How Many Mines Does it Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?

For every large economic field, there have been technological advances assisting in their growth. Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin, and Singer’s sewing machine to name a few. Mining, which was an important economic field in terms of building (and tearing down) nations, is no different. One specific technological advance that allowed mining to flourish was, the manipulation of copper wire, and using it to stretch electricity to underground mines. Copper mining companies saw the use of this invention, and quickly decided to capitalize by forming electric power companies (LeCain, 30). Copper wire meant that electricity, and electric lights could be brought underground (far safer than gas), and in turn, great advancements in mining implements were made. The invention of industrial electric mining drills made mining for copper quicker and more efficient. Furthermore, steam powered pumps allowed for complex ventilation systems to be installed into mines improving a miner’s safety, and to divert groundwater supplies that miners might run into. While these advancements, and many others assisted in the growth of the underground mining industry, as with all technology, there are consequences.

Mining, though important in the history of nations, leaves scars detrimental to the environment. During a mine’s operation, cave-ins were always very real possibilities, and as in the Speculator mining disaster, so was poisonous natural gas (LeCain, 50). Also, temperatures in mines were often either boiling lave hot, or bone-chattering cold. However, after the closure of a mine, there is still no shortage of issues. Firstly, underground, and pit mining leaves most of the surrounding area a barren wasteland. Not many plants will grow around mines, and the by-products of smelting such as heavy metals have been known to leach into water supplies and cause serious problems for residents of past mining towns (Sandos & Keeling). Secondly, underground tunnel mining, though unable to be seen from above, causes towns to be under threat of plummeting into the Earth due to unstable ground (LeCain, 35). Lastly, mining operations have been known to lead to health problems for many former mine employees. Just look at Libby, Montana and its asbestos mines. In my opinion, with our focus turning to renewable energy sources, land scarring underground mining is on its way out.

One thought on “How Many Mines Does it Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?”

  1. Nice post, Colleen! I think that you wrapped up the effects of the copper “boom” nicely. I especially like the presentation of the idea that as more copper was mined, more copper was used in mines, and we witnessed a cycle of technological innovation to support resource gathering for technological innovation. You addressed many of the impacts on the environment that both open-pit and underground mining can have, however, I would be curious as to your thoughts on the effects of mining on worker life and worker culture, especially the development of the employer/employee relation. Finally, I agree that our advancement in both the science and mindset of reducing our environmental impact will eventually lead to extreme refinement in the mining industry. I would love to hear your thoughts on the future of mining as an industry; do you think that at some point, mines will be a thing of the past?

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