Many people are unaware of the integral role that mining played in the settlement and growth of communities in Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas. The discovery of lead in the mid-1800’s drew miners to the area. Our visit to the Joplin History & Mineral Museum allowed us a chance to learn more about the history of mining in the region.
During my childhood, my grandparents moved to the small town of West Mineral, Kansas, which lies in the Southeast corner of Kansas. My summertime visits would include a chance to watch Big Brutus in action. It was touted as the largest electric shovel in the world, and to a youngster it was a monster chewing up the land. From my recollection, that mining was focused on coal, but there have been many other minerals pulled from the ground in this region.
What Started The Rush
Galena is the lead ore found in the area, and once the Civil War ended miners returned to their pursuit for this precious mineral. In 1870, a large pocket was discovered, and soon mining camps sprung up all over the area. While lead started the mining explosion, the discovery of zinc would push it to new heights. By the turn of the century, Joplin was the apex of activity for the Tri-State Mining District, which encompassed Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
The mining industry continued to flourish as World War I saw the increased demand for the minerals these fields provided. After the war, activity began to fall off, in part due to richer fields being found in Oklahoma territory. By the end of World War II, most of the mines began closing. Fortunately, some of the tools of the trade were salvaged and saved for future generations to see.
As we made our way through the exhibits, we found lots of displays that highlight the ever present dangers associated with underground mining. The risk of cave-ins would always be in the forefront of miners as they made their ways down into the darkness. Toxic gases were a possible hazard, and the use of explosives added to the daily risks. Many miners died prematurely due to “miners consumption”. This was caused by breathing in the minute particles of silica dust forced into the air from the dynamite blasts.
The Joplin Mining Museum has one of the best collections of lead and zinc ore in the world. There are also a host of other minerals found in the underground caves and during excavation. Mineral samples of all sizes and types can be viewed and are clearly labeled for visitors. Staff is on hand to answer any questions that arise about the samples or mining operations.
They Use What?
A favorite display case for many visitors is the one that shows how minerals are used in everyday products. It is amazing, and somewhat scary, to see what can be found in things we eat, drink, and use for personal purposes. This exhibit connects the importance of minerals to all of us, and made us think about the steps that must be taken to harvest the materials we need for daily life.
No mineral exhibit would be complete without a section of fluorescent samples. Everyone enjoys seeing the incandescent light dim, and the black light irradiate the samples. It’s amazing to see what colors will appear, and to wonder for what reason these items react in such a way. Whatever the underlying cause, we still like to see the rocks glow. It’s almost as much fun as watching the largest electric shovel in action. Why not plan your visit to the Joplin Mining Museum to learn more about the industry that shaped this area?
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