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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.

Zabrze | Poland
The museum established in 1981 is the only such institution in Poland with an extensive collection related to the history of mining, mining technology and culture. Rich educational offer, a typical Silesian flat, a gallery of unprofessional paintings and images of St. Barbara - these are merely ...

Coal Mining Museum
Muzeum Górnictwa Węglowego
3 Maja 19
41-800 Zabrze, Poland

Zabrze | Poland
It was built in 1920s and it is a complex of buildings and equipment of the Concordia mine. Due to the revitalization and preservation of historic buildings – today, it looks as in the times of its heyday. Now, we can see here the well-preserved building of the shaft top along with the hoisting ...

Maciej Shaft
Szyb Maciej
Srebrna 6
41-819 Zabrze, Poland

Zabrze | Poland
The sinking of the Louisa coal mine at Zabrze in 1791 is often considered to have been the beginning of industrialisation in Upper Silesia. The mining museum project in the city began in 1979, and is now centred on the Carnall and Wilhemina shafts, about 650 m apart. At the former exhibitions ...

“Queen Louise” Adit
Sztolnia “Królowa Luiza”
Wolnosci 410
41-800 Zabrze, Poland

Złoty Stok | Poland
Złoty Stok is a small town of less than 3,000 people in southern Silesia, 77 km. south of Wrocław, and close to the border with the Czech Republic. Gold was first worked in the area in the early sixteenth century when the town was known, in German, as Reichenstein (the rich town), while the current ...

Gold Mine at Złoty Stok
Kopalnia Złoto w Złotyn Stoku
ul Złota 7
57-250 Złoty Stok, Poland

Alcoutim | Portugal
Copper has been mined since prehistoric times in the region of Alcoutim, a Portuguese town on the River Guardiana, which is the frontier with Spain, 65 km north-east of Faro. Exploitation on an industrial scale began in 1868 under the direction of Joao Texeira. The workings were abandoned in the ...

Parque Mineiro da Cova dos Mouros
Alcoutim, Portugal

Fundao | Portugal
The mines around Barroca Grande , Silvares and Panasqueira, 35 km west of Fundao, are the most productive source of tungsten in Europe. Prospecting in the area began in 1886, the mineral wolframite, the source of tungsten, was identified in 1888, a mining company was founded in 1896, and production ...

Tungsten Mines
Museu Arqueologico Municipale Jose Monteiro
Rua do Serrao 13-15
6230-418 Fundao, Portugal

For much of the twentieth century the Sétubal district on south-west coast of Portugal was an important source of sulphur. Pyrites from which sulphur is obtained was worked at Lousal between 1906 and 1988. The project to conserve some of the workings as part of a museum dates from 1996 when ...

Mina de Ciência – Centro Ciência Viva do Lousal
Av. Frédéric Velge
7570-006 Lousal, Portugal

Rosia Montana | Romania
Rosia Montana is a municipality made up of 16 villages along the River Rosia in an area known as the Golden Quadrilateral where gold, silver and copper have been extracted since Roman times. It became famous in the early twenty-first century because the Canadian company Gabriel Resources proposed to ...

Mining Museum
Muzeul Mineritului
Str Principala 178
Rosia Montana, Romania

Banska Stiavnica | Slovakia
Banska Stiavnica – a world heritage site - was from the 13th century one of Europe’s most important sources of silver, lead and iron ore, and the town retains many buildings that provide of its prosperous past, including two castles, magnificent Renaissance houses and the Kammerhof, where ores were ...

Open Air Museum of Mining
Banské múzeum v prírode – Skanzen
J.K Hella 12
969 00 Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia

Kosice | Slovakia
The Slovak Technical Museum originated in 1948, and gained its present name in 1983. It is located in an 18th century Baroque mansion in Kosice, the second town of the old kingdom of Hungary, an important century for the mining of iron ore and magnesite, for the manufacture of machine tools, and ...

Slovak Technical Museum
Hlavna 88
043 82 Kosice, Slovakia

Roznava | Slovakia
Rožòava is a mining town at the centre of an extensive ironmaking region in eastern Slovakia. Its mining museum, whose earliest collections date from 1902, has extensive displays, including some located underground, illustrating methos of extracting iron ore. A blast furnace that worked between 1843 ...

