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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 typical signs of Rhineland brown coal open-cast mining can be recognised for miles around on the flat plain east of Aachen. The huge accumulation of rubble on the "Sofienhöhe", waste material from one of the largest "holes" in Europe, the Hambach open-cast mine, and swathes of smoke rising into ...
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Inden Brown coal open-cast mining
Braunkohletagebau Informationszentrum der RWE Power Schloss Paffendorf
Burgstraße
50126 Inden, Germany

The cellar is amazing! Suddenly it opens out into a complete mining gallery! Rough hewn timber struts support the walls and ceilings, trolleys and drills stand at the ready, a hoisting cage is there, a throwshovel loader and even a latrine bucket. Once these were all accompanied by the noisy ...
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Regional Museum of Mining, Handicraft and Trade
Burggraben 9-21
51429 Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

Bexbach | Germany
If you want to go back deep into the past, you should first climb high up in the present. The entrance to the Hindenburg tower (built in 1934) in the Saarland Mining Museum in Bexbach is situated at a height of 40 metres. From here you can get an outstanding view of the “neglected Saar area”, the ...
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Saarland Mining Museum
Niederbexbacher Straße
66450 Bexbach, Germany

Bochum | Germany
The highlight is hidden around 20 metres below ground level: a replica of a coal mine with coal seams, galleries and shafts complete with all the machinery. The whole stretch is two and half kilometres in length. Here visitors can see live, close-up demonstrations of various mining techniques. The ...
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German Mining Museum
Am Bergbaumuseum 28
44791 Bochum, Germany

The bulky Malakoff tower of the Hannover colliery was built in 1857 in the midst of green fields on the boundaries of the city of Bochum. In 1973 the continuing crisis in the coal industry spelt the end for the colliery, despite the fact that shaft II had been rebuilt to become the main mining shaft ...
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Hannover Colliery LWL Industrial Museum
Günningfelder Straße 251
44793 Bochum, Germany

Clausthal-Zellerfeld | Germany
The museum of mining in Clausthal-Zellerfeld was established in 1892 by Adulf Achenbach (1825-1903), a Saarlander who followed a varied career in the service of the Prussian government in several parts of Germany. He managed the mines in the Clausthal region for 22 years from 1878 until shortly ...
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Upper Harz Mining Museum
Bornhardtstrasse 18
38678 Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany

Drebkau | Germany
The F60 overburden conveyor bridge carries out a phenomenal amount of work. On one side of the mine it carries away excavated material and then transports it across the open pit to dump it on the other side. With its three giant chain-and-bucket excavators and a conveyor bridge measuring over ...
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Welzow-South opencast mining
Führungen / Guided Tours: Vattenfall Europe Mining AG Vom-Stein-Straße 39 03050 Cottbus Fon: +49 (0) 35646 - 95142 Aussichtspunkt Steinitz:
Domsdorfer Weg
03116 Welzow, Germany

Düppenweiler | Germany
Coal mining is a dominant feature of the industrial and social history of the Saarland. But in Düppenweiler they used to mine copper. In 1723 a peasant came upon a lump of cupriferous rock whilst ploughing and in 1725 copper mining began. In the 19th century the copper mine passed into the ownership ...
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Historical Copper Mine
Piesbacher Straße
66701 Beckingen-Düppenweiler, Germany

Tin ore was discovered in the region of Ehrenfriedersdorf, 34 km south of Chemnitz, in the 13th century and was mined until the early 1990s. Some silver was also extracted from the local mines, as well as a wide variety of minerals. Visitors are now carried on a train into the old workings 100 m ...
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Saxon Museum of Industry | Ehrenfriedersdorf Tin Mine
Am Sauberg 1
09427 Ehrenfriedersdorf, Germany

Freiberg is the principal city of the Erzgebirge (the ore mountains) in Saxony, one of Europe’s principal sources of metallic ores, a mining region that extended into the present Czech Republic. Freiberg was granted privileges that made it the first free mining city in Germany in the mid-14th ...
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Freiberg Municipal and Mining Museum
Am Dom 1
09599 Freiberg, Germany

