From Boom to Crisis: The German Coal Industry after 1945

From Boom to Crisis: The German Coal Industry after 1945

Projektleiter: Dr. Lars Bluma
Stellvertretender Projektleiter: Dr. Michael Farrenkopf

The cultural mentality of the Ruhr area as well as its social and economic structure are still characterised by its past role as a highly industrialised ‘coal and steel area’. This has left future generations the responsibility for overcoming the technical challenges of the post-mining legacy in the Ruhr – especially of water management – but also for securing, imparting and further investigating the historic heritage of the coal industry. The exploration of the historical roots of the extraction and use of coal should help advance the social acceptance of the post-mining legacy and its associated ‘tasks for eternity’.

Following the end of World War II, the allied occupation authorities were in charge of the Ruhr mining industry until 1951 when the European Coal and Steel Community was established. With the formation of this trade association, the German coal and steel industry was integrated into the European economic area.
The most significant developments of the German coal industry in the 1950s and 1960s fall under the headings of ‘The Coal, Iron and Steel Industry Co-Determination Act of 1951’; ‘Full Mechanisation’; ‘The Coal Crisis’ and ‘The Founding of Ruhrkohle AG in 1968/69’. The transitional decade of the 1960s witnessed the shift from a booming to a shrinking economic sector, which nevertheless maintained a significant position within the German national economic system for a long time afterwards. Especially the fields of Mining Engineering and Mining Technology Germany achieved an prominent position internationally that it still holds today: the result of a broad spectrum of technical and scientific achievements (e.g. the Westfälische Berggewerkschaftskasse, a communal organisation for the industry, which from 1990 became the ‘DMT’) and progress with health and safety aspects including the formation of a trade union and insurance organisation for the coal industry (the Knappschaftsversicherung and the Bergbau-Berufsgenossenschaft). Here, the coal industry showed its great ability to adapt to changing economic and political circumstances as well as the will of the actors involved to act together to manage a ‘soft’, structural change, which is still far from over even when the last colliery closes at the end of 2018. Rather, the industrial landscape of the Ruhr area, which was largely formed by the mining industry, has been subjected to a fundamental process of transformation. This included the establishment of new trades and businesses; the development of the complex infrastructure required for scientific and industrial research, and the re-use of former mining sites under the rubric of ‘industrial culture’.
The coal industry after 1945 was and is still characterized by profound structural, economic, technical, social and cultural upheavals and transformations, which are to be explored in each of the three projects that comprise the lines of inquiry of: ‘The Changing Cultures of Innovation after 1945’ and ‘The Transformation of Industrial Landscapes’.


Line of inquiry I: The changing cultures of innovation after 1945

Sub-project leader: Dr. Lars Bluma

This line of inquiry investigates mining-related innovations with respect to science and technology, as well as business organisation and strategy. The central thesis is that the coal mining industry in the post war period spawned a culture of innovation that was closely connected with the prevailing economic, social and political conditions. The task of the three sub-projects in this line of inquiry will be to distinguish the central areas of innovation and their characteristics and to methodically resolve the question of whether the term ‘culture of innovation’ possesses sufficient analytical precision to effectively consider economic, technological and scientific innovations.

Associated Projects

Line of inquiry II: the transformation of industrial landscapes

Sub-project leader: Dr. Michael Farrenkopf

The line of inquiry, ‘The Transformation of Industrial Landscapes’ examines the conversion processes of industrial areas dominated by coal-mining and steel production from mainly political and economic perspectives as well as the strategies derived as part of preserving the industrial-cultural value of such areas. The central thesis is that the economic dimension of the successive retreat of the coal industry is so significant, that the industrial-cultural transformation of the Ruhr area has proved to be pioneering in the national context. This thesis will be examined by successive comparative studies of the West German, Saxon and finally British coalfields. Thus, it is envisaged the sub-project will historicise the role and importance of the coal industry in terms of the development of industrial cultural landscapes as UNESCO World Heritage.

Associated Projects


Project Lead

Dr. Lars Bluma

Dr. Michael Farrenkopf

Host Information

German Mining Museum Bochum (Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum)