Mines assay office, Park City, 1900
Mining for metals, coal, hydrocarbons, and minerals was a vital aspect of
Utah's economic, industrial, political, and social growth and development.
The mining industry has touched all aspects of life in Utah and has contributed
greatly to the state's history.
Mormon gold miners participated in the initial discovery of gold in California,
and gold dust imported from California between 1848 and 1851 to Utah was
processed by Mormon pioneers. But Brigham Young discouraged his people from
searching for precious metals because he feared not only the loss of critical
manpower to the goldfields but also that mining would distract Mormons from
agricultural pursuits and would attract non-Mormons, or Gentiles.
Although early leaders of Mormon Church placed a higher value on agricultural
development than on mining for the precious metals, Brigham Young did recognize
the need for iron, a metal that was costly to import by wagon from the East.
In 1850 Young issued a "call" for an "iron mission"
to southern Utah (Iron County), but after four years this effort was abandoned.
In the 1860s church leaders encouraged lead and silver mining around Minersville.
Brigham Young's resistance to precious-metal mining began to break down
with the coming of the railroad, and Mormons came to dominate the prospecting
of such ores in many areas until the economic collapse of the mid-1870s.
In the 1880s and 1890s, the decades after Brigham Young's death in 1877,
a number of church leaders including John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and
Joseph F. Smith, became involved in the ownership of silver mines.
The beginnings of commercial mining in Utah are traced to Colonel Patrick
E. Connor and his California and Nevada Volunteers who arrived in the Salt
Lake Valley in October 1862. Many of these soldiers were experienced prospectors
and, with Connor's blessing and prompting, they searched the nearby Wasatch
and Oquirrh mountains for gold and silver. In 1863 the first formal claims
were located in the Bingham Canyon area, and this spurred further exploration.
Discoveries soon followed in Tooele County and in Little Cottonwood Canyon
(1864). With the development of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 came
the transportation network necessary to elevate Utah's mining efforts from
small-scale activity to larger commercial enterprises. Other early mining
areas included the Big Cottonwood, Park City, and Tintic districts, along
with the West Mountain District, which encompassed the entire Oquirrh mountain
range. Mining activity in these regions grew through the 1880s, but, as
surface deposits dwindled, the need to mine for mineral sources at depths
far beneath the surface necessitated larger amounts of capital, and individual
efforts generally gave way to corporate interests. Between 1871 and 1873
the British invested heavily in Utah mining ventures, the most noted being
the Emma Mine in Little Cottonwood Canyon, which was rocked with scandal
involving unscrupulous mining promotion.
After the Panic of 1893 and the subsequent depression had ended, mining
in Utah burgeoned. By 1912, 88 mining districts were listed for the state
(between the years 1899 and 1928 the Salt Lake Mining Review listed
some 122 districts). Production figures, in terms of total value compiled
to 1917, illustrate the successful mining of gold, silver, copper, lead,
and zinc in Utah's three leading mining districts:
Bingham (1865-1917) $419,699,686
Park City (1870-1917) $169,814,024
Tintic (1869-1917) $180,401,804
Other districts listed included Big and Little Cottonwood ($25,722,533),
American Fork ($3,895,050), Piute County ($3,679,143), Carbonate ($478,122),
Mt. Nebo ($190,762), and West Tintic ($139,018).
Essential to the rapid increase in mine production was the further expansion
of transportation facilities, including the competition between the Union
Pacific and the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroads, which fostered
the completion of spur lines and narrow-gauge district lines. Also essential
was the development of mills and smelters needed to make the shipping of
ores and concentrates a profitable enterprise. Custom mills and smelters
virtually sprang up near many mines, beginning in the 1870s and continuing
to the turn of the century. Most of these operations proved ephemeral, lasting
only long enough to treat the grades of ore for which they were built. Of
more importance was the construction of large smelting plants in the Salt
Lake Valley. The erection of these facilities also commenced in the 1870s.
