The development of mining activities in Krušné hory (Ore Mountains) was unusually fast as well as unusually successful. It began only at the start of the 16th century when rich argentiferous lodes were discovered in the surroundings of the unimportant mountain settlement named Konradsgrün at that time and Jáchymov today. Very profitable mining was possible thanks to the rich ores in the oxidation and cementation zones of the ore lodes, deposited relatively shallow under the surface where even naturally-pure wire silver occurred.
It is known from the oldest Jáchymov history that the year 1516 is mentioned in the Jáchymov memorial book as the first one when mines outputs were distributed. Therefore, it is probable that mining started a bit earlier, in about 1512, most probably on the Schottenberg Mt., which today is called Zámecký vrch (Chateau Hill). Almost immediately the mining attracted many miners and mine-owners from both the Czech and Saxony sides of Krušné hory.
Count Štěpán Šlik very initiatively started construction of a new town, having obtained rights to a mining lease in this area. In 1518 the new mining town had over 3000 inhabitants and Štěpán Šlik issued the mining rules for it according to the Saxony mining customs, as they were compiled in the Annaberg Mining Rules in 1509. In the year 1520 Jáchymov was promoted to the status of a mining town. In the same year the Šliks obtained also the right of silver purchase and for minting silver coins, which made them real mining regal nobility in their domain. The new coin containing 28.5 g of silver was called the Thaler and its name was inherited by the present-day dollar.
Jáchymov thus became such a significant centre of economic power that the king could not leave it in the Šliks’ jurisdiction and possession. He began to restrict their privileges and rights and until he finally took away all of their rights to Jáchymov in 1547. In the following year he issued new Royal Mining Code for Jáchymov, which were adopted gradually by all of the mines in Bohemia, and not only as the Mining Rules, but also as the Mining Code of Laws to a certain extent.
The reason for the procedure was the fact that the majority of aristocratic families participating in mining or allowing mining activities on their lands had issued their own mining rules on the basis of the Annaberg Mining Rules and later even of the Jáchymov Mining Rules. The Jáchymov Mining Code protected the rights of the mine owners as soon as they reported a deposit strike. The strike reported to the Mining Master in writing guaranteed the discoverer the preferential right to the allotment lease. However, this did not mean that the petitioner automatically had the entitlement to mine the deposit - only the right of allotment lease. The lode had to be uncovered and its feasibility to be mined had to be established within 14 days following the report of the strike.
In the Jáchymov Mining Code the mining methods were decreed for the first time. The Mining Master had not only the right to impose a ban on an improper way of mining and to order a new mining method be followed, but also had the right to determine a number of miners for individual faces, to punish those who left the faces, let the drifts cave in and did not follow regulations on the incline of the mine drifts, especially the drainage adit. The Jáchymov Mining Code prescribed that quarterly reports on profits and losses in the mines’ shares must be submitted.
The Jáchymov Mining Code changed earlier division of the mining property into 32 shares according to all previous Czech regulations to 128 so-called “mine shares.” These shares had the characteristics of securities, were transferable, marketable, hereditary, and they could be used as a security towards a dept.
According to the Royal Mining Code of 1548 it was not permitted to pay miners two wages a day from one mine, but it was not forbidden to draw wages from two different mines. Thus the problem with how to increase the miners’ earnings were solved when prices rapidly increased in the 16th century.
The town grew very fast and as early as in 1533 it had 18 000 inhabitants and became thus the second largest community in Bohemia, following Prague. This fast boom of the town was enabled by capital-strong mine-owners employing a large number of miners and supportive labourers.
Written records have documented that natural silver occurred in relatively significant quantities in the outcrops; as well as not too deep under surface. It could be even cut and processed in the mint without smelting. However, the main silver ores consisted of argentite, realgar, cerargyrite, stephanite, proustite, pyrargyrite and other argentiferous minerals. In the first half of the 16th century 1344 mining operations were opened and operated in the Jáchymov ore mining district and about 10 000 people were employed in the mines of this area.
Following a many-year successful mining considerable disorderliness started to appear in the mines, especially in payment of wages. This resulted in miners’ riots in the years of 1521 to 1523 and then in 1525. Soon after the suppression of the miners’ rebellions Štěpán Šlik died fighting alongside of King Louis Jagiellon in the Battle of Mohacs. The new King Ferdinand I began to interfere in the Šliks’ rights and the 1540’s meant not only the takeover of Jáchymov by the King, but also a turning point in development of mining that declined as fast as it developed.
The rich Jáchymov district became a centre not only of a considerable number of miners longing to become rich, but also a large amount of outstanding experts who formed and applied the most modern mining technology of that time in Jáchymov and had their part in the town’s cultural upward trend. The oldest written report about the Jáchymov library, which was founded along with the Latin school, dates back to 1540. At that time it was one of the most comprehensive libraries in Central Europe, in which almost all literature of that time was gathered: humanistic, theological or related to practical sciences. The Bible manuscript of the 12th century and the 52 incunabula (books printed before 1501) belong among the rarest treasures.
