Heyday: the 18th and 19th centuries

The Zaanse Schans offers a look into the heyday of the Zaan district: the 18th and 19th centuries. In the Zaan district, the oldest industrial area of Western Europe, there were once some 600 windmills active at the same time. This was a direct result of trade in the Dutch Golden Age (17th century). Thanks to creative Zaan district entrepreneurs, numerous products were created by the industrial mills.

Invention of the crankshaft
The heyday of the Zaan district was preceded by an important invention. This was the invention of the crankshaft by fellow countryman Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest in 1594. The crankshaft made it possible to convert the horizontal wind direction of the mill blades into a vertical sawing motion. This allowed mills to suddenly saw much more wood at an industrial level than was ever possible by hand. This provided an enormous amount of additional construction possibilities.

The very prosperous 17th century – the Golden Age – was a great catalyst for shipbuilding and industrial mills in the Zaan district. The location of the district, on the water and under the smoke of Amsterdam, was ideal during the Golden Age. Thanks to its entrepreneurial spirit, the Zaan district grew into a centre of commercial shipbuilding in Europe in the 17th century. No less than 26 shipyards launched between 100 and 150 vessels annually. In light of this, it is important to mention that the Zaan district played an important part in whaling until the middle of the 19th century.

Entrepreneurial spirit of the Zaan district
In its heyday, the Zaan district developed into a then-unprecedented industrial area, with at its peak over 600 active windmills: wooden factories powered by the wind. As a result, production increased dramatically. The Zaankanters – through many ingenious discoveries – subsequently developed various various types of industrial mills that truly created everything: machine-sawn wood, paper, ground spices, oil for food and paint, dyes, many types of fibres, flour, cocoa powder, and more. Naturally these developments, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, brought a lot of money to the Zaan district.

The Zaankanters did not only excel historically in entrepreneurship, but also in their community spirit. For example, they shared technological innovations and concluded “fire contracts” as insurance against windmill fires.

The prosperity of the 18th and 19th centuries is evident in many ways in the Zaan district. Besides windmills, barns and other buildings, beautiful homes of wealthy mill owners, traders and notables also sprang up. These houses often have both a beautiful front and rear (status symbols) and are built on the dike along the river Zaan, at that time a major thoroughfare.

If the owner was doing well, he would build a “goedjaarsend” (good year’s end; a house extension) onto his home. And those who could afford it had a so-called “overtuin” (garden across the way), separated from the house by a road or water. The garden was used for growing vegetables, for ornamental use or as a bleachfield for laundry. There were also a number of luxurious tea domes in Zaandam.

The Zaan district was literally a colourful sight. The houses in particular used to have a rich diversity of colours, from various shades of green to beige and light blue. And besides the exterior, the interiors of Zaan district houses also featured a colourful palette.

All these special regional characteristics make the Zaan district a unique area.

The Zaanse Schans is in bloom!

The windmills, workshops and houses you see on the Zaanse Schans are the result of a fruitful period in our history. View the growth and prosperity of the Industrial Revolution in North Holland.

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