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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.

The Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum is a very large institution whose statutes date from 1833. Since 1963 its headquarters and principal  displays have been in the Schloss (castle) which dominates the city of Linz and towers above the River Danube. The south wing of the Schloss was destroyed by ...
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Upper Austria Regional Museum
Schlossberg 1
4010 Linz, Austria

Oberzeiring | Austria
The silver mines at Oberzeiring, 16 km north-west of Judenburg in the Aauern Mountains, were worked for more than a thousand years and for several centuries in the late middle ages formed the most productive source of silver in the eastern Alps. The Habsburg emperors on several occasions took the ...
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Historic Silver Mine
8762 Oberzeiring, Austria

Schwaz | Austria
The mining of silver near Schwaz, 22 km north-east of Innsbruck, began in the 15th century and was begun by migrant miners from Bohemia and Saxony. For many decades the mines at Schwaz were the most productive source of silver in Europe, but they declined after discoveries in the Americas led to the ...
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Schwaz Silver Mine
Alte Landstrasse 3a
6130 Schwaz, Austria

Aiseau-Presles | Belgium
Aisneau is a small community about 6 km east of Charleroi which is the headquarters of La Chaine des Terrils, an organisation that protects, conserves and interprets pit heaps across Wallonia from Bernissart on the French frontier near Valenciennes through the Borinage Coalfield, Mons, La Louviere, ...
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Trail of Pit Heaps
Espace Terrils ASAL Ferme des Castors
Rue du Centre 78
6250 Aiseau-Presles, Belgium

The contrast could scarcely be greater: the little town of Amay, with its old town centre, narrow alleyways, mansions and cloisters situated idyllically in the Mass valley, in the shadows of the massive cooling towers of the Huy atomic power station. Baroque middle-class splendour right next to the ...
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Les Maitres du Feu - Route du Feu
Maîtres du feu à Amay – Route du feu
Rue de Bende 5
B-4540 Amay, Belgium

Genk | Belgium
The deep and productive coal mines opened up in the early twentieth century in the Kempen region of Limburg province, where there had previously been very little industrial development, were for more than half a century one of the mainstays of the Belgian economy, but, as in other parts of Europe, ...
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C-Mine
C-Mine 10
3600 Genk, Belgium

Harchies (Bernissart) | Belgium
Harchies is a mining community west of Bernissart, with which it has been combined for local government purposes since 1976. The mining museum was created in the years 1988-89 by a local man, Jeannot Duquesney and displays all the paraphernalia of coal mining, pumps, ventilators, depth indicators ...
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Mine Museum
Rue Marquais
7321 Harchies (Bernissart), Belgium

La Calamine / Kelmis | Belgium
People enjoying the blossoming flowers and plants on a stroll through the hilly countryside around La Calamine (German: Kelmis) in the springtime, will come across tender blossoms of yellow violets in certain places. Experts will recognise them immediately as rare botanic species. The viola ...
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Musée de la Vallée de la Gueule
Rue Max / Maxstr. 9-11
4720 La Calamine/Kelmis, Belgium

La Louvière (Houdeng-Aimeries) | Belgium
The entrance is a thick steel guillotine door, flanked by two round towers which look as if they might have come out of the Middle Ages. Behind them are redbrick buildings which, because of their rich decorations, might easily be mistaken for churches or palaces. From one of the roofs emerges the ...
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Mining Site Bois-du-Luc. Ecomusée
Ecomusée du Bois-du-Luc
Rue Saint-Patrice 2b
7110 La Louvière, Belgium

Mons-Frameries | Belgium
A former colliery complex at Frameries, 8 km south-west of Mons, has been adapted as a 28 ha science adventure park, most of the buildings having been designed or renovated by the architect Jean Nouvel. Amongst the surviving features of the colliery are the steel-framed headstock, which offers views ...
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‘PASS’ Science Adventure Park
Rue de Mons 3
7080 Mons-Framerie, Belgium

