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Mining History

Mineral deposits occur all over the Earth, but only rarely are these minerals concentrated enough to permit recovery by mining. The State of Missouri has certainly been blessed by Mother Nature as she has provided vast amounts of minerals hidden beneath Missouri's surface. Lying below the state's rich topsoil are mineral resources so extensive, few can comprehend the magnitude.

Missouri's first settlers were drawn to the state by verdant green forests, wide prairies and meadow, silvery ribbons of rivers and an abundant supply of wildlife, but what was not visible was the tremendous wealth of minerals yet to be discovered. Never in their wildest dreams could the early pioneers have imagined the quantity or quality of the mineral deposits of Missouri.

History has typically shown that Frenchmen were the first miners in Missouri; however a closer look at the state's history reveals that the Frenchmen were only the first white men. The Indians and their aborigine ancestors were the first miners as they dug our flint for arrowheads, iron oxide for war paint and clay from which they shaped bowls, pots, pipes and other implements for daily living. Mining to the early inhabitants of Missouri was a matter of acquiring tools for survival.

Through the ages, different cultures have been traced in Missouri, but it wasn't until the middle of the 1600's that the first white men reached the shores of what is now Missouri and began exploration. These were French-Canadians who had settled in Canada around 1600 and were eager to discover minerals, especially gold and silver.

Cruelty, hardship and starvation beset early explorers at every turn as they searched for minerals. Most of the early expeditions only succeeded in revealing small amount of the hidden minerals. However, enough discoveries were made to entice throngs of white men to the Missouri frontier. One of these adventurers was Phillipe Francois Renault tried unsuccessfully for more then ten years to develop his tracts of land, but he apparently lost courage and abandoned his work.

For the next sixty years, only desultory mining was practiced in Missouri. However, in the late eighteenth century, Moses Austin arrived in Missouri. He established his family in Potosi, and proceeded to give the active years of his life to lead mining in Missouri. Austin constantly sought new and better methods of mining and its development.

Certainly greater thing could have been accomplished much faster in the early days of mining in Missouri had transportation not been such a major problem. Producing the ore was not as great a challenge as getting it to market. The mines in Missouri were instrumental in the development of the railway system. The advent of railroads brought to the people real vision and promise.

The Civil War halted ore exploration in the district, but when it was over, miner and prospectors again poured in. Progress was steady but slow, marked by expansion based on technological advances in mining methods. Mining in those early days was a back-breaking labor, but ore was so plentiful that there seemed to be an endless supply.

In addition to lead, other minerals were found and mines were developed to extract the minerals. Vast supplies of zinc, copper, nickel, and cobalt, tripoli, stone, clay, industrial sand, lime, barite, and coal were extracted from Missouri's mines.

The number of hours early miners worked was up to them and many worked short hours, intensifying their poverty. Others worked hard, farmed on the side and by comparison, prospered. Unfortunately, regardless of how hard miner were willing to work, they inhibited by their lack of knowledge.

The only schools of mining at that time were in Germany and Saxony. Documents were written to the Civil Commandant of the Upper Louisiana Territory as early as 1804 pleading for scientific and practical training in the mineral industry in Missouri. Years passed with the idea surfacing now and then, but it was not until 1865 that Governor Thomas Clement Fletcher presented an official proposal for annexation of a school of mines to the state university. The Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy was chartered and founded at Rolla, Missouri.

Missouri's mining industry has been an important part of the economic and social fabric of the state for 275 years. No other economic activity, except farming, has been a part of Missouri's scene from its earliest beginnings. The mining industry's slogan has become "If It Can't Be Grown, It Has To Be Mined" as a result of the effects of these two major industries.

To convert the resources to usable mine products for the benefits of the state has taken the best efforts of geologists, metallurgists, chemists, engineers, technicians, machinists electrician, contractors, miners, railroaders, truck drivers, mechanics, drillers, blasters, scalers, and laborers. From the work performed by these people, Missourians have all benefited greatly throughout the years.

Mineral resources remain our keystones to destiny, providing for our civilization as we know it today. Miners realize that in order to protect Missouri's future, there must be a balance between the environment, the dwindling reserves of mineral and the increasing demand by consumers. By working together, our state can continue to compete world-wide in the production of minerals.

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