June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Key Milestones in Coal Mining History

3 min read

The coal mining industry has seen all kinds of changes and upheavals throughout its history. They continue to happen to this day. But what are the most important stages in the progression of this vital industry? Read on to find out.

Early Extraction Methods

The very first examples of mining for coal go back thousands of years. These early methods were not efficient, and it was not yet possible to dig up much coal from the Earth. But this was still a very significant step in the history of coal mining.

Small scale shaft mining was first tried out, and this would provide the prototype for future methods. Drift mining and belt pits were also commonly used to begin with. And although these methods were not very successful, they were important first steps.

Boring and Pumping in the 17th Century

It was in the 17th century that methods for finding and extracting coal started to become more advanced. This is when the first test boring was done. Test boring allowed mining companies to find where the best place to construct a mine is.

By drilling a hole, they can explore what is below before going further. New chain pumps driven by water wheels were also used for the very first time. This method was used to drain collieries. It was a huge step forward that would pave the way for the next stage in mining history.

The Industrial Revolution

New techniques, such as deep shaft mining, coincided with the discovery of large coal deposits in England. This is why the Industrial Revolution was born in northern England in the 18th century. It later went on to spread across all of Europe.


Because of this, the demand for coal increased and opened up many new possibilities. International trade expanded and new railways were built and the steam engines were powered by the coal. The abundance of coal led to a dramatic fall in prices, making it more accessible.

Miners Organization

In the 19th century, as coal mining expanded and regions of northern and central England, exploitation was rife. And one of the milestones of this period was the organisation and unionisation of miners. They managed to leverage power and demand improvements through these means.

This completely changed the political landscape in Britain. For the first time, working class people gained a degree of political power. This was also important for improving conditions and pay in the coal mining industry.

New Technologies of the 20th Century

The 20th century saw massive changes in the world and in the mining industry. The conditions and rights of employees improved massively. And new technologies, like the ones continuing to be developed by Direct Mining, improved safety massively.


Faster methods of bulk extraction also helped to protect the industry against the many challenges it faced. For a while, it appeared like nuclear power might wipe out coal mining in the middle of the century. But by making the process more efficient, it became a more sustainable industry.