Due to its abundance, coal
has been mined in
various parts of the world throughout history and continues to be
an important economic activity today. Compared to wood fuels
, coal yields a higher amount of energy
per mass and could be obtained in areas where wood is not readily
available. Though historically used as a means of household
, coal is now mostly used in
industry, especially in smelting
production, as well as electricity generation
Large-scale coal mining
the Industrial Revolution
coal provided the main source of primary
for industry and transportation in the West
from the 18th century to the 1950s. Coal
remains an important energy source, due to its low cost and
abundance when compared to other fuels, particularly for electricity
generation. However, coal is also
mined today on a large scale by open pit
methods wherever the coal strata
surface and is relatively shallow.
Britain developed the main techniques of underground
coal mining from the late 18th century
onward with further progress being driven by 19th century and early
20th century progress.
and its associated fuels began to be
used as alternative from this time onward. By the late 20th century
coal was for the most part replaced in domestic as well as
industrial and transportation usage by oil
, natural gas
electricity produced from oil, gas, nuclear power
or renewable energy
Since 1890, coal mining has also been a political and social issue.
miners' labour and trade unions became powerful in many countries
in the 20th century, and often the miners were leaders of the
Left or Socialist movements (as in Britain, Germany, Poland, Japan, Canada and the
U.S.) Since 1970, environmental issues have been
increasingly important, including the health of miners, destruction
of the landscape from strip mines and
mountaintop removal, air
pollution, and coal combustion's contribution to global warming.
Early coal extraction was small-scale, the coal lying either on the
surface, or very close to it. Typical methods for extraction
included drift mining
and bell pits
. As well as drift mines, small scale
was used. This took the
form of a bell pit, the extraction working outward from a central
shaft, or a technique called room and
in which 'rooms' of coal were extracted with pillars
left to support the roofs. Both of these techniques however left
considerable amount of usable coal behind.
historians describe coal as a
heating source in the Roman province
, and the Romans were
exploiting it on a large scale in Britain
by the end of the second century. It
was used in hypocausts
to heat public baths
, the baths in military forts, and the
villas of wealthy individuals. Excavation has revealed coal stores at many
forts along Hadrian's
Wall, as well as the remains of a smelting industry at forts such as Longovicium nearby.
The earliest known use of coal in the Americas
was by the Aztecs
They used coal not only for heat but as ornaments
as well. Coal deposits were
discovered by colonists in Eastern North America in the 18th
The Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution, which
began in Britain in the
1700s, and later spread to Europe, North America, and Japan, was based
on the availability of coal to power steam
International trade expanded exponentially when
coal-fed steam engines were built for the railways
the 1810-1840 Victorian era
. Coal was
cheaper and much more efficient than wood
in most steam engines. As central and Northern England contains an abundance of
coal, many mines were situated in these areas as well as the
South Wales coalfield and
The small-scale techniques were unsuited to
the increasing demand, with extraction moving away from surface
extraction to deep shaft mining
the Industrial Revolution progressed.
Beginning of the 20th century
Coal miners 1910
Men leaving a UK colliery at the close
of a shift
Coal miners in Hazleton PA, USA,
Iowa coal mine, 1936.
|Coal Production of the World, around 1905
|Italy (coal and lignite)
|New South Wales
British coalfields in the nineteenth
some deep mining took place as early as the late Tudor period (in the North East, and along the Firth of Forth coast) deep shaft mining in the UK began to
develop extensively in the late 18th century, with rapid expansion
throughout the 19th century and early 20th century when the
industry peaked. The location of the coalfields helped to make the prosperity of
Lancashire, of Yorkshire, and of South Wales; the Yorkshire pits which supplied Sheffield were only about 300 feet deep. Northumberland and Durham were the
leading coal producers and they were the sites of the first deep
In much of Britain coal was worked from drift mines
, or scraped off when it outcropped on
the surface. Small groups of part-time miners used shovels and
Scottish miners had been bonded to their "maisters" by a 1606 Act
"Anent Coalyers and Salters". A Colliers and Salters
, recognised this to be "a state of slavery and
bondage" and formally abolished it; this was made effective by a
further Colliers Act
Before 1800 a great deal of coal was left in places as extraction
was still primitive. As a result in the deep Tyneside pits (300 to 1,000 ft. deep) only about 40 percent
of the coal could be extracted.
The use of wooden pit props
to support the roof was an innovation first introduced about 1800.
The critical factor was circulation of air and control of dangerous
explosive gases. At first fires were burned to create air currents
and circulate air, but replaced by fans driven by steam engines.
