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A brief history of the Pick Axe

A brief history of the pick axe

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Why is it called a pickaxe? The origin of the name pickaxe is thought to come from the earlier “pikois” which itself derives from the old French “picios”


Ancient Persian Susa pick axe The pickaxe is thought to be one of the oldest tools used by mankind. Its use can be traced back to prehistoric civilizations, and has been associated with everything from cultivation of land to mining and war over the centuries.

Ancient history

Ancient Elam city of Susa being taken by Assyrian soldiers The relief opposite shows Assyrian soldiers taking the ancient Elam city of Susa (2700-539BC) and depicts them using pickaxes and crowbars to destroy and loot the city.

Middle age warfare

Polish winged hussars horsemans pickaxe The horseman’s pickaxe was often called a war hammer and was a weapon used through the Middle Ages across Europe by cavalry in war.

The main use of the horseman’s pickaxe during battle was to tear cavalry from their mounts.

Another one of its uses was as a means to pierce thick armour or mail that a standard sword was unable to penetrate.

Middle age war hammer However, the horseman’s pickaxe has several drawbacks as a weapon. Its heavy weight made it unwieldy and easily avoided by the enemy.

Injuries caused by the horseman’s pickaxe were small and rarely fatal, and if swung with too much force, the weapon could become stuck in the victim or their armour, and be difficult to retrieve.

19th Century railroad construction

Railroad construction with the use of a pickaxe Railroad pickaxes are the most common type used today. They get their name from their use in constructing The Great American Railroad between 1850 and 1890, which connected the rest of America to the once wild west.


Pickaxe being used in a coal mine A mandrill, also referred to as a miner’s pickaxe is used in traditional mining, or old-school mining, as it is a mining method involving the use of basic manual tools, like pickaxes.

This type of mining was employed throughout the world up to the early 1900s. It is still a mining method employed in some countries today, such as Colombia, Peru and parts of Africa.

Big hole mine in Kimberly South Africa The big hole is an open pit mine in South Africa, that was created with traditional manual mining techniques and is said to be the deepest hand excavated hole in the world.

World War One trench warfare

Clubs and flails made from pickaxe handles used in WW1 on Dolomites front Pickaxes and their handles were used as weapons in World War One trench warfare.

Pickaxe handles were adapted into homemade trench-raiding clubs by both the Allies and Central Powers, and used during night-time trench raiding expeditions as a quiet and effective way of killing or wounding enemy soldiers.

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