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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 Val Germanasco is situated high in the Alps, some 70 km. south-west of Turin, on the border with France. The area has had a turbulent history and the religious unrest of past centuries is reflected in the presence of a small museum concerned with the Waldensian faith. The extraction of talc, or ...

Ecomuseum of mining and of the Val Germanasco
Ecomuseo dell miniere e della Val Germanasco
10060 Prali, Italy

Ridnaun | Italy
The mining museums at Schneeburg, near St Leonard, which lies between Merano and the Austrian border are part of the Südtiroler Bergbaumuseum (South Tirol Mining Museum) which manages five sites in the region, that is now part of Italy, although it was once a province of the Habsburg Empire, and ...

South Tirol Mining Museum
Museo Provinciale delle Miniere Bergbauwelt Ridnaun-Schneeberg
Maiern 48
39040 Ridnaun, Italy

Rio Marina | Italy
The island of Elba was the principal source of iron ore, in the eighteenth century for furnaces like those at Capalbio and Accessa in Tuscany, and in the nineteenth century for the much larger coke-fired blast furnaces at Piombino. The last mines ceased working in 1970. Elba’s ‘town of iron’ was Rio ...

Island of Elba Mineral Park
Parco Minerario dell’Isola d’Elba
Via Magenta 26
Rio Marina, Italy

Valguarnera Caropepe (En) | Italy
Floristella is a town in Enna province in central Sicily near Lake Pergusa. Mining of pyrites for sulphur began in the area in the early eighteenth century and continued until the 1960s. A unique feature of the mines is the presence of Celestine, strontium sulphate, SrS04, which is used in sugar ...

Floristella-Grottacalda Mining Park
Contrada da Floristella
94100 Valguarnera Caropepe, Italy

Differdange | Luxembourg
At first sight the “vallée de la Chiers” looks peaceful, even abandoned. But then an old steam locomotive chugs into sight moving towards a small station. Fond-de-Gras is the name of this hidden-away place. It is situated in the heart of the Luxemburg ore basin. Not so long ago the area was full of ...

Industry and Railway Park Fond-de-Gras
erreichbar über / accessible via Differdange-Niedercorn Postadresse / postal address 1, Place du Marché
L-4576 Pétange Differdange, Luxembourg

Bitola | Macedonia (FYROM)
Bitola (formerly Monastir) is a large and ancient city on the edge of the Pelagonian plain with a current population of about 75,000. It was part of the Ottoman Empire between 1382 and 1912, and suffered severe damage during the conflicts of the 20th century, particularly during the First World War. ...

NI Institute and Museum
Kliment Ohridsti Street bb
7000 Bitola, Macedonia (FYROM)

Valkenburg aan de Geul | Netherlands
Do you fancy sitting in an underground cinema, or drinking a "Grottenbier" in an underground café? Then the Valkenburg Colliery Museum is just the place for you. Here visitors can experience their own underground world. The ground below the Maastricht and Valkenburg region is partly so full of ...

Coalmine Valkenburg
Steenkolenmijn Valkenburg
Daalhemerweg 31 Postbus 1
6300 AA Valkenburg, Netherlands

Åmot in Modum | Norway
The area around Modum in the Norwegian province of Buskerud was one of Europe’s principal sources of cobalt. The ore was discovered in 1772 by Ole Witloch, and in 1776 a royal decree established the Blaafarveværket (blue colouring works) which for many years was under German management and was in ...

Blue colouring works or cobalt mine
Blaafarveværket og Koboltgruverne
3340 Åmot in Modum, Norway

Åmoti i Modum | Norway
The mines at Modum in Buskerud county north-west of Oslo were one of Europe’s principal sources of cobalt ores, the source of a widely-used blue colouring matter used in paint and in the manufacture of glass and ceramics. Cobalt ores were discovered at Modum by Ode Witloch in 1772, and a blue ...

Modum Blue Dye Works & Museum
Blaafarveværket-Bygdemuseet Modum
Koboltveien 11
3340 Åmoti i Modum, Norway

Avaldsnes | Norway
Visnes is a hamlet in the community of Avaldsnes on the island of Karmøy on the west coast of Norway, north of Stavanger. A fisherman discovered a rich vein of copper ore in the vicinity in 1865, and a company was quickly established to work mines which were equipped with the most modern technology. ...

