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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.

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Saigerhütte Museum
In der Hutte 10
09526 Olbernhau, Germany

Osnabrück | Germany
The museum of industry in Osnabruck opened in 1994 in the surface buildings of the Haseschacht, the‘hare’ colliery, opened in 1870, an imposing series of structures in the Rundbogenstil, or round arch style, located on the flanks of the Piesberg mountain. The displays show the historical importance ...

Museum of Industry
Fürstenauer Weg 171
49090 Osnabrück, Germany

Porta Westfalica | Germany
The iron ore mine in the village of Kleinerbremen near Porta Westfalica was established by Johann Dinnendahl in 1835, and the nearby Eisenerz Pit was opened in 1883. The workings closed during the 1920s but were resumed, with some open cast pits as well as deep mines, in 1935. The Klenenbremen mine ...

Kleinenbremen Visitor Mine and Museum
Rintelner Strasse 396
32457 Porta Westfalica, Germany

Quierschied-Göttelborn | Germany
In Göttelborn nothing is as it seems at first sight. The mining gear and colliers’ housing settlement have changed their roles. The strictly functional, clearly visible pit headgear is an expression of the latest state of technology; yet it has already taken on a museum function. On the other hand ...

Göttelborn Pit and Housing Estate
Zum Schacht
66287 Quierschied-Göttelborn, Germany

Saarbrücken | Germany
The Velsen colliery is a typical Saarland mine. It´s history began in 1899 with the sinking of the Rossel shaft. Coal mining began in 1904. In 1965 the pit was deprived of its independence and no more coal was brought to the surface here. The only shaft remaining at Velsen was the "Gustavschacht" ...

Velsen Visitor Mine
Alte Grube Velsen
66127 Saarbrücken, Germany

St. Ingbert | Germany
There used to be four pits in the present district of Saarpfalz: Mittelbexbach, Frankenholz, Höchen and St. Ingbert. Over the course of the 19th-century the St. Ingbert site became one of the largest and most productive of all the collieries in Bavaria. This era came to an end in 1959, but the ...

Rischbachstollen Visitor Mine
Am Grubenstollen
66386 St. Ingbert, Germany

Uebigau-Wahrenbrück OT Domsdorf | Germany
Although LOUISE, Europe’s oldest briquette factory ceased operations in February 1992 its freshly plastered facades and renovated roofs give it a smart impression. For the workforce, who have remained loyal to the works, still maintain the buildings, restore machines and guide visitors around the ...

Louise Briquette Works
Louise 111
04924 Uebigau-Wahrenbrück, Germany

In 1832 coalminers in the Ruhr valley decided to do it for real – with deep-pit mining at a colliery called Neptune. Until then it was usual for mining galleries to be dug horizontally into the side of the rock face. At Neptune, by contrast, the miners dug vertically to a depth of 450 metres. This ...

Nightingale Colliery LWL Industrial Museum and the Mutten Valley
Nachtigallstraße 35
58452 Witten, Germany

The lead and silver mines of Lavrion, on the Greek mainland south of Athens, were important in classical antiquity and in more recent centuries, and were worked in the 19th century by a Greek and a French company. The mineralagical museum established by the Lavrion Studies Society (EMEL) in 1986 ...

Mineralogical Museum of Lavrion
Andreas Cordellas Avenue
19500 Lavrion, Greece

Oroszlány | Hungary
Oroszlány, 80 km west of Budapest in the Vértes Mountains was a mining boom town of the mid-twentieth century. The area was ruled for much of the eighteenth century by the Ottoman Empire, and re-populated towards the end of the century by Slovaks, who remain a significant minority in the region and ...

Mining Museum
Oroszlányi Bányászati Gyűjtemény
Majk XX-as akna
2840 Oroszlány, Hungary

Pécs | Hungary
Pécs is the chief city of southern Hungary. Mining for coal in the nearby Mecsek Hills began in the late eighteenth century, and in the mid-nineteenth century the Danube Steamship Company bought land to be used for large scale mining. After the Second World War uranium ore was mined as well as coal, ...

Mecsek Mining Museum
Káptalan Utka 3
7621 Pécs, Hungary

Sopron | Hungary
The Central Mining Museum at Sopron, 210 km W of Budapest on the eastern slopes of the Alpes, and 70 km south of Vienna holds the largest collection of mining artefacts in Hungary. It is located in one of the Baroque palaces of the Estaházy family, and it extends into the palace gardens which ...

Central Mining Museum
Kozponti Banyaszati Muzeum
Templom utca 2H
9408 Sopron, Hungary

Tatabánya is a town in north-west Hungary, created in 1947 when four villages were united under a programme of industrialisation. The museum of coal mining opened in 1988. It is called an open air museum, although most of the buildings stand on their original sites and have not been removed from ...

Open Air Museum of Mining and Industry
Vágóhíd utca 1.
2800 Tatabánya, Hungary

Allihies | Ireland
Allihies lies at the western extremity of Europe, at the end of the Beara Peninsula, 112 km west of Cork. Copper ores were discovered there in 1812. They worked until 1885, and attempts were made to continue mining in the 1920s and 1960s. The original entrepreneur was the landowner ‘Copper John’ ...

Allihies Copper Mine Museum
Allihies, Ireland

Bunmahon | Ireland
The Copper Coast Geopark is located on the south coast of Ireland between the towns of Tramore and Dungarvan, and extends 25 km from Kilfarrasy in the east to Stradballey in the west. A tourism group established in 1997 secured the area’s recognition as a European Geopark in 2001 and it is now ...

Copper Coast Geopark
X42 T923 Bunmahon, Ireland

Killenaule | Ireland
In the 1860s there were 73 collieries in Ireland.  Their output in 1854 was nearly 150,000 tons, less than one per cent of United Kingdom production, most of which was used near the pitheads for domestic fuel, lime-burning, malting and brickmaking. The mines in the Slieveardagh Hills between ...

Mardyke mine
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Oughterard | Ireland
Buried beneath the Connemara Mountain lies a way of life long abandoned and almost forgotten: Let the team at Glengowla Mines lead you on a journey of discovery of how lead and silver were mined from the roots of the Connemara Mountains in the 1800’s. The constant dripping of water, the ‘miners ...

Glengowla Mines
Oughterard, Ireland

Roscommon | Ireland
The Arigna Mining Experience in Co Roscommon offers an underground tour through some of the narrowest coal seams exploited anywhere in the world. Mining in the area began in the early seventeenth century with the extraction of nodules of iron ore that were smelted in a nearby blast furnace. The ...

Arigna Mining Experience
Roscommon, Ireland

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