Mining: General

Table of Contents

Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, usually from an ore body, vein or (coal) seam. Materials recovered by mining include bauxite, coal, copper, gold, silver, diamonds, iron, precious metals, lead, limestone, nickel, phosphate, oil shale, rock salt, tin, uranium and molybdenum. Any material that cannot be grown from agricultural processes, or created artificially in a laboratory or factory, is usually mined. Mining in a wider sense can also include extraction of petroleum, natural gas or even water.

Mining in the United States became prevalent in the 19th century. As with the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800s, mining for minerals and precious metals alongside ranching and exploration for oil and gas fields was very important in the Westward Expansion to the Pacific coast. With the exploration of the West, mining camps were established and “expressed a distinctive spirit, an enduring legacy to the new nation;” Gold Rushers would experience the same problems as the Land Rushers of the transient West that preceded them. Aided by railroads, many traveled west for work opportunities in mining. Western cities such as Denver and Sacramento originated as mining towns.

Coal has been used worldwide as a fuel for centuries. Coal is found almost exclusively underground, it must be mined or extracted prior to use. The earliest use of coal in the Americas was by the Aztecs. They used coal not only for heat but as ornaments as well. Coal deposits were discovered by colonists in Eastern North America in the 18th century. Large-scale coal mining developed during the Industrial Revolution, and coal provided the main source of primary energy for industry and transportation in the West from the 18th century to the 1950s.

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