King William I of the Netherlands had a choice between 240 windmills or three coastal pumping stations. He could not afford to waste time because every year violent storms beat against the banks of the Haarlemmermeer. In 1836 the ever growing lake even threatened to flood Amsterdam. So two years later the king announced his decision – in favour of the pumping stations. The Herculean task was to dry out an area of water covering more than 18,000 hectares. You can now find out how it was done in the museum of the old De Cruquius pumping station, one of the three steam-powered stations which were built at the time. From the outside the building with its pointed arches and castellated roofs looks like a moated castle. Only the chimney looks a little out of place, as do the eight cast-iron arms which protrude from the upper windows. Hidden inside is the largest steam engine ever built. Its cylinder is no less than 144 in diameter and it can pump 320,000 litres of water per minute. The best thing about it is that it is back in working order. Hydraulically powered because the steam boiler no longer exists. Alongside this technical masterpiece visitors can view an exhibition in the former boiler house on the Dutch people’s never-ending struggle against the threat from water.
In 1849 dark clouds of smoke hung over the chimneys of the three coastal pumping stations, Leeghwater, Lynden and Cruquius. Their gigantic steam engines consumed enormous quantities of coal. And as a result they worked magnificently. Within the space of only three years they managed to dry out the whole of the Haarlemm lake – a masterly engineering achievement. And that in the land of windmills where the new steam technology met with immense suspicion. But storms and the threat of floods demanded efficacious remedies. The Haarlemmermeer was no exception. The lake came into existence as a result of peat cutting. It quickly grew out of all control and gradually threatened the surrounding towns. In the end there was only one solution possible. To dry it out completely. The question was: how on earth would it be possible to pump out 800,000,000 cubic metres of water? Until then nobody had ever managed to construct a steam engine with such capacities. King William I had a progressive nature and decided to take a risk. The three coastal pumping stations which he ordered to have built put all previous competitors in the shade. They were continually in action from 1849 to 1852, moving 8,000 litres of water per stroke into a specially prepared drainage channel. Afterwards they were only put into operation when the polders needed to be dried out. That said the huge amount of intensive farming in the area demanded ever more efficient pumps. Technically this meant that the pumping stations at Leeghwater and Lynden were continually in need of modernisation. Cruquius, on the other hand, remained unchanged and was finally decommissioned in 1932 because its engines were out of date. Ironically enough it was precisely this fact which made it so valuable. For just one year later in 1933 the historic coastal pumping station became the first official industrial monument in the world. The only thing missing was the steam boilers which had been sent for scrap when operations ceased. It was not until 2002 that the steam engine was set in motion once again. This time with the help of hydraulic motors.
|Recommended duration of visit:
|Access for persons with disabilities:
|Gift and book shop on site:
March to October:
Monday to Friday 10am–5pm
Saturday, Sunday and holidays 11am–5pm
November to February:
Saturday, Sunday 11am-5pm