Mining: Even in prehistoric times, copper was mined in the provinces of Salzburg and Tyrol, Salt at Hallstatt and Hallein, lead in Carinthia and iron at Huettenberg and many other locations. Important underground mines from the Hallstatt period with timberings, hoisting systems and ladder-ways have been found in Upper Austria, Salzburg and Tyrol (in the salt mines down to a depth of 300 metres). The Romans searched for gold, silver, lead and iron ore in the Hohe Tauern Range. Iron from Noricum was in high demand because of its quality and hardness. In the early Middle Ages the long interruption caused by the migration of the Germanic peoples had to be overcome. At first there were only small and primitive mining sites. It was not until the High and Late Middle Ages that salt and iron-ore mining experienced rapid growth and reached a peak at the beginning of the Modern Age. In the 15th and 16th centuries Gold and Silver mining was most important. Salt mining was a prerogative ("Kammergut") of the sovereign. Under the emperors Friedrich II and Maximilian I, salt mining came entirely under state control. Ore mining, in contrast, was mainly carried out by cooperatives of independent miners. Around the end of the 15th century, these were joined by an increasing number of important financiers, which entailed the establishment of a new legal form of mining co-operative. Their members, the so-called "Gewerke", were joint owners of the mine and personally liable.
In the age of Mercantilism, mines which had been abandoned during the Reformation and the Peasants' Revolts were reopened. In the period of Neo-absolutism, the state gained increasing influence over mining and also established its own training institutes for mining officials ( University of Mining and Metallurgy at Leoben) and schools of mining and smelting.
By the Middle Ages, the pitmen (or "Knappen") were highly regarded as "honourable people" and in great demand as specialists. Their privileges were soon laid down in the Mining Law, for the development of which the provinces of Tyrol, Salzburg and Styria were most influential. Miners played an important role in the struggles of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation; during the Peasants' Revolts they joined forces with the peasants in some places to defend their freedoms. Even today they still continue some of their traditional customs (St. Barbara's celebrations, the "Ledersprung" jump over a piece of leather, a kind of "initiation" ritual for new pitmen, and the "Reiftanz", a special kind of dance, etc.)
The growth of mining led to a number of important inventions in the field of mining technology in Austria. Around 1515, the horse-driven whim for shaft driving was introduced in Tyrolean mines. Drainage was improved and the first mining car ("Grubenhunt") appeared. The Sackzug for transporting water and materials was introduced for open-cast mining, the stamp mill ("Nasspochwerk") and the amalgamation process were developed for gold mining, perpendicular conveyance was introduced in silver mining. The introduction of an early type of smelting oven (Flossofen) in Carinthia formed the basis for heavy industry ( Iron, important centres being Eisenerz, Leoben and Steyr). Mining surveying technology carried out by surveyors, the so-called "Markscheider", greatly improved with the invention of surveying tools (Alpenkompass, Schinzenge). Finally, the introduction of explosives in mining led to a sharp increase in production figures at the beginning of the 18th century.
Gold and silver mining, which had played a major role at local level up until the end of the 16th century, had to be discontinued due to the extensive exhaustion and glaciation of deposits. Until the 19th century, the extent of mining in Austria was largely determined by the domestic and often only the local market. Railways and steamships brought rich overseas mineral resources onto the world market and increased competition. In the Vormaerz era the systematic mining of Coal began; new branches of industry promoted the mining of non-ferrous metals and other mineral resources.
From the second half of the 19th century, mining of Graphite and Magnesite in Veitsch (from 1881) and near Radenthein in Carinthia (from 1908) was practised. In both, Austria was the leading world producer of fire-resistant products. The transformation of the vast monarchy into a republic had a decisive effect on mining in Austria. It was no longer possible to achieve the pre-war production figures and Austria lost its monopoly of manganese and graphite. The mining of iron ore, as well as of lead and copper ore decreased sharply and was even temporarily discontinued during the crisis years of the First Republic. Coal mining was only intensively developed in the Second Republic. Drilling for Petroleum began after 1930). Alongside petroleum, Natural Gas has also been found at many sites. In 1946, part of the Austrian mining industry was nationalised ( nationalisation). In 1999 there were 42 oil and natural gas enterprises in Austria and approximately 1,500 mining sites under the control of the mining authority. In mining, only 3% are deep mined, 2% deep mined and open-cast, and 95% only open-cast. Development is still slightly recessive.
The mineral ores currently extracted can be categorised in three groups: bergfreie (i.e. free for exploitation by persons who are not necessarily owner of the land on which it is found) mineral resources (iron ores, lead ores, zinc ores, tungsten ores, gypsum, anhydrite, graphite, talcum, kaolin, limestone, magnesite, dolerite, oil shale); bundeseigene or state-owned mineral resources (rock salt, petroleum and natural gas) and grundeigene or individually owned mineral resources (quartz, brick clays, dolomite, marl, feldspar, trass, basaltic rock etc.).
Literature#G. B. Fettweis et al., Bergbau im Wandel, 1988; Bundesministerium fuer wirtschaftliche Angelegenheiten (Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, ed.), Oe. Montan-Handbuch, 1998.