Protection for miners came with the invention of the Davy lamp
, where any firedamp
) burnt harmlessly within the lamp. It was
achieved by restricting the ingress of air with either metal gauze
or fine tubes, but the illumination from such lamps was very poor.
efforts were made to develop better safe lamps, such as the
Mueseler lamp produced in the Belgian pits near Liège.
Coal was so abundant in Britain that the supply could be stepped up
to meet the rapidly rising demand. About 1770-1780 the annual
output of coal was some 6¼ million tons (or about the output of a
week and a half in the 20th century). After 1790 output soared,
reaching 16 million tons by 1815 at the height of the Napoleonic War
. The miners, less menaced by
imported labour or machines than were the cotton mill
workers, had begun to form trade unions
and fight their grim battle for
wages against the coal owners and royalty-lessees.
passed into Government control
in 1947, although
coal had been a political issue since the early part of the 20th
century. The need to maintain coal supplies (a primary energy
source) had figured in both world wars
as energy supply, coal in the UK became a
very political issue, due to conditions under which colliers worked
and the way they were treated by colliery owners.
the 'old Left
' of British
politics can trace its origins to coal-mining areas, with the main
labour union being the Miners' Federation of Great
, founded in 1888. The MFGB claimed 600,000 members in
1908. (The MFGB later became the more centralised National Union of
Although other factors were involved, one cause of the UK General Strike of 1926
concerns colliers had over very dangerous working conditions,
reduced pay and longer shifts.
Technological development throughout the 19th century and 20th
century helped both to improve the safety of colliers and the
productive capacity of collieries they worked. In the late 20th
century, improved integration of coal extraction with bulk
industries such as electrical generation helped coal maintain its
position despite the emergence of alternative energies supplies
such as oil
and, from the late 1950s, nuclear
used for electricity. More recently coal has faced
competition from renewable energy sources and bio-fuels.
Post World War II
, the coal industry in
Britain was Nationalised
, and remained
in public ownership until the 1980s and the decline of the industry
after the UK miners'
. The 1980s and 1990s saw much change in the UK coal
industry, with the industry contracting, in some areas quite
drastically. Many pits were considered uneconomic to work at then
current wage rates compared to cheap North
, and in comparison to
subsidy levels in Europe
. The Miners' Strike of
failed to stop the Conservative
government's plans under Margaret Thatcher
to shrink the industry.
The National Coal Board
), was privatised by
selling off a large number of pits to private concerns through the
mid 1990s, and the mining industry disappeared almost
January 2008, the South Wales Valleys last deep pit mine, Tower Colliery in Hirwaun, Rhondda
Cynon Taff closed with the loss of 120 jobs.
However, coal is still mined extensively at a number of deep pits
in the Midlands and the North, and is extracted at several very
large opencast pits in South Wales and elsewhere. There are
proposals to re-open several deep pits with Russian capital, owing
to the soaring price of the commodity.
(or "hard" coal), clean and
smokeless, became the preferred fuel in cities, replacing wood by
about 1850. Bituminous (or "soft coal") mining came later.
mid-century Pittsburgh was the principal market.
After 1850 soft
coal, which is cheaper but dirtier, came into demand for railway
locomotives and stationary steam
, and was used to make coke
Total coal output soared until 1918; before 1890, it doubled every
ten years, going from 8.4 million short tons in 1850 to 40 million
in 1870, 270 million in 1900, and peaking at 680 million short tons
in 1918. New soft coal fields opened in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, as well as West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama.
The Great Depression
the 1930s lowered the demand to 360 million short tons in
Under John L. Lewis
, the UMW became the dominant force in
the coal fields in the 1930s and 1940s, producing high wages and
benefits. In 1914 at the peak there were 180,000 anthracite miners;
by 1970 only 6,000 remained. At the same time steam engines
were phased out in railways
and factories, and bituminous
was used primarily for the generation
. Employment in bituminous
peaked at 705,000 men in 1923, falling to 140,000 by 1970 and
70,000 in 2003. UMW membership among active miners fell from
160,000 in 1980 to only 16,000 in 2005, as coal mining became more
mechanized and non-union miners predominated in the new coal
According to the United States Census
, the coal mining industry in the US in 2008 consisted of
firms that mine bituminous coal, anthracite (both are types of
black coal) and lignite (brown coal). Mining may be undertaken in a
number of ways, including: underground mining (also known as bord
and pillar mining), auger mining (where coal is extracted using a
horizontal drilling technique), strip mining, culm bank (coal
refuse pile) mining, and other surface mining. Census also
classifies coal mining firms as those that also develop coal mine
sites and prepare the coal for sale by washing, screening and
sizing it .