Copper Mining Museum
Visnes Gruvemuseum
4562 Avaldsnes, Norway

Folldal | Norway
The Folldal mines are located at a high altitude in the Dovre region on the western border of Hedmark county, about 120 km. north of Lillehammer. The civic centre of the community is 712.5 m. above sea level, the highest in Norway. Copper ore was discovered in the area by Ole Husun in 1745, and ...

Folldal Mine
Folldal Gruver
2580 Folldal, Norway

Kongsberg | Norway
The town of Kongsberg was founded in 1624 to smelt silver ores discovered the previous years. Its prosperity in the 18th century is shown by its Baroque church of 1761 that can accommodate a congregation of 2400. The Bergverksmuseum in buildings that were formerly part of the smelting works, ...

The Norwegian Mining Museum
Norsk Bergverksmuseum
Hyttegt 3
3602 Kongsberg, Norway

Røros | Norway
Røros is a town of painted wooden houses some 600 m above sea level, surrounded by the waste tips of three centuries of copper smelting. A lode of copper ore was discovered nearby in 1644, and the town was established two years later. It was destroyed by the Swedes in 1678, and subsequently laid out ...

Røros Museum
Rørosmuseet 1
7460 Røros, Norway

A hoist tower was a part of the non-existent mine where coal was extracted until 1993. When the mining was discontinued, some of the facilities were demolished. The following buildings were left: a management office, an old assembly room, a former dwelling-house for mine foremen, a mining fire ...

Hoist Tower of the President Shaft with the Sztygarka Complex
Szyb Prezydent wraz z kompleksem zabudowań Sztygarka
Piotra Skargi 34 a/d
41-500 Chorzów, Poland

The site dated back to 1903 is a part of the mine funded by Prince Hugo von Hohenlohe zu Öhringen. The mine closed down in 1996. There are machines and equipment left in the power plant, and among them the most impressive one – Wanda flywheel.

Elektrownia Contemporary Art Gallery
Galeria Sztuki Współczesnej Elektrownia
ul. Dehnelów 45
41-250 Czeladź, Poland

Częstochowa | Poland
Częstochowa in southern Poland was the centre of the country’s iron ore mining industry. A museum was established in 1968 with displays illustrating mining techniques, and collections of winding equipment, roof support systems, tools, drilling and face-cutting machinery, lighting and ventilation ...

Museum of Iron Ore Mining
Muzeum Górnictwa Rud Żelaza
Aleja Najświętszej Marii Panny 47
42-217 Częstochwa, Poland

Katowice | Poland
The Silesian Museum complex, located in the former “Katowice Coal Mine”, together with other institutions established here, forms the Cultural Zone - a new cultural centre for the city. The "Katowice" coal mines operated from the third decade of the nineteenth century until the end of the last ...

Silesian Museum
T. Dobrowolskiego 1
40-514 Katowice, Poland

Katowice | Poland
The pithead building and baths of the former Richthofen (Wilson) shaft of the Giesche (today Wieczorek) mine from 1918 was designed by Emil and George Zillmann. After the closedown of the mine, it was adapted for a modern art gallery. Happenings, concerts, exhibitions are organized here.

Wilson Shaft Gallery
Galeria Szyb Wilson
Oswobodzenia 1
40-403 Katowice, Poland

Rybnik | Poland
In the district of Niewiadom buildings of the former Hoym mine have been preserved, which was opened in 1792 with shafts Oppburg (Głowacki) and Grundmann (Kościuszko). In 1936 the name was changed into Ignacy, in honour of the President Ignacy Mościcki. In the administrative building there is an ...

Ignacy Historic Mine
Zabytkowa Kopalnia Ignacy
Mościckiego 3
44-273 Rybnik, Poland

Siemianowice Śląskie | Poland
It was established in the building of the former engine room of the liquidated Michał Mine, whose history dates back to middle of the 19th century. At present, there are four floors in the facility which house, among others: a modern entertainment and conference room for 160 persons, a steam ...

Tradition Park
Park Tradycji
E. Orzeszkowej 12
41-100 Siemianowice Śląskie, Poland