In Murray, the Germania and the Hanauer plants functioned into the 1890s.
They were purchased by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO)
in 1899. ASARCO also purchased the Mingo smelter, built in Sandy in 1878.
By 1902, ASARCO had begun operations treating lead-silver ores in its large
plant in Murray.
The Midvale area became another key smelting region. In 1873 the Sheridan
Hill smelter was built at West Jordan to treat ores from the Neptune Mine.
The Galena smelter, constructed in 1873, treated ores from the Galena and
Old Jordan mines at Bingham. It later became known as the Old Jordan Smelting
Works. In 1899 the United States Mining Company--later the United States
Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company (USSRMCO)--was organized, and in
1902 it completed its large smelter at Midvale. The ASARCO and USSRMCO plants,
together with the International Smelting and Refining Company operation
in Tooele, became giants on both a state and regional level in the consolidation
of the smelting industry, .
Utah's major mining areas were West Mountain (Bingham), Park City, and the
Tintic District. Park City flourished with the Ontario, Silver King, Daly-West,
Daly-Judge, and Silver King Consolidated mines, among others. From these
holdings came mining millionaires such as David Keith, Thomas Kearns, John
Judge, and Susanna Emery Holmes (known as the Silver Queen). This newly
acquired mining wealth substantially helped to change Salt Lake City's economic
base and its agrarian, rural village character. Palatial mansions began
to line South Temple (Brigham Street).
Samuel Newhouse, mining entrepreneur of the West Mountain and Beaver County
(Newhouse) areas in the 1910s, engineered the construction of what was planned
as the "Wall Street of the West." His Exchange Place development
on Main Street in Salt Lake City, highlighted by the gateway formed by the
Boston and Newhouse buildings, ran perpendicular to the Federal building
and signified the presence of non-Mormon influence in the city. The Salt
Lake Stock and Mining Exchange (founded in 1908) was located there. Salt
Lake City became a regional center for foodstuffs as well as mining implements
and machinery. With growth came secondary and tertiary businesses.
Metal mining also sparked population growth in Utah. In addition to introducing
new industries and technology, a large amount of labor was needed to work
in the mines, mills, and smelters. Mining companies sought this labor at
a time when southern and eastern Europeans as well as Japanese were immigrating
into the United States as part of the mass migration of the period from
the 1890s to the 1920s. The social dynamics associated with immigrant peoples,
their interactions, and the communities they formed were crucial accompaniments
to mining and as such cannot be separated from the industry itself.
Northern Europeans, such as the Irish, Welsh, and Cornish, arrived in the
metal towns first, followed by southern and eastern Europeans, Japanese,
and Mexicans. The Chinese, finished with the business of railroad building
after 1869, funneled into mining towns such as Park City, where memories
of China Town and China Bridge still continue. Mining and smelter towns
alike contained varying degrees of ethnic diversity, producing tensions
and labor strife. Nativism--antiforeign sentiment, bigotry, and racism--existed
in Utah, and erupted most evidently in metal- and coal-mining regions. Unionism
attracted these "new immigrants," as it did others with grievances.
Strikes and labor-management relations were an important part of Utah's
industrial history--the celebrated local trial and execution of Joe Hill
and the growth locally of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are
but two examples.
Metal mining in Utah, as in other locales, reacted to the vagaries of the
economy. Upswings and downturns created periods of optimism and pessimism.
The Great Depression of the 1930s affected the industry greatly, causing
production to plummet. However, World War II caused the demand for metals
to rise, rejuvenating the industry.
Uranium, the "wonder mineral" that became a giant in the 1950s,
had been sought in earlier days. The quest for uranium and accompanying
minerals has historical roots in Utah, and the industry of the late 1950s
and 1960s rested upon prior experience in the fields of prospecting, mining,
and processing. The earliest users of uranium ore in Utah were Native Americans
who used it for paints. Initial Utah uranium mining began in the 1870s and
1880s on a small scale, with ore shipped to France and Germany in 1884 for
use in the forming of salts and oxides as colorants for ceramics and dyes,
in the manufacture of glass and pottery, and as aids in photography and
steel plating. By 1898 radium had been isolated from the mineral, and carnotite
had been found and identified. Radium became known as a "wonder drug."
