German Journal Industriekultur 2.23: Focus on Zinc industry

"Zinc - A Material of the Industrial Age" is the title of the latest issue of the German Journal Industriekultur. As corrosion-resistant metal, zinc is indispensable in construction - the zinc roofs of Paris are world-famous - and in mechanical engineering, but also plays a crucial role in the consumer goods and chemical industries. The ERIH article in this issue deals with outstanding sites of the zinc industry across Europe in terms of industrial history.

Since the Middle Ages, the zinc ore calamine has been processed into brass together with copper. In 1837, the Société Anonyme des Mines et Fonderies de la Vieille Montagne, or VM, emerged in Kelmis, Belgium, and developed into one of the first multinational corporations and the largest zinc producer worldwide. The fascinating story of this rise is recounted in the Vieille Montagne Museum. Other centres of the zinc industry and zinc mining were located in Upper Silesia, South Tyrol and present-day Slovenia.

VM also became involved in the Ruhr region at an early stage. The Altenberg Zinc Works in Oberhausen was founded in 1855 as one of the oldest metal-processing plants in the city and was forced to close almost 130 years later, partly because of air and soil pollution. Today, the site is a location of the LVR Industrial Museum and also hosts its headquarters.

A unique ensemble of historic industrial plants in the midst of a spectacular landscape unfolds at the Geomineral, Historical and Environmental Park of Sardinia in Italy. It was here, in the mines of Montevecchio on the west coast of Sardinia, that one of the most important ore and zinc mines in Europe was once located. Visitors can follow five guided tours to see how metal ores were mined here around the mid-19th century. Not far away are the Masua mines with the port of Flavia, which is built into the local cliff and from which the Belgian VM Group could directly load waiting ships with ore using conveyor belts.

The Sala silver mine, an ERIH site in Sweden, possibly represents the future of the European zinc industry. Although mining in Sweden's once richest source of silver, which was found in galena ore mixed with zinc and lead, ceased in 1962, recent prospecting has uncovered significant, previously undetected zinc deposits. Will this be the beginning of a new mining chapter?

ERIH article in IK 2.23 (German): "Ein sprödes Metall verändert die Welt. Standorte der Zinkindustrie in Europa" (pdf)