24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Engineers have done some pretty remarkable things in the past 200 years. But some of the most exciting have taken place entirely underground. From the digging of the NYC subway system to the Yucca Mountain tunnels, these machines are responsible for boring entire worlds below our feet.

Linking cities with subterranean tunnels? Mining minerals thousands of feet below the Earth? No problem—engineers have spent more than two centuries designing and building monstrous machines for purposes that, fairly recently, sounded like science fiction. we can create monstrous machines for any digging purpose you want!

The following images trace a brief visual history of mechanical moles.


Circa 1850: Low's Rock Boring machine built by E R & F Turner of Ipswich.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images


1908. Machine used in Gary, West Virginia digs the coal and loads it onto the car. With it, three men could do the work of 50 in the old way.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Lewis Wickes Hine


Tunnel Boring Machine used for boring a tunnel during the development of the New York City subway system, early 1930s.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images


A U.S. coal miner operates a German mining machine in a West Virginia mine. The imported machine, at 328 feet long, produced up to two tons of coal a minute.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: AP


Circa 1970: Whirling steel teeth of thiscontinuous mining machine chew coal from the face of the seam. The loosened coal drops to the floor where rotating steel arms thrust it into the "throat" of the machine, a conveyor belt which carries the coal to the rear for loading into shuttle cars or a mine conveyor system.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: ENERGY.GOV


A continuous mining machine some 281 feet underground in a consolidation mine near Berwod, West Virginia, on Dec. 24, 1971.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: AP


A modern continuous mining machine tears coal from the face of the seam with steel teeth on rotating cutter head. Circa 1972.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: ENERGY.GOV


A diesel-hydraulic mining machine is on display at Hanover International Fair in Hanover, Germany, April 28, 1973. In operation the huge toothed drum—propelled by a tracked mover (not shown)—rotates forward, ripping a 12-foot-high tunnel through earth and underground ore deposits.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: AP


The famous Bagger 288 (Excavator 288), completed in 1978, is a bucket-wheel excavator or mobile strip mining machine, and one of the largest land vehicles in the world.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Kamil Porembiński


Alpine mining machines excavate alcoves and niches for scientific testing in the exploratory studies facility at Yucca mountain.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: ENERGY.GOV


Tunnel boring machine approaching the starter tunnel from the exploratory studies facility box cut at Yucca mountain.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: ENERGY.GOV


A tunnel boring machine 130 feet below street level in the 63rd Street subway tunnel construction site in New York, in 1980. The 98-foot-long, 900,000-pound machine cost $4 million to build. The Robbins Company of Seattle, Washington, built it, with the cutting head supplied by the Westinghouse Co., of Sunnyvale, Calif.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Dave Pickoff/AP


Bi-directional auger, designed to extract coal from the normal size pillars left in room-and-pillar mining.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: ENERGY.GOV


A 45-ton self-loading continuous mining machine mining salt at a rate of 300 tons per hour. The head of the machine cuts with tungsten carbide bits.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: ENERGY.GOV


Lola, one of two massive Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) creating tunnels for LA's Light Rail Eastside Extension, spins after breaking through from burrowing a 1.7-mile tunnel segment for the Metro Gold Line in 2006. Lola weighs more than 2 million pounds, stretch 344 feet underground, and creates tunnels 21 feet in diameter.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images


Another tunnel boring machine near the Finnetunnel in Buttstaedt, in central Germany, in 2008.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Jens Meyer/AP


Thai workers of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation cheer as they come out of a Tunnel Boring Machine after a successful break through on the Central Secretariat-Badarpur corridor section in New Delhi, India, in 2009.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Manish Swarup/AP


Mine operator inspects the teeth of a continuous mining machine at the Horizon Coal Mine outside Helper, Utah, 2009.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: George Frey/AP


Workers come out through the cutterhead after the breakout of the tunnel boring machine digging a new railway tunnel by Bad Bibra, eastern Germany, in 2009.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Eckehard Schulz/AP


2011: Two TBMs responsible for drilling Seattle's Sound Transit Link Light Rail segment, which connects the southeast end of the U-District at Husky Stadium to Downtown Seattle.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Atomic Taco


The custom-built boring machine at the Stillwater Mining in Nye, Montana, in 2012.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Stillwater Mine/AP


July 20, 2013: "Bertha," the massive tunnel boring machine, is ready to begin drilling a two-mile tunnel to replace the 60-year-old Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP


The Waterview Tunnel boring machine, named Alice, seen here in Auckland, New Zealand in 2014.

24 Digging Machines That Created a World Beneath Our Feet

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images


Top photo: Bagger 288 by Kamil Porembiński