Pernik | Bulgaria
Coal-mining began in Pernik in 1891 which soon became known in Bulgaria as the ‘town of black gold’. Extraction ceased in 1966, but from the 1980s public pressure grew for the creation of a museum, particularly after some former miners were inspired by a visit to the conserved salt mines at ...
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Museum of Mining
Starite Rudnitsi
2 Fizkulturna Street
Pernik, Bulgaria

35731 | Czech Republic
The Mining Museum at Krásno in the Slavkov Forest in the north-western part of the Czech Republic is a branch of the regional museum at Sokolov. It is based around the Vilém tin mine, which worked from the First World War until 1991, although displays also illustrate the history of coal-mining in ...
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Mining Museum
Cinová 408
Krásno Krásno, Czech Republic

Ceský Krumlov | Czech Republic
Ceský Krumlov is an historic town of outstanding interest in South Bohemia, laid out around a castle of the late 13th century that towers above the Vltava river. A spectacular 5-level bridge of 1765 connects the castle with a monastery. The town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, ...
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Graphite Museum
Grafitovydul
Chvalšinská u
38101 Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic

Kutna Hora | Czech Republic
Silver ores were mines and processed at Kutna Hora in medieval times, and a royal mint, established there about 1300 worked until 1726 when it was transferred to Prague. The area was important in the early modern period for innovations in mining techniques. Visitors to the museum, which traces its ...
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Czech Museum of Silver
Èeské muzeum støíbra
Barborska 28
284 01 Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Lodĕnice u Beroun is a small village near the town of Beroum in the forest region 26 km south-west of Prague near to which are two important museums of the extractive industries that once flourished in the karst (limestone) region of Bohemia. To the north of the village is the Chrustenice Shaft, a ...
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Mining Exhibition Chrustenice Shaft | Open Air Museum of the Solvay quarries
Železmorudný Chrustenice Skansensolvayovy lomy
267 12 Lodĕnice u Beroun, Czech Republic

Ostrava | Czech Republic
Ostrava is the third city of the Czech Republic, and in the 19th and 20th centuries was the centre of a heavy industrial region, similar to that in Silesia to the north. The mining museum opened in 1993, but incorporating collections that date from 1905, is based in a range of red brick colliery ...
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Mining Museum Landek Park
Pod Landekem 64
725 29 Ostrava, Czech Republic

Pribram VI - Brezové Hory | Czech Republic
The Pribram region of Bohemia was important for the mining of silver from the middle ages, of coal from the late 18th century, and of uranium after the Second World War. The principal mining museum in the Czech republic is centred round the Vojtech mine of 1779, which in 1875 reached a depth of 1000 ...
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Príbram Museum of Mining
Hornické muzeum Pribram
Námesti Hynka Klicky 293
261 01 Príbram, Czech Republic

Sokolov | Czech Republic
Sokolov previously known as Falknov nad Ohři, is a town in the mining region of northern Bohemia. Coalmining in the area began in the mid-eighteenth century and was stimulated by the opening of railways from 1871. The chemical industry became established around Sokolov on a substantial scale from ...
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Muzeum Sokolov
Zamecka 160-1
35601 Sokolov, Czech Republic

Vinařice | Czech Republic
The village of Vinařice lies between Kladno and Slaný, about 30 km west of Prague. Mayrau was a very large coal mine dating from 1874 with shafts extending 527 m below the surface that ceased operation in 1997. The decision to develop a museum on the site was taken as early as 1993 when the mine was ...
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Mayrau Open Air Museum of Mining
Hornický skanzen Mayrau
čp.56
27307 Vinařice, Czech Republic

Herning | Denmark
The lignite mines at Soby, 15 km south of the city of Herning contributed to the supply of energy in Denmark for 30 years from 1940, and were especially important during the wartime years of occupation. At their peak the workings employed some five thousand men, and in most years more than 3,500 ...
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Soby Lignite Museum
Soby Brunkulsmuseum
Brunkulsvej 29
7400 Herning, Denmark