The eastern and southeastern regions near the basin margins of the Green,
Grand, and Colorado rivers in Utah contain deposits of uranium. In 1898
the Welsh-Lofftus Uranium and Rare Metals Company operated in Richardson,
Grand County. The San Rafael deposits were found about fifteen miles southwest
of the Green River; and in 1904 ore was located in Wayne County, southeast
of the San Rafael Swell. Other areas where uranium was found were west of
the La Sal Mountains, south of Richardson, at Mill Creek, north of Moab,
at Cold Creek (twenty miles north of Price), and at Temple Mountain.
Market demands grew for vanadium and radium, which are found in uranium.
By 1906 nearly 200 tons of uranium were mined annually in Colorado and Utah.
World War I sharpened the demand, as vanadium was used as a steel-hardening
agent, and radium found a use as an illumination agent for watch faces,
compasses, gunsights, and airplane dials. Nearly all the known deposits
were located in the United States, and the market demand was high.
Granite quarry, Little Cottonwood Canyon, 1870-80
Shifting trends affected and altered Utah's uranium industry. Production
slowed during the 1921-22 depression. Of more permanent significance were
the rich ore finds of radium in the Belgian Congo in 1923, and of vanadium
in Peru. These countries came to dominate the market. Between 1923 and 1940
the production of uranium in Utah and the West proved negligible. However,
during the Cold War period of the 1950s and 1960s uranium again reigned
as a "wonder metal." The uranium strikes of the 1950s created
another "bonanza" period in Utah mining. Charles (Charlie) Steen
reigned as the most well known of the uranium bonanza kings. His palatial
home in Moab exemplified this newfound wealth; but Steen's fortunes also
were affected by the economic downturns of the industry.
Gilsonite, a lightweight, glossy black, bituminous asphaltite, is the primary
hydrocarbon mined in Utah. It has been mined commercially only in northeastern
Utah, where it occurs south of Vernal and Roosevelt in parallel vertical
veins that cut across the Uinta Basin. It is believed to be a solid residue
of petroleum, and was initially named uintaite in 1885 by W.P. Blako. The
mineral was later named in honor of Samuel H. Gilson, a Salt Laker who brought
it into prominence for commercial uses such as in paints and varnishes,
and in other building products.
Gilsonite has been produced since the 1880s, and in 1886 claims were filed
by Gilson, Burt Seaboldt, and others. Seaboldt experimented with the substance
and observed that it was resistant to acids and moisture. He succeeded in
having his mining claims removed from the Uintah Reservation. In 1888 the
Gilsonite Manufacturing Company was organized in Salt Lake City. Reportedly,
at that time some 3,000 tons of Gilsonite were shipped to Price and sold
for $80.00 a ton. In 1889 the company sold out to the Gilson Asphaltum Company
of Missouri, and by 1900 the Gilson Asphaltum Company of New Jersey had
acquired the property.