Freiberg | Germany
Mining in Saxony had its origin in Freiberg. The Saxon “mining capital” developed quickly out of the farming village of Christiansdorf, where in 1168 the first silver ore in the region was discovered. Extensive mining led to the extraction of rich ores, not only silver but also lead, zinc and ...
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Reiche Mine
Alte Elisabeth
Fuchsmühlenweg 9
09599 Freiberg, Germany

Gelsenkirchen | Germany
The Nordstern park in Gelsenkirchen is located on the site of a disused coal mine and is a mixture of carefully restored and modernised colliery buildings and landscaped gardens from a former National Garden Show. Industrial heritage and industrial nature; a place to relax and recuperate. It all ...
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Nordstern Park
Am Bugapark
45899 Gelsenkirchen, Germany

The tours do not promise too much. One is called “Journey to Mars”, another “Jeep-Safari”. They lead deep into a scarred, alien landscape of yawning chasms, pockmarked excavations and strange gorges. The Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) visitor centre in Großräschen, Fürst-Pückler-Land, glows ...
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IBA-Terraces Lausitzer Seenland visitor centre / former Meuro opencast mining
Seestraße 100
01983 Großräschen, Germany

Hamm | Germany
Sometimes it takes time to make changes. In Hamm on the north-east edge of the Ruhrgebiet the long wait has paid off. For almost a hundred years nature ran wild on the disused site of the old Maximilian colliery. Indeed the natural growth was so successful that it gave rise to the first State Garden ...
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Maximilian Park
Alter Grenzweg 2
59071 Hamm, Germany

Hellenthal | Germany
It is cold, somewhat damp, and dark. At places you have to duck your heads. Visitors very quickly appreciate what mining lead ore underground used to entail. The underground gallery has a total length of 2,450 metres, and there are now guided tours along a part of it covering around 800 metres. ...
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Grube Wohlfahrt visitors mine
Rescheid - Aufbereitung II 1
53940 Hellenthal, Germany

Herdorf, on the River Heller 20 km south-west of Siegen, was the chief centre of mining for coal and iron ore in the Siegerland, a region celebrated for the production of iron and steel. The museum project was launched in 1986. Displays in an old school building tell the story of mining in the area ...
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Mining Museum of the Altenkirchen district
Bergbaumuseum der Kreises Altenkirchen
Schulstrasse 13
57562 Herdorf, Germany

The village of Kümmersbruck lies 3 km. south of Amberg and 65 km. east of Fürth, not far from Germany’s frontier with the Czech Republic. This area of eastern Bavaria has a long industrial history involving ironworking and the mining of iron ore (which ceased in 1987), the extraction of gold, lead, ...
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Mining & Industry Museum of Eastern Bavaria
Bergbau und Industriemuseum Ostbayern Schloss Theuern
Portnerstrasse 1
92245 Kümmersbruck, Germany

Lauchhammer | Germany
Medieval castles spring to mind when you see them. Many people are even reminded of Castel del Monte, the famous southern Italian palace of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Friedrich II. All of a sudden, 24 slim, brickwork towers appear on the Lusatian horizon. Round and windowless, they rise 22 metres into ...
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Lauchhammer Bio-Towers
Finsterwalder Str. 57
01979 Lauchhammer, Germany

Mechernich | Germany
Visitors are advised to wrap up warmly and don protective helmets before descending into the bowels of the earth. But this is purely a precautionary measure. For the mining gallery is not only 9 degrees Celsius warm, they can really bang their heads – in astonishment. Especially when they hear the ...
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Mechernich Mining Museum
Bergbaumuseum Mechernich
Bleibergstraße 6
53894 Mechernich, Germany

Olbernhau | Germany
Saigerhutte in Olbernhau, 32 km south-west of Chemnitz, was once a self-contained village of timber-framed buildings devoted to the processing of copper, which originated in 1836, and was the principal centre for copper working in Saxony. The 22 historic buildings that remain include calcining ...
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Saigerhütte Museum
In der Hutte 10
09526 Olbernhau, Germany