Impoldering of the Zuyder Zee
Hendrik Stevin, together with others, first considered the idea of closing off the Zuyder Zee in the 17th Century. This was because of the many breaches of the dikes and the fact that the agricultural land was becoming more and more brackish. The land would be drained, with the potential of raising money. Stevin’s idea however, was not feasible at that time. The water could never be pumped out of the polders without the help of steam pumping-engines. In the Netherlands, these steam pumping-engines were not used until the impoldering of the Haarlemermeer (1848 -1852). Therefore Stevin's ideas were unable to be implemented.
Around 1880, discussions on the impoldering of the Zuyder Zee started again. Property developers knew they would never be able to finance the entire project without support from the government. To form a strong unity, in 1886, the Zuyder Zee Association (Zuiderzeevereniging) was established. Cornelis Lely was appointed as the adviser. In 1891, Lely became the Minister of Transport and Public Works, and in that same year he completed his plans for draining the Zuyder Zee. Unfortunately, his plans were never carried out - they were unsure whether the profits of the project would outweigh the costs involved.
In 1913, the Queen decided that it was finally time to commence the plan. But, in 1914, the First World War broke out, so the plans were yet again put on hold. During the war, it became clear just how important it was for the Netherlands to be able to supply themselves with sufficient grain production, as the supply lines of the Dutch harbours could easily be cut off.
When the Netherlands were hit by a very large tidal wave in 1916, it became clear that draining the Zuyder Zee would have its advantages, and so Cornelis Lely’s plan was revived. Cornelis Lely’s plan was to build a dike from Noord-Holland (North-Holland) to Friesland, via the existing island of “Wieringen”. After building this dike (named the “Afsluitdijk”), the IIsselmeer could be drained. The second phase of Lely’s plan involved building an additional dike from Den Helder to the island of Terschelling, and then across to the islands of Ameland, Schiermonnikoog and Rottum (the Waddenzee or ‘the West-Frisian Islands). A huge part of the Waddenzee would therefore be diked in. In 1918, the bill for draining the Zuyder Zee was passed by Parliament, and in 1920 the project was started.