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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.

Abbadia San Salvatore | Italy
Abbadia San Salvatore is a town of about 7,000 people, 70 km south of Sienna and west of the Autostrada and railway from Florence to Rome. It was founded in the mid-8th century, and takes its name from an important Benedictine monastery. It is situated on the eastern slopes of Mount Amatio, an ...

Abbadia San Salvatore Mining Museum
Parco Museo Minerario
Via Suor Gemma, 5
53021 Abbadia San Salvatore, Italy

The Park was born to preserve the history of metallurgy and mining activities carried on during three millenniums in the territory of the "Colline Metallifere Grossetane" (Metalliferous Hills in the province of Grosseto) ", activities that influenced the cultural landscape.The territory of the ...

Parco Nazionale Tecnologico e Archeologico delle Colline Metallifere
Consorzio del Parco Tecnologico e Archeologico delle Colline Metallifere
Piazza Dante, 35
58100 Grosseto, Italy

The plan of the Geological and Mining Park of Sardinia has been elaborated by EMSA (Sardinian Mining Agency). It provides for eight areas which are spread over the entire island, and which have been selected depending on the geological and mining importance, archaeological remains and natural ...

Geological Mining Park of Sardinia
Parco Geominerario Storico e Ambientale della Sardegna
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Løkken Verk | Norway
The local community Løkken Verk has developed during more than 300 years of mining industry. The ore in the Løkken field was discovered in 1652 and the mines put into operation in 1654. Later this find proved to be one of the greatest cuperous-pyrite deposits in the world. During the first 250 years ...

Orkla Industrial Museum
Orkla Industrimuseum
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Senjski Rudnik | Serbia
Senjski Rudnik, established in 1853, is Serbia’s oldest active brown coal mine and the oldest preserved industrial heritage site. Located in eastern Serbia, 150 km southeast of Belgrade, this small town is surrounded by the most southern slopes of Carpathian mountains and deep forest. This ...

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Blaenavon | United Kingdom
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Church Road
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Merthyr Tydfil | United Kingdom
Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery is one of the great “finds” of the South Wales Valleys. The castle was built in 1824 by the ironmaster William Crawshay the second. It overlooked his immensely successful ironworks which were the largest in the world in the first quarter of the nineteenth ...

Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Brecon Road
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New Tredegar | United Kingdom
The Elliot Colliery two storey winding house (1891) contains a magnificent Victorian steam engine, once part of the local coal mine. Today it stands as a community museum and visitors can experience the massive engine in operation and learn about local history. New Tredegar typifies the urbanisation ...

Elliot Colliery Engine House
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Port Talbot | United Kingdom
Set in a country park the museum is run by a committed group of ex-miners. Main features include a traditional miners cottage scene, historic photographs illustrating the miners way of life, the poignant story of the children underground and early mining equipent displayed in a realistic setting. ...

South Wales Miners Museum
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Trehafod | United Kingdom
They laboured like animals: bent double in the low galleries, their lungs full of dust, in constant fear of the walls collapsing, or a gas explosion. But despite all this, they were as proud as any farmer cultivating his own fields. For every collier was allocated his own particular underground ...

Rhondda Heritage Park
Lewis Merthyr Colliery
Coed Cae Road
CF37 2NP Rhondda, United Kingdom

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Llorts Mine and Rossell Forge
La Mina de Llorts | Farga Rossell Lorts 300 Ordino Tel + 376 (0)878-152
Areny-Plandolit Museum
300 Ordino, Andorra

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Altböckstein Montanmuseum
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Fohnsdorf | Austria
Fohnsdorf in Styria is the centre of an area where brown coal (lignite) was mined from the late seventeenth century. It was extracted on a larger scale from the 1840s when it was used at ironworks in Styria. In 1869 the mines at Fohnsdorf were bought by Steirische Eisenindustriegesellschaft. Mining ...

Mining Museum
Haldengasse 10
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Großkirchheim | Austria
The Hohe Tauern range, between the provinces of Salzburg and Carinthia was an important source of gold for many centuries, and the village of Döllach-im-Mölltal, at the foot of the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, the main road route through the mountains was one of the most important mining centres. ...

Tauerngold Exhibition

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Hinterbrühl | Austria
The Seegrotte cave system in the district of Mödling in Lower Austria is the result of mining for gypsum. An explosion during blasting in the mine in 1912 led to its closure, and also the creation of what is believed to be the largest subterranean lake in Europe. The cave system was ‘re-discovered’ ...

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Grutschgasse 2a
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Hüttenberg is a former mining town in Carinthia which has suffered since 1978 from the closure of mines and associated industries. The Carinthian Land Exhibition in 1995 attempted to revitalise the area by displaying its mining heritage and creating an open air museum to display the history of iron ...

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Hüttenberg Show Mine
Knappenberg 32
A-9376 Hüttenberg, Austria

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 ...

Upper Austria Regional Museum
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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 ...

Historic Silver Mine
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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 ...

Schwaz Silver Mine
Alte Landstrasse 3a
6130 Schwaz, Austria

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