Mining Museum [BAHM] Rožòava
Banicke muzeum (BANM) Roznava
Safarikova 31
048 01 Rožòava, Slovakia

Idrija was a centre for the mining of cinnabar ore, the ore from which mercury is obtained, for many centuries. Cinnabar deposits discovered in 1490 were worked by the government of the Habsburg Empire from 1509 and smelters were subsequently erected on the banks of the River Idrijca, north-east of ...

Anthony Road. Tourist Mercury Mine
Antonijev Rov Turistični rudnik živega srebra Idrija
Kosovelova 3
5280 Idrija, Slovenia

Mezica | Slovenia
Mines in the Karavanke mountains near Mezica (formerly Miess), which lies close to the border with Austria, north-west of Velenje, were worked from the 17th century, and were one of the principal sources of lead and zinc in the Habsburg Empire. The mines were celebrated as a source of wulfenite ...

Mezica Lead and Zinc Mine
Podzemlje Pece
Glancnik 6
2392 Mezica, Slovenia

Velenje | Slovenia
The museum project at Velenje, the principal centre of coal-mining in Slovenia, originated in 1956-7, but the present museum in the old shaft (Stari jasek) was opened in 1999. Visitors are able to explore underground workings in one part of the mine, where there is a display relating to a disaster ...

Mining Museum of Slovenia
Muzej premogovnistva Slovenije
Stari Jasek - Koroska cesta
3320 Velenje, Slovenia

Cercs | Spain
Around the upper reaches of the Llobregat river there are many mines which have riddled the mountains with their galleries. The mines of Figols and the surrounding area were for long the source of the coal that moved the steam engines that drove Catalan industry. The mining museum reveals 150 years ...

Cercs Mining Museum
Museu de les Mines de Cerc
Plaça Sant Romà s/n. Colònia Sant Corneli
08698 Cercs, Spain

Cuevas del Almanzora | Spain
Cuevas de Almanzora, 70 km north-east of Almeria, is the principal town of the mining district in the Sierra Almagrera, a range of mountains that runs parallel to the coast for about 12 kms. Minerals were worked in the region from prehistoric times, and the towns stands in the shadow of a sixteenth ...

Sierra Almagrera mining district
Information: Tourist office
Plaza De La Contitucion
04610 Cuevas del Almanzora, Spain

El Entrego | Spain
Asturias was one of the most important coal mining regions in Spain and the museum at El Entrego, 3 km south of Langreo, provides evidence of the role of the mining industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum is located in a spectacular series of colliery structures. A steel headstock ...

Museum of Mining and Industry
Musea de la Mineria y de la Industrie
El Trabanquin
33940 El Entrego, Spain

Gallarta is a community in the iron ore mining region 14 km north-west of Bilbao, best known as the birthplace of Dolores Ibarrun, La Pasionara (1895-1981), the daughter of miner who became one of the leading figures in the Spanish republican movement. The Asociación Cultural Meuseo Minero (Cultural ...

Mining Museum of the Basque Country
Euskal Herrike Meatzaritzaren Museoa Fundazioa Museo de la Mineria de Pais Vasco
Campo Dieog Auzoa
48500 Gallarta, Spain

La Unión | Spain
Mining flourished in the province of Murcia, on the Mediterranean coast in south-eastern Spain, from Roman times. The Carretera del 33 (Way of the 33) is a road that links the community of La Unión with the port of Portmán. From 1869 until the last mines closed in 1991 the principal mineral ...

La Unión Mining Park
Parque Minero de la Unión
Carretera del 33
30360 La Unión, Spain

Large-scale coal mining was the principal economic activity in the province of Asturias in northern Spain from the 1840s. Langreo, with a population of 43,000 is the fourth largest town in the province and lies close to the River Samuñ which extends 8 km from its source to its confluence with the ...

Samuño Valley Mining ecomuseum
Ecomseo Minero del valle de Samuño
El Cadavíu Ciañu
33909 Langreo, Spain