Mining The Materials We All Need

By David G. Firestone

One of my non-racing interests is mining. When I went to the Gem Show in Tucson a few months back, I wasn’t really interested in many of the gems, but I found a couple of booths that almost exclusively dealt with mining memorabilia. I found that stuff to be interesting. Mining in the 21st Century is the safest, and most technologically advanced that the industry has ever been. In the decades prior, safety and technology were at a premium. Workers would use the most primitive of technology in mining.

I’ve been to a few mines on tours. In 2003, while at DePaul University, I went on a service project to Cranks Creek, Kentucky. One particular day, we went to Lynch, Kentucky, and went on a tour of a closed-down mine, and a mining museum in another town. I did take a few pictures of some of the exhibits: Last year, I took a tour of the ASARCO Mine, which, unlike the mine in Lynch, is an active mine, currently mining copper. I took some pictures: and video:

Also, I bought some mining memorabilia. The Lynch, Kentucky museum had a small gift shop, which sold some of the items used by miners from the old days.

This is one example of a tag used to indicate who mined a cart of coal. Miners were paid by the ton, and as carts were brought from the mine to the surface, it was weighed, and the number of the worker was written down. This is a paper version of the tag. I’m not sure of the vintage, but it is in great condition.Mining tags came in a number of different materials. This is an older leather tag, which, unlike the paper tag, shows a lot of signs of age.

Metal was one of the most commonly used material used to make tags, since it was durable. This is an example of one.One unique way mines used to avoid paying as much money would be to own the general store where the workers lived, and hand out vouchers that could only be used in the company-owned stores. This is an example from the Southern Mining Company Mine in Colmar, Kentucky.In today’s computerized and automated world, the term “pay envelope” doesn’t mean much. For decades, the “pay envelope” was how millions of Americans received their pay for their hard work. Miners were no exception. These two examples are from a miner named Raymond W Collier. One is from 1950, for $136.04, which in today’s money is $1,642.84, and the second is from 1953, and it’s for $139.64 or $1,270.04 in today’s money. Both have the amount of coal mined, and the time worked. A lot of mines are in very remote areas. As such, towns will spring up around the mines for the workers and their families to live. Bodie, California is one such example. Bodie was founded by a group of prospectors as a camp in 1859. In 1876 a load of gold was found, and eventually the boom town grew to over 7,000 people. While the boom was good, it couldn’t last, and by 1915, it was a ghost town. This check from the 1880’s was from the Bodie Bank, and is still in great condition. In the end, millions of miners endured dangerous conditions, and back-breaking work, and, sadly, many of their names have been lost to history. What were they trying to acquire? It depends on the mine. Many mines are mining for coal, which for decades was the main form of power generation. Trains, boats, and electricity all came from burning coal. This piece of coal was on board the RMS Titanic before it sank. Quartz has a number of different uses. From jewelry to electronics, quartz is a mineral that has become indispensable as a material. These are diamond cut quartz, that are designed to look like diamond. From wire to pennies to roofing material, copper is one of the most important minerals in place today. Copper Mines work around the world to satisfy humanity’s need for this material. Copper has to go through a lot to get to the material we know today. When it first gets mined, it’s copper ore, and this is a small example.After being pulled from the ground, copper ore needs to go through a series of methods to remove impurities. Copper can’t be useful unless it is 99.99% pure. The ore has to be crushed to a fine powder, have the copper leached out of it, and that has to go through some more steps to become copper. This is a solid pound bar of .9995 percent copper. Silver has uses in many different applications, including electronics, medical uses, solar panels, currency, photographic film, x-rays, and numerous other uses. These are three 1 gram bars of 99.999% silver.The three most common uses for gold are currency, electronics, and jewelry. Gold is one of the few minerals we all want to have. This is a small gold nugget. It is .07 grams. When pure gold is flattened by “goldbeating” the end result is a sheet of gold leaf. It’s main uses are for art and architecture, but it can also be edible. This is a small jar of gold leaf. There are many other minerals that are mined, some on a large scale, some on a small scale. This is an example of bluestone, which is the same material used to make Stonehenge.The minerals extracted from the earth are necessary for our modern world.  While there are environmentalists who claim we are mining too much, these materials help us survive and advance as humans do.  Most everything we as humans use is made with mined materials in one way or another.  There are millions of things these materials are used for.  One other thing that gold and silver are used for is awards, and next week, we will look at some racing awards.

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