As with metals and coal mining, efficient transportation proved necessary
to the commercial development of Gilsonite. The Uintah Railway Company was
begun in 1903 by the Barber Asphalt Paving Company. The Barber Company was
owned by the General Asphalt Company, which was itself owned by the Gilson
Asphaltum Company. In 1902 the Barber Company began the development of the
Black Dragon vein, and in 1904 the Uintah Railway completed its fifty-three-mile
narrow-gauge railroad to the mines. The line ran across the Book Cliffs
from Dragon, Utah, to Mack, Colorado, where it connected with the Denver
and Rio Grande Western main line. Wagon freighting costs in 1900 were reported
to be from $10.00 to $15.00 per ton to carry the ore to the railhead, with
rail costs at $10.00 per ton to Chicago or St. Louis. In 1911, the railway
was extended to Watson, then four miles southwest to the Gilsonite mine
at Rainbow. A wagon road called the Uintah Toll Road was built to carry
freight and passengers over the sixty miles between Vernal, Fort Duchesne,
Mining the vertical fissures of Gilsonite was difficult, as the veins were
often quite narrow. Pick and shovel were the most useful mining tools. Ore
would then be hoisted from the shafts. In the early days, veins were worked
on a rising slope to permit the ore to roll back down the slope. When a
sufficient amount had been loosened, the mineral would be loaded by hand
into a burlap bag holding about 200 pounds. This method limited the depth
of these operations to about 100 feet.
Uintah and Duchesne counties produced the principal Gilsonite mines--Dragon,
Rainbow, Watson, Little Emma, Bonanza, and Little Bonanza were among them.
In Duchesne County, the Parriette Mine (closed in 1900 because of an explosion)
was located near Parriette Bench. In 1935 the main operation had been moved
to Bonanza and ore was trucked to Craig, Colorado. This resulted in the
eventual abandonment of the Uintah Railway.
Production figures illustrate the growth of the Gilsonite industry: 1904
(2,977 tons), 1905 (10,916 tons), 1929 (54,987 tons), and 1961 (470,000
tons). A new development plan in the 1950s by the American Gilsonite Company,
successor to the Barber Asphalt Company, produced the increase in production
to the 1961 level.
Other hydrocarbons found in eastern Utah which were sometimes mined on a
small scale included kerogen (in the oil shales of the Green River formation),
bituminous sandstone, wurlitzite ("elaterite" or mineral rubber),
bituminous limestones, ozokerite (mineral wax), nigrite, and tabbyite.
The process of Utah's settlement and growth necessitated a search for building
materials including stone and limestone (used for mortar). Thus, quarries
and lime kilns were found near many Utah cities and towns. Lime also became
important commercially. The Utah Lime and Stone Company in Tooele County
is recognized as among the oldest such commercial operations in Utah. Its
plant at Dolomite prepared and sacked hydrated lime. Limestone was used
in Utah's sugar industry, where it was calcinated at the sugar refinery
to obtain lime and carbon dioxide.
Red sandstone and white oolitic limestone (found in Sanpete County) were
popular building materials. Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City utilized red
sandstone found in nearby Red Butte Canyon. In Sanpete County, the quarries
near the Manti LDS Temple attest to the use of the oolitic limestone in
the temple itself. The Salt Lake LDS Temple and the Utah State Capitol Building
were constructed of granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Early quarries were generally developed by individuals and communities,
with the stone quarried as it was needed. Stone was a popular building material
in nineteenth-century Utah, especially after the initial settlement, when
more permanent materials became desirable. Most of the masons involved in
stonework were European: Danes and Swedes who had settled in Manti and Spring
City, English in Heber City and Midway; and Italians and Greeks in Carbon
County. Spring City in Sanpete County was built almost exclusively of stone--the
light, cream-colored oolitic limestone quarried in the hills west of town.
As brick became more available, the use of stone declined.
Of all the minerals and rocks mined in Utah, the state is best known for
its copper mining, which is treated as a separate entry in this book.
See: Utah Historical Quarterly 31 (1963); Herbert F. Kretchman, The
Story of Gilsonite (1957); Ruth Winder Robertson, This Is Alta
(1972); Richard W. Sadler, "The Impact of Mining on Salt Lake City,"
Utah Historical Quarterly 47 (1979); Gary L. Shumway, "Uranium
Mining on the Colorado Plateau," in Allan Kent Powell, ed., San
Juan County, Utah: People, Resources, and History (1983); George A.
Thompson and Fraser Buck, Treasure Mountain Home, A Centennial History
of Park City, Utah (1963).
Philip F. Notarianni