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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.

Argentella | France
The Argentella silver mine lies on the bay of Crovani on the west coast of Corsica, within the district of Calinzana. The mine was a source of argentiferous galena (i.e. silver-bearing lead ore) and was operated at various periods in the nineteenth century, and finally for a short period from 1906 ...

Argentella Silver Mine

Argentella, France

There´s no steel without coke. It was only when coke began to be used in 1769 that "Minette" (iron ore with a relatively small proportion of iron) really began to pay off as a raw material for making iron and steel. In 1881 the ore surmounted another hurdle on its way to partnering iron and steel ...

Iron ore-mine museum of Aumetz
Musee des Mines de Fer d’Aumetz
Rue Saint Léger de Montbrillais
57110 Aumetz, France

Cagnac les Mines | France
Carmaux, a town with a population of 10,000 on the River Tarn in the Mid-Pyrenees, 80 km north of Toulouse, is the centre of a small coalfield, measuring only about 10 km X 3 km. The mines were developed from 1752 by the aristocratic Solages family, who in the 19th century installed steam engines ...

Mining Museum
Musée-mine départemental
Avenue de Saint-Sernin
81130 Cagnac les Mines, France

La Motte d’Aveillons | France
La Motte d’Aveillons is a village in the department of Isère, which now has a population of less than 2,000 although around 3,000 people lived there during the first six decades of the twentieth century when anthracite mining, commemorated at La Mine Image was the principal local industry. The ...

La Mine Image
La Mine Image
Route des quatre galléries
38700 La Motte d’Aveillons, France

Le Molay-Littry | France
The coalfield in the département of Calvados in Normandy was one of the first to be exploited in France, and was productive over more than two centuries. Coal seams were discovered at Littry in 1741 and the Compagnie des Mines de Littry, formally established in 1747 produced fuel for potteries and ...

Mining Museum
Musée de la Mine
Rue de la Fossé Frandemiche
14330 Le Molay-Littry, France

Le Pradet | France
Le Pradet lies east of Toulon on France’s Mediterranean coast near Cape Garonne. In 1857, Layet et Martel, coal dealers of Marseilles, gained the right to prospect for copper and lead ores in local sandstone quarries and were subsequently granted concessions to mine. Extraction began in 1862. The ...

Cap Garonne Mining Museum
Musée de la Mine de Cap Garonne
1000 Chemin du Baou Rouge
83220 Le Pradet, France

The centre at Guesnain 8km SE of Douai is the largest mining museum in France and occupies the surface buildings of the Delloye Colliery that was sunk in 1920. Most of the principal surface structures remain, two steel headstocks with their winding engines, coal-handling and -screening plant, the ...

Mining History Centre of Lewarde
Centre Historique Minier du Nord-Pas de Calais
Fosse Delloye Rue d'Erchin - BP30039
59287 Lewarde, France

Loos-en-Gohelle was a scene of conflict in a succession of wars between the 13th and 17th centuries, and of epic-scale slaughter during the so-called First Battle of Loos in 1915. The Loos Memorial commemorates 20,000 British soldiers killed between 1915 and 1918, and there are several other ...

Coal Mines of Loos-en-Gohelle | La Chaine des Terrils
La Chaine des Terrils
Base du 11/19 Rue de Bourgogne
62750 Loos-en-Gohelle, France

Lorraine iron ore was the first victim of globalisation long before this became a household word. It was known in the region as “minette” or “small ore” because of its low iron content – about 20-35% less than in "good iron", the so-called "fer fort". The streak of "minette" through the Lorraine ...

Ecomuseum of the Iron Mines of Lorraine
Musée des Mines de Fer de Neufchef
Vallée de Sainte Neige
57700 Neufchef, France

Oignies | France
Oignies is a coal-mining community 15 km north-west of Douai and 20 km south of Lille. Coal was first discovered in the area in 1842, and the last was extracted in 1990. The centre named after Denis Papin (1647-1712), the French-born pioneer of steam technology, who did much of his research in ...

Mining and Railway Centre
Centre de la Mine et du Chemin de Fer
Rue Emile Zola
62590 Oignies, France

Ronchamp | France
Ronchamps is a small town in the department of Haute-Saône 17 km. west of Belfort, best known as the location of Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut, completed in 1954. Coal mining in the area began in the mid-eighteenth century, reached a peak about 1900 when some 1,500 men were employed in ...

Marcel Maulini Mining Museum
Musée de la Mine Marcel Maulini
33 Place de la Marie
70250 Ronchamp, France

Saint-Etienne | France
The area around Saint Etienne was for several centuries one of the principal sources of in France, and that coal was the basis of the city’s notable textile and engineering industries. The last mine ceased production in 1984, but visitors can experience the area’s mining heritage at the Couriot pit ...

Mining museum
Musee de la Mine
3 boulevard Francet d’Esperey
42000 Saint-Etienne, France

Wallers | France
The Arenberg Fosse is a coal mine in Nord-Pas-de-Calais which belonged to the Compagnie des Mines d’Anzin. It was sunk in 1900, began production in 1903 and proved a highly productive colliery. It was named after Auguste d’Arenberg (1837-1924), politician and manager of Compagnie des Mines d’Anzin. ...

Arenberg Fosse
Site minier d’Arenbergve.fr
Rue Michel Rondet
59135 Wallers, France

Alsdorf | Germany
Alsdorf is a mining community north of Aachen and close to the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands. It is built around an ancient castle and has a complex political history have belonged at different periods to the duchies of Limburg, Jülich and Burgundy. It became part of Prussia in 1815 and now ...

Konrad-Adenauer-Allee 7
52477 Alsdorf, Germany

In Zinnwald, a suborb of Altenberg in the eastern part of the Ore Mountains, tin was already being mined in the 16th century. Later, tungsten ores and lithium mica were mined. Today, it is especially worth visiting the mine “Vereinigt Zwitterfeld zu Zinnwald” with the Tiefer-Bünau gallery and the ...

'Vereinigt Zwitterfeld zu Zinnwald' Visiters Mine
Goetheweg 8
01773 Altenberg, Germany

Altenberg | Germany
The town of Altenberg is part of the Erzgebirge (the ore mountains) region of Saxony and is situated just north of the border with the Czech Republic, 32 km due south of Dresden. Tin was mined in the area from the mid-fourteenth century until extraction finally ceased in 1991. The dominant feature ...

Altenberg Mining Museum
Mühlerstrasse 2
01773 Altenberg, Germany

Barßel-Elisabethfehn | Germany
The origins of Elisabethfehn are closely related to the construction of the Hunte-Ems-Canal in the mid 19th century. The village evolved thanks to the cultivation of the vast wetlands in northwestern Germany in order to cut combustible peat and to gain farmland.Elisabethfehn witnessed all the ...

Elisabethfehn Moorland Museum
Oldenburger Straße 1
26676 Barßel, Germany

Berchtesgaden | Germany
Berchtesgaden, 19 km from Bad Reichenhall, was an independent administration until it was incorporated in Bavaria in the early nineteenth century. Salt had been extracted there since the sixteenth century, and in 1817 Georg von Reichenbach was responsible for constructing a pipeline to carry brine, ...

Berchtesgaden Salt Mine
Bergwerkstrasse 83
83471 Berchtesgaden, Germany

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 "Sophienhöhe", waste material from one of the largest "holes" in Europe, the Hambach open-cast mine, and swathes of smoke rising into ...

Rhenish Brown Coal Open-Cast Mining Area
Informationszentrum der RWE Power Schloss Paffendorf
50126 Bergheim, 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 ...

Regional Museum of Mining, Handicraft and Trade
Burggraben 9-21
51429 Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

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