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A (Brief) History of Silver Mining
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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gold is such a precious metal that it spurred a rush of people to move westward in search of it, in hopes of becoming rich. Another valuable metal that has been mined in the United States is silver. Though silver was one of the last minerals to gain prominence in the U.S., its mining history is sterling.

A decade after the Gold Rush sent numerous people traveling to California, silver was discovered in Nevada in 1859. Gold is noteworthy for being found in nuggets. This is not the case for silver. Silver is commonly found with other elements such as sulfur, arsenic, antimony or chlorine. It can be found alloyed with other metals like gold, but it takes a longer process to mine silver that way.

What spurred the frenzy to mine for silver is none other than the Comstock Lode. This is a huge lode of silver ore discovered in Mount Davidson around 1857, but the discovery was made public in 1859. Thus, the Silver Rush began. 

There are many stories as to who first found the Comstock Lode and who was the first to find silver in the U.S.  Whatever story you choose to believe, the Comstock Lode was discovered in Six-Mile Canyon (which now bears the ore’s name), when prospectors were looking for gold in the quartz veins, but discovered silver interspersed with the gold. This discovery caused western Nevada to become a hub for silver mining. In 1862, silver deposits were discovered in the Reese River mining district, establishing the town of Austin; silver was also discovered in Eureka County in the late 1860s; and in Lincoln County, the Pioche district began mining silver in 1869.

Though silver mining didn’t become popularized until the 19th century, there are reports of silver being found in the U.S. during the late 1700s. Several states set up silver mines once the metal became prominent. One of the most well known mines on the East Coast is the Silver Hill mine in North Carolina. Located in Davidson County, this mine was discovered in 1838 and had many monikers over the years. The Silver Hill mine was the first silver mine in the U.S., and along with silver, it produced lead, zinc, copper and gold until the 1870s. 

Heading into the latter half of the 1800s, other states such as Colorado, Idaho and Montana all established silver mines that became significant to their respective state economies. In 1879, the U.S. produced around $20 million of silver annually. However, heading into the 1900s, partly because the Coinage Act of 1873 declared gold the metal of choice for coins, the industry began to die down. That didn’t stop people though; in Pershing County and Nye County in Nevada, certain silver mines were booming, as they were in other states such as California, Missouri, New Hampshire and New Mexico. 

The Silver Rush may have died down, but is picking up again, and the valuable metal still mined in the United States. Alaska is the largest silver-producer, with the state that started it all, Nevada, following closely in second. Discovering any metal or precious mineral is exciting, but the discovery of silver shimmered throughout the history of the United States. 


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