitors just need to get on the tram, and take it in to town. While strolling around the shops, they can watch the children whipping their spinning-tops in the street. In order to learn more about the wares in the historic shop windows it only takes ...
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Black Country Living Museum
Tipton Road
DY1 4SQ Dudley, United Kingdom

Swansea | United Kingdom
Computer screens with interactive film sequences. Graphics and projections. Multi-media shows demonstrating how fireproof bricks, iron and steel were manufactured. The first impressions make it unmistakably clear that the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea (Wales) prides itself on ...
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National Waterfront Museum
Oystermouth Road
SA1 3RD Swansea, United Kingdom

Wakefield | United Kingdom
You had better dress up warm here. For you’ll be going 140 metres underground. And below the earth it is cold, damp and dark. The National Coalmining Museum for England, near Overton in West Yorkshire, is located in one of the oldest collieries in the United Kingdom. Here visitors can don a miner’s ...
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National Coal Mining Museum for England
Caphouse Colliery
New Road Overton
WF4 4RH Wakefield, United Kingdom

Eisenerz | Austria
The city museum of Eisenerz, centrally located in the Old Town Hall at the Bergmannplatz since 2011, takes the visitor back to the heyday of local ironwork in the 16th century, with the prestigious council chamber of 1583 and the former jail as proper setting.The museum tour leads visitors from the ...
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Museum in the Old Town Hall
Bergmannplatz 1
8790 Eisenerz, Austria

Radmer | Austria
Copper has been mined in the Radmer valley since the Bronze Age. Between 1590 and 1620 Radmer was one of the most important Alpine copper mining regions. In 1855 the mine was closed, leaving a total of 60 galleries that are mostly unknown or not accessible.Only the Paradeisstollen with its labyrinth ...
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Copper Visitor Mine
Radmer 36
8795 Radmer, Austria

Built on a mining site with a long and rich history of its own, Tellure offers an exciting combination of museum areas, interactive workshops, 3-D images and visits to authentic silver mines which have been carefully preserved in their original natural environment. Numerous special effects are used ...
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TELLURE – The Underground Worlds Exploration Centre
TELLURE – Centre d’exploration des mondes souterrains Office de Tourisme du Val d'Argent
86, Rue Wilson
68160 Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, France

Bestwig | Germany
Unternehmen Sie eine Entdeckungsreise ins Innere der Erde und erleben die Faszination Bergbau hautnah. Nachdem Sie mit Helm und Schutzkleidung versorgt wurden, fahren Sie mit der originalen Grubenbahn 1,5 km in den Berg ein. 300 m unter Tage - die Temperatur beträgt hier im Sommer wie im Winter ca. ...
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Sauerland visitor mine
Sauerländer Besucherbergwerk Ramsbeck
Glück-Auf-Straße 3
59909 Bestwig, Germany

Borken (Hessen) | Germany
Borken is an old town in Hesse, 45 kilometers southwest of Kassel and roughly the same distance northeast of Marburg, in the heart of a region that relied on lignite mining for more than 400 years. The museum, founded in 1992 and located in a timber-framed building called Am Amtsgericht in the town ...
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Hessian Brown Coal Mining Museum
Am Freilichtmuseum 1
34582 Borken (Hessen), Germany

Dortmund | Germany
For outsiders the Hansa coking plant was a forbidden city for more than 60 years. Its roads and bridges were permeated with the smell of tar, its buildings and towers covered with layers of coal dust, day and night. Every ten minutes the endless batteries of coking ovens had to be emptied and ...
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Hansa Coking Plant
Emscherallee 11
44369 Dortmund, Germany

Großpösna | Germany
Central Germany has a long history of the extraction, refining and use of lignite. The testimony of this industry that profoundly shaped the landscape will soon be nothing more but "blue spots" – that is lakes – on the map. Only the few remaining open-cast mining machines will tell the story of the ...
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Bergbau-Technik-Park
Am Westufer 2
04463 Großpösna, Germany

The history of the Ewald colliery began in 1871. Three mining contractors in Essen, one of whom Ewald Hilger, gave his name to the pit, set up the colliery in the south of Herten. After a thorny start the colliery grew to become the most productive pit in the Ruhrgebiet, above all after the Second ...
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Ewald Mine | Hoheward Landscape Park
Besucherzentrum Hoheward
Werner-Heisenberg-Straße 14
45699 Herten, Germany

Oelsnitz/Erzgebirge | Germany
Coal in the area around Oelsnitz, 25 km south-west of Chemnitz was mined on a large scale between 1844 and 1971, although some had been extracted by farmers from their own fields in earlier times. Some 200 shafts were sunk in the district, ranging in depth from 9 m to 1200 m, the deepest of them ...
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Mining Museum
Pfockenstrasse 28
09376 Oelsnitz/Erzgebirge, Germany

Sangerhausen OT Wettelrode | Germany
Working underground was anything but a bed of roses. Miners were exposed to enormous levels of stress because of the extremely low galleries (some of which were no higher than 40 centimetres), the dust produced from mining copper slate, and not least of all the noise of the chopping machines and ...
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Röhrigschacht mining museum
Lehde
06526 Sangerhausen, Germany

Iron ore extraction in the Lahn-Dill region is more than 2.000 years old. The area around the current Lahn-Dill district once contained more than 210 pits used for mining the so called Lahn-Dill ore. In 1983 the red hematite mine Fortuna closed its doors, thus putting an end to the ore extraction in ...
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Fortuna visitor mine and mine railway museum
Grube Fortuna 1
35606 Solms, Germany

This factory was already a technical museum before it ceased operations, because briquetting presses and plate dryers from the 1883-1895 series were running here till 1959. A single 12 horsepower steam engine was responsible for driving the transmission: it was later replaced by an electric motor. ...
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Brown Coal Processing Museum in the „Herrmannschacht“ Briquette Factory
Mitteldeutscher Umwelt- und Technikpark
Naumburger Straße 99
06712 Zeitz, Germany