In 2008, competition was intense in the US coal mining industry
with some US mines approaching the end of their useful life
. Other coal-producing countries also stepped
up production to win a share of traditional US export markets.
Prior to this, in the 1960s a series of mergers saw coal production
shift from small, independent coal companies to large, more
diversified firms. Several oil companies and electricity producers
acquired coal companies or leased Federal coal reserves in the west
of the United States. Concerns that competition in the coal
industry could decline as a result of these changes were heightened
by a sharp rise in coal prices in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis
. Coal prices fell in the
1980s, partly in response to oil price movements, but primarily in
response to the large increase in supply worldwide which was
brought about by the earlier price surge. During this period, the
industry in the US was characterised by a move towards low-sulfur
thousands of European immigrants and a large number of African
Americans migrated to southern West Virginia to work in coal
These coal miners
worked in company mines with company tools and equipment, which
they were required to lease. Along with these expenses, the miners
were deducted pay for housing rent and items they purchased from
company stores. Furthermore, the coal companies went as far as
creating their own monetary system so the miners could only shop at
company owned stores.
In addition with the poor economic condition, safety in the mines
was a great concern. West Virginia fell behind other states in regulating mining
conditions. Between 1890 and 1912, West Virginia had a higher mine death rate than any other
states. In fact, West Virginia is the site of the worst coal mining disaster to
date. With the Monongah
Mine disaster of Monongah, West Virginia 6 December 1907.
This explosion was caused
by the ignition of methane gas
called "firedamp"), which in turn ignited the coal dust
. The lives of 362 men were lost in the
underground explosion. As a result, this disaster impelled Congress
to create the Bureau of Mines
result to the poor working conditions and low wages the United Mine Workers of
America (UMWA) was formed in Columbus, Ohio in 1890. Finally in 1902, the UMWA achieved
recognition in West
Consequently by 1912, the union had lost control of this area. So
when the UMWA miners on Paint Creek
demanded wages equal
to those of other area mines, they were rejected. As a result, the
miners walked off the job on April 18, 1912 beginning one of the
most violent strikes in the nation’s history. After the Cabin Creek miners joined the Paint Creek miner it started the mining war of
In 1984 Australia surpassed the US as the world's largest coal
exporter. One-third of Australia's coal exports were shipped from
the Hunter River region of New South Wales, where coal mining and
transport had begun nearly two centuries earlier. Coal River was
the first name given by British settlers to the Hunter River after
coal was found there in 1795. In 1804 the Sydney-based
administration established a permanent convict settlement near the
mouth of the Hunter River to mine and load the coal, predetermining
the town's future as a coal port by naming it Newcastle. Today,
Newcastle, NSW, is the largest coal port in the world.
Canada had a small
coal industry concentrated at Cape Breton in Nova
At its peak in 1949 25,000 miners dug 17
million metric tons of coal from mines. The miners, who lived in
company towns, were politically active in left-wing politics
. Westray Mine closed in 1992 after an explosion killed 26
All the mines were closed by 2001. The United States
always supplied the coal for the industrial regions of Ontario.
By 2000 about 19% of Canada's energy was
supplied by coal, chiefly imported from the U.S.
Coal was easy to find in, what is now, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada.
Atlas Coal Mine
National Historic Site
has turned this coalfield into a museum.
This museum interprets how the Blackfoot
knew about the “black rock that
burned.” After many explorers reported coal in the area, a handful
of ranchers and homesteaders dug out the coal for their homes.
started the coal rush
in this area when he bought the land from a local rancher, which he
then sold to the Canadian
. Sam Drumheller
also registered a coal mine. However, before his mine opened
and Garnet Coyle
beat him to it by opening the
. Once the railroad was
built thousands of people came to mine this area.
end of 1912, there were 9 working coal mines, each with their own
workers: Newcastle, Drumheller, Midland, Rosedale, and Wayne.
years to follow more mines sprang up: Nacmine
, Willow Creek
. The timing of the Drumheller mine
industry was “lucky”
according to the Atlas
National Historical Site
. The miners
of North America
had won the
right for better working conditions. As a result, child labor laws
were in affect so now boys under 14 years old were not allowed to
And yet, the miner camps in this area were called “hell’s hole”
because miners lived in tents and shacks. These camps were filled
with drinking, gambling and watching fistfights as forms of
recreation. As living conditions improved to little houses, more
women joined the men and started families, improving life. With new
activities such as hockey, baseball and theatre the camps were no
longer “hell’s hole” but became “the wonder town of the
Between 1911 and 1979, 139 mines were registered in the Drumheller Valley
, only 34 were productive
for many years. Unfortunately, the beginning of the end for the
Drumheller’s mining industry was the Leduc Oil Strike of 1948
this, natural gas was how family heated
their homes in western Canada.
the demand for coal dropped, mines closed and communities suffered.
Some communities, Willow Creek
example, completely vanished while others went from boomtowns to
Finally, Atlas #4 Mine
last load of coal in 1979, after which the Atlas Coal Mine National
has preserved the last of the Drumheller mines.
Also nearby East Coulee School
interprets the life of family in mine towns for its
important mines appeared in the 1750s, In 1782 the Krupp family began operations near Essen.
After 1815 entrepreneurs
, which then became part of
took advantage of the tariff zone
) to open new mines and
smelters. New railroads were
built by British engineers around 1850.
industrial centres sprang up, focused on ironworks
, using local coal. The iron
bought mines, and erected coking ovens
to supply their own requirements in coke
integrated coal-iron firms ("Huettenzechen") became numerous after
1854; after 1900 they became mixed firms called "Konzern."
The average output of a mine in 1850 was about 8,500 short tons;
its employment about 64. By 1900, the average mine's output had
risen to 280,000 and the employment to about 1,400. Total Ruhr
coal output rose from 2.0 million short tons in
1850 to 22 in 1880, 60 in 1900, and 114 in 1913, on the verge of
war. In 1932 output was down to 73 million short tons, growing to
130 in 1940. Output peaked in 1957 (at 123), declining to 78
million short tons in 1974.
when iron and later steel
became important the Belgian coal industry had long been
established, and used steam engines for
pumping. The Belgian coalfield lay near the navigable
Meuse, so coal was shipped downstream to the ports and
cities of the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta.
opening of the Saint-Quentin
Canal allowed coal to go by barge to Paris.
Belgian coalfield outcrops over most of its area, and the highly
folded nature of the coal seams meant that surface occurrences of
the coal were very abundant. Deep mines were not required at first
so there were a large number of small operations. There was a
complex legal system for concessions, often multiple layers had
different owners. Entrepreneurs
going deeper and deeper (thanks to the good pumping system). In
1790, the maximum depth of mines was 220 meters. By 1856, the average
depth in the area west of Mons was 361,
and in 1866, 437 meters and some pits had reached down 700 and 900
meters; one was 1,065 meters deep, probably the deepest coal mine
in Europe at this time. Gas
explosions were a serious problem, and Belgium had
high coal miner fatality rates. By the late 19th century the seams
were becoming exhausted and the steel industry was importing some
coal from the Ruhr
permanent coal mine in Poland was
established in Szczakowa near Jaworzno in 1767.
In 19th century development of
iron, copper and lead mining and processing in southern Poland
(notably in the Old-Polish
and later in the region of Silesia
led to a quick development of coal mining.
most prominent deposits were located in what are now the Upper
Silesian Industrial Region and Rybnik Coal
Area (in late 19th century part of Prussia) and the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie on
the Russian side of the border.
In modern times coal is still considered a strategic resource for
Poland's economy, as it covers roughly 65% of energetic needs.
Before and after World War II
has been one of the major coal producers worldwide, usually listed
among the five largest. However, after 1989 the coal production is
in decline, with the overall production for 1994 reaching 132
million tonnes, 112 million tonnes in 1999 and 104 million tonnes
Mining has always been dangerous, because of explosions, roof
cave-ins, and the difficulty of mines rescue. The worst single
disaster in British coal mining
history was at Senghenydd in the South Wales coalfield.
morning of 14 October 1913
an explosion and subsequent fire killed 436 men
and boys. Only 72 bodies were recovered. It followed a series
of many extensive Mining accidents
in the Victorian era, such as The Oaks
explosion of 1866 and the Hartley
Colliery Disaster of 1862.
Most of the explosions were caused
ignitions followed by coal dust explosions
Deaths were mainly caused by carbon
poisoning, although at Hartley colliery, where the
victims were entombed when the single shaft was blocked by a broken
cast iron beam from the haulage engine, death occurred by asphyxiation
mine disaster, Europe's worst mining accident, caused the death
of 1,099 miners (including many children) in Northern France on 10 March
1906. It seems that this disaster was surpassed
only by the Benxihu Colliery
accident in China on April
26, 1942, which killed 1,549 miners.
As well as disasters directly affecting mines, there have been
disasters attibutable to the impact of mining on the surrounding
landcapes and communities. The Aberfan disaster which destroyed a school in South Wales
can be directly attributed to the collapse of spoil heaps from the
town's colliery past.
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