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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.

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Sites

Grosseto | Italy

The Park was born to preserve the history of ...

Parco Nazionale Tecnologico e Archeologico delle Colline Metallifere
Consorzio del Parco Tecnologico e Archeologico delle Colline Metallifere
Piazza Dante, 35
58100 Grosseto, Italy

Iglesias | Italy

The rocky south-west coast of Sardinia ...

Masua Mines and Porto Flavia at Geological Mining Park of Sardinia
Miniera di Masua e Porto Flavia
località Masua
09016 Iglesias, Italy

Massa Marittima | Italy

The hills around Massa Marittima, 45 km ...

Massa Marittima Mininig Museum
Museo della Miniera
Massa Marittima, Italy

Milan | Italy

Milan is the industrial and commercial capital ...

National Museum of Science & Technology – Leonardo da Vinci
museo nazionale della scienza e della tecnologia "leonardo da vinci"
Via S Vittore 21
21023 Milan, Italy

Montecatini Val di Cecina (PI) | Italy

Located at the Tuscan medieval village of ...

Mining Museum
Museo Delle Miniere
Località La Miniera
56040 Montecatini Val di Cecina (PI), Italy

Perticara | Italy

This is a mining history museum in the ...

Sulphur Museum
Museo Sulphur
via Montecchio, 20
47863 Perticara, Italy

Piancastagnaio | Italy

The mines around Monte Amiata in the province ...

National Park and Museum of Mining at Amiata
Parco Nazionale Museo delle Miniere dell’Amiata
Via Gorssetana 209
53025 Piancastagnaio, Italy

Piancastagnaio | Italy

The Siele Mine, like that at Abbadia San ...

Siele Mercury Mine
Miniera del Siele
Piazza Castello, 12
53025 Piancastagnaio, Italy

Prali (TO) | Italy

The Val Germanasco is situated high in the ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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

Haut Martelange | Luxembourg

Haut Martelange lies near the French frontier ...

Slate Museum
Musée de l’Ardoise
Maison 3
8823 Haut Martelange, Luxembourg

Stolzembourg | Luxembourg

Stolzembourg is situated in the Our Valley in ...

Copper Mine
Mines de Cuivre
5a Rue Principale
L 9463 Stolzembourg, Luxembourg

Heerlen | Netherlands

Coal mining in the Limburg region ended in the ...

Dutch Mining Museum
Nederlands Mijnmuseum
Doctor Poelsstraat 29
6411 HG Heerlen, Netherlands

Valkenburg aan de Geul | Netherlands

Do you fancy sitting in an underground cinema, ...

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

Bitola | North Macedonia

Bitola (formerly Monastir) is a large and ...

NI Institute and Museum
Kliment Ohridsti Street bb
7000 Bitola, North Macedonia

Åmot | Norway

The area around Modum in the Norwegian ...

Cobalt Works and Mines
Blaafarveværket og Koboltgruverne
3340 Åmot, Norway

Avaldsnes | Norway

Visnes is a hamlet in the community of ...

Copper Mining Museum
Visnes Gruvemuseum
4562 Avaldsnes, Norway

Folldal | Norway

The Folldal mines are located at a high ...

Folldal Mine
Folldal Gruver
2580 Folldal, Norway

Kongsberg | Norway

The town of Kongsberg was founded in 1624 in ...

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

Longyearbyen | Norway

The island of Svalbard (formerly Spitzbergen) ...

Mine 3
Gruve 3
Store Norske Gruve 3 AS
9170 Longyearbyen, Norway

Røros | Norway

Røros is a town of painted wooden houses some ...

Røros World Heritage Site
Rørosmuseet 1
7460 Røros, Norway

Chorzów | Poland

A hoist tower was a part of the non-existent ...

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

Czeladź | Poland

The site dated back to 1903 is a part of the ...

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

Częstochowa | Poland

Częstochowa in southern Poland was the centre ...

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 ...

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

Katowice | Poland

The pithead building and baths of the former ...

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

Kletno | Poland

Kletno was an area of mining for iron, lead, ...

Kletno Uranium Mine
Starej Kopalni Uranu w Kletnie
Kletno 40
57-550 Kletno, Poland

Nowa Ruda | Poland

Dawną coal mine started in 1868 when Lower ...

Dawną Mine
Dawną Kopalnią
ul. Obozowa 4
57-401 Nowa Ruda, Poland

Siemianowice Śląskie | Poland

It was established in the building of the ...

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

Świętochłowice | Poland

The owner of the mine was Guido Henckel von ...

“Polska” Mine Hoist Towers
Wieże KWK Polska
Wojska Polskiego 16
41-600 Świętochłowice, Poland

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