The history of mining in the Ruhr area (Germany)

"The fairytale of the coal's discovery" and "How hard coal develops"

As the beginning, I want to tell you a fairytale that is often repeated and nearly similar in various regions where coal has been found - but unluckily in most cases it is not true. In this fairytale a young boy tending his father's sheep or cows is on his long way through the rural structured area of the southern valley of the river Ruhr. After a long and hard day he has found a place to stay for the night and the dew settles down on the lawn surrounding him so that he has to light a fire. Because of the hard job he has to do all day long he falls into a deep sleep very fast. When waking up next morning the first thing this boy feels is a comfortable warmth aroung himself. When opening the eyes, he is scared at first. At the place he lighted the fire the evening before, the whole floor was glowing - the young herdsman had lighted the fire exactly on a coal seam that appeared at the surface. Following this fairytale the hard coal was discovered in that way and it became the main energy source for a very long time.


This is a nice story. The true beginning of the mining in the Ruhr area and the first discovery of the hard coal in this region is unknown until today, only the first documents reporting about mining activities can give an impression that is not exact at all. One thing is certain: The first mining activities have been very simple.

To understand that we must have a look at the question how the German hard coal developped. 250 to 350 million years ago there has been a large jungle all over Northern Europe. Because of the fact that these woods have not been used to make furniture, build houses etc. the fallen trees were not removed. After several years with lots of fallen trees a thick layer had developped. Caused by a change in climate or other factors these woods covering Northern Europe disappeared from time to time and so the sand, soil etc. eroded in other places could settle down on the layers of trees. After a certain time the woods reappeared, the next layer of trees developped and so on. As you can see, this formed different layers of trees, the beginning of today's coal seams. The trees that fell first have been covered with more and more other material by the time and because of that a very high pressure had an effect on them. This fact caused a raise in temperature and finally made that the volatile parts of the different layers reduced more and more, so that there is finally a high concentration of carbon in the material - that is the reason for the coal's high calorific value.


These processes continued for a very long time. New layers of sand, soil and other sediments settled down on layers of old trees. Additionally the incredible powers of the earth affect these layers. Because of the high pressure, the relative nearness to the earth's centre and the folding upwards the process of the coal's development continues - the wood of the fallen trees turns into peat and moor and if the pressure and the high temperature continue, they first become brown coal and then hard coal. This means that the volatile parts disappear by the time and that the carbon gets purer and purer. In addition to that the folding upwards continues so that today the coal seams are no more positionned horizontally, but with a certain slope, with different hollow spaces etc. and this makes it sometimes very hard to extract the coal.

After the seams have been formed as they are today, a new phase of erosion begun. The layers close to the surface became eroded more and more and as a result of that today's landscape was formed. Additionally today's rivers found their ways and cut deep valleys into the recently developped landscape. All these mechanisms close the "circuit of nature": They made it possible for the humans to access the coal seams now appearing on the surface and by that to use the solar energy from several millions of years.

This fact caused a very simple mining at the beginning that will be described on the next page - just use the link below to continue: