What happened in 1877

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The industrialization of today's Ruhr area began with the mining of hard coal on the Ruhr. In the 18th century there were already numerous tunnels in the Ruhr Valley. Since the 1830s, mining slowly migrated north with the first underground mines. Here the uppermost coal seams lay at a depth of approx. 90 m. In the 1840s, a real "coal rush" began in the region between the Ruhr and Emscher.

The development of the steam engine played a decisive role in the extraction of coal in civil engineering. One of the biggest problems with underground mining was the inflowing groundwater. With the help of the steam engines, the water pumps were driven to pump the pit water to the surface. Only then was it possible to profitably mine at greater depths.

The new mines quickly penetrated to depths of up to 700 m. In order to lift the mined coal and to bring material and workers underground and back, the steam engine was essential as a drive for the hoisting cages. These machines were the heart of every colliery, which is still reflected today in the elaborate architecture of the machine halls from the 19th century. Technical innovations such as the development of a new conveyor system in 1877 by the director of the Hanover colliery in Bochum, Friedrich Koepe, contributed to increasing productivity and greater safety in mining operations.
Anke Asfur

Economic structural change and the emergence of 'global players' in Westphalia in the 19th and 20th centuries




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Mines and other industrial companies played a key role in the electrification of the municipalities. The mines extracted the coal, which was increasingly needed to generate electricity from the 1890s onwards. Coal-fired power plants were built both on the mines themselves and on other industrial plants. They produced so much electricity that electricity could still be fed into the public grid after they had covered their own needs. Under the leadership of the industrialist Hugo Stinnes, the Rheinisch-Westfälische Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) was founded in 1898, which supplied numerous municipalities in the Rhineland with electricity at low tariffs. As a counterweight to a feared electricity monopoly of the RWE, the municipalities of the Westphalian Ruhr area founded the Elektricitätswerk Westfalen (EWW) and then in 1908 the Westfälischer Verband-Elektrizitätswerk (WVE, later VEW). Mining companies remained involved in these energy supply companies. The construction of large power plants made it possible to guarantee the overland supply of electricity, so that the districts of Westphalia were largely electrified by the beginning of the First World War.

Coal coke has been used to extract pig iron in the blast furnace since the middle of the 19th century. For the iron and steel producers, a fast and inexpensive supply of coal had therefore become an important economic factor. For this reason, the large steel companies settled in the Ruhr area, in the immediate vicinity of the mines. Companies such as Krupp in Essen or the Bochum Association for Mining and Cast Steel Manufacture acquired their own mines in order to obtain coal safely and cheaply.

Coal and steel in the Ruhr area were important supporters of the German armaments industry. So the armament brought before the two world wars, but especially in the 1930s, a big economic boost, which often led to a stronger technical modernization of the factories. In both world wars, prisoners of war and forced labor were used to fill the gaps of German workers conscripted for military service and to maintain high production.

After the Second World War, the coal and steel industry was under Allied control, and the mines and steel industry were disentangled. A number of companies in the coal and steel industry were forced to dismantle parts of their facilities in the course of the reparations claims of the Allies. At the same time, coal mining in particular served as the "engine" for reparation payments and reconstruction. The many recruitment measures that were used in Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Bavaria and - since the mid-1950s - in the European Mediterranean countries to promote work in the mining industry show how great the need for workers was in the mines.

After the boom in the early and mid-1950s, however, the first crisis soon set in, and with it the long-term decline of mining in the Ruhr area. In 1958 the miners started the first party shifts, and in the 1960s there were numerous mine closures. While around 600,000 people were still working in 150 collieries in 1950, there are still 44,000 miners in ten collieries today. Mining has shifted to the Münsterland and is becoming increasingly expensive at greater depths. There has also been a serious decline in the steel industry since the mid-1970s, with a number of large blast furnace and steel works having to close. In the Westphalian part of the Ruhr area, there is no longer a blast furnace in operation.

By setting up new industrial companies such as the Opel factory in Bochum and new service centers such as universities with their affiliated technology parks, attempts were made to compensate for the loss of jobs in the old mining industries with new jobs. The so-called structural change in the Ruhr area thus marks the replacement of a rather one-sided industrial structure by various new branches of industry and services.



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