We have learnt about mining technology and the methods of exploitation and driving drifts in Jáchymov in the first half of the 16th century from the work of the Jáchymov physician Georgius Agricola “De re Metallica libri XII” that was published in 1556 and furnished with 273 excellent wood engravings created by many artists. The most significant ones were Jan Rudolf Manuel Deutsch, Zachariáš Specklin and Basilius Wefring. A very important book is also the book by Jan Mathesius, a Jáchymov priest, called “Bergpostilla oder Sarepta”, published in 1587.
The mine adits, driving of which was a must due to the uneven terrain for opening of mines in the Jáchymov area. It was the utilization of the mine adits that made the Jáchymov mining different from the traditional Czech mining practices. In the 16th century the productivity of manual drift driving, excavating ore lodes in chambers, and sinking pits was in average about 7.5 to 10 m for a quarter of a year. Miners’ tools consisted of iron cutters, hammers, picks, scrapers, wedges, crowbars and a trough. The consumption of iron cutters was enormous and more than 30 000 pieces a year were consumed in a middle-sized mine.
All mining labour was awarded in the piece rates calculated according to measurements in a old measure of length called the látro (approximately 2 metres long.) The rates in the chambers used to be slightly higher than the rates in other parts of the mine, because the ore selection and sorting was much more time-demanding. The piece rates of the hauliers depended on the size of the ore chunks and the length and the slope of the way out of the mine.
After the Thirty Years’ War mining was in a dismal state. The majority of the mines were abandoned; there was lack of experts as well as of miners who would be able to start mining again. Another way for improvement of the situation in mining was an attempt at improving professional education of mining expert clerks who would be able to come up with new technical equipment and introduce it into the mines. Jan František Lauer, counsellor of the Czech Chamber and mine inspector, drew attention to the permanent lack of competent technicians and experienced, professionally educated resort clerks in 1713 and many times later.
Purposefully organized professional school activities began later, especially in the changed economic conditions and in the way of thinking and observation of the state administration officers. It was finally initiated only by the ruler’s decree of 13. 11. 1716, by which he ordered the establishment of a professional mining school in Jáchymov. The only thing we know about this oldest mining school, aside from underground surveying and minting, some metallurgic and associated subjects, especially ore crushing and smelting were taught there.
The prominence of the old mining Jáchymov began to be revived as late as in the 18th century and the town, as well as the mines, recovered from consequences of the Thirty Years’ War and the total economic recession. Besides silver ores, bismuth ores began to be exploited too. Pure bismuth was added to tin in the production of pewter to increase its lustre, and it was also used as an additive to glaze used for ceramic products.
The state, into which the mines got at the beginning of the 19th century, was very poor. There were almost no mine drainage facilities, and the hauling equipment was not maintained in working condition either. However, the situation was changed by the discovery of the use for pitchblende.
Pitchblende had been known from way back, and later was classified among the cobalt ores. The ancient German name of uraninite, pitchblende - pechstein, pechblende, and pecherze – already reveals that old miners considered this mineral a mine waste and discarded it into mine fillings and waste dumps.
After discovery of radioactivity by Becquerel in 1896 and then of radium by Pierre Curie and Marie Sklodowska-Curie in 1898 the new era of the Jáchymov mining began, which was enabled by residuals after colours production. It was established that uranium colours are not radioactive, because the radium remained in residue after colours production. Between the years of 1910 - 1019 Jáchymov had a monopoly on the production of radium.
Extraction of radioactive ores increased only after the First World War when the Jáchymov mines were taken over by the Czechoslovak state administration. The Curies took pitchblende also from the newly established Czechoslovak Republic and in 1925 Mme. Marie Curie visited Jáchymov and even went down in the pit of the Svornost (Concord) Mine.
By the Second World War the radium era of Jáchymov had finished and a period of very intensive mining of uranium ores began. After their depletion Jáchymov returned to its almost hundred-year spa tradition that is closely connected with the famous mining history of Jáchymov, the town renowned for silver, cobalt, radium and pitchblende, but also its unique balneology.
In 1863 a strong thermal spring was struck during mining in the Svornost mine, which very quickly flooded a part of the mine. On March 11, 1964 while deepening of the Svornost shaft below the 12th level was interrupted by eruption of water that reached the 8th level and flooded the mine area within a month. The considerable costs of water pumping; along with a significant decrease in the prices of silver and uranium colours on foreign markets caused the mine shutdown.
The healthy effects of mine waters were known already before discovery of radioactivity. The Jáchymov mine springs’ radioactivity was discovered only in 1905, during an investigation into the quality of curative springs of the Western Bohemian spas. As early as at the end of the 19th century the baker Kühn established the first baths in his house. However, Kühn’s house was acknowledged as the first “spa institute” with its four bathtubs, into which miners brought water in scuttles on their backs, only in 1906, after modifications ordered by local physician had been completed. In that year the spa was visited by the first thirty patients.