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 the pits, and finally came to an end in 1958. Migrants from Poland played an important part in the industry, the first of them arriving in the area in the 1870s. An agreement of 3 September 1919 between the French and Polish governments made possible further migration, which, it was hoped, would alleviate the shortage of labour in France. By 1931 more than 400 Polish miners were working in the Ronchamp pits.
The creation of the museum was due to Marcel Maulini (1913-83) who was born at Bresse in the Vosges to parents who had migrated from Italy. After obtaining medical qualifications, he was employed as a doctor at the mines in Ronchamp from 1946, and was well-known for his research into the mining disease silicosis. He was elected a member of the local authority in 1953, and through the 1960s urged the formation of a museum of mining. After proposals to locate a museum in the surface buildings of one of the collieries proved unavailing, a new building, designed by Paul Combert was opened in 1976. It displays images, documents and artefacts relating to all aspects of mining, and particularly to the research of Dr Maulini, and to the migration of Polish miners, and has a particularly comprehensive collection of miners’ lamps.