The Lorraine is today part of France, but during the 19th and 20th century it was a famous bone of contention between Germany and France. In German the area is called Lothringen. Actually, similar to other border regions like the Alsace and the Saarland, even the inhabitants seem to be divided between both countries. Most of the inhabitants are bilingual, and probably it does not matter any more in an uniting Europe to which country they actually belong.
One reason why the area always was demanded by both countries is the wealth of iron ore and coal which was of great importance during the first half of the 20th century. During two world wars the Lorraine was of great strategic importance.
The iron ore is Jurassic iron ore of the Minette, which is found in huge layers of oolithic iron oxide between limestones and sandstones in the area of southern Luxembourg and the Lorraine, especially around Metz. It was extensively mined until the mid 20th century, then the mining became more and more obsolete because of cheaper iron ore from the world market. In 1997 the last iron ore mine in Lorraine, which once produced over 50 million tonnes of iron, was closed. The total amount of iron produced in this time is estimated to 3 Billion tonnes.
At first there was no coal mining in the Lorraine, the coal was imported from the nearby Sarre. Until 1792 the area today known as Saarland was ruled by independent sovereigns of Frankian origin. They were threatened by the French kings, but never conquered. Finally they were conquered by the armies of the French Revolution and became part of the French Republic. Soon the importance of the coal for the minette ores was discovered and the coal mining developed. Between 1807 and 1811 the French coal mining in the Saarland developed rapidly. Then came Napoleon and his final defeat in 1815, the region became German and was divided into three parts.
The developing iron furnaces of the Lorraine were now lacking coal. The Saarland lies right to the north, and it shares the same geology with the northern part of the Lorraine. But in the north the coal layers are close to the surface, and they are dipping to the south. In Lorraine the coal is located around 1,200m deep. This makes the mining difficult, there is high temperature underground, such deep shafts are expensive, pumping out the water is important and expensive, and ventilation is necessary and expensive. But the need for coal was so big, the first mines developed in the area despite the obstacles.
The first mine was opened at Schoeneck, the second at Stiring-Wendel. Both had problems with groundwater and had to be closed. Finally in 1856 the coal mining at Petite-Rosselle started and lasted