Digging The Joplin Mining Museum

Digging The Joplin Mining Museum

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.

A variety of mineral samples are displayed at the Joplin Mining Museum.

Early Fascination

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.

A display of Galena samples show the variety of ways this mineral is found.

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.

A trio of photos show the various tools and equipment used during mining operations.

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.

An old door that was used to secure the explosives from the general public.

Constant Danger

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.

A sampling of minerals show the shinier side of collecting.

The Rewards

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.

A favorite exhibit at the Joplin Mining Museum shows the variety of minerals that are used in the production of everyday items we humans use.

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.

A display of fluorescent minerals is a favorite of visitors to the museum.

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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By |2018-04-08T16:07:13+00:00March 19th, 2018|Joplin|10 Comments

About the Author:

We are Jeff and Crystal, a Baby Boomer couple who love exploring this big blue marble we all call home. After spending the first portion of our lives together raising a family, the empty-nest syndrome finally caught up with us. This has given us the opportunity to spend more time traveling, and seeking out new destinations. We developed this travel blog with the goal of showing how we “Visit Like A Local”. Our itineraries are designed to get us off the interstates, and into the heart of the places we visit. We believe this will allow our readers to choose a cultural experience, and eventually head home with a real flavor of the places they visit. We hope you are enjoying our website and will consider sharing it with your friends. Please come back often, as we post new articles three times per week.


  1. Doreen Pendgracs March 19, 2018 at 6:46 am - Reply

    I’m sure the Crystal Cave at the Joplin Mining Museum would be fascinating to explore. We had a mini version of this at the Four Peaks Mining Company just outside of Phoenix.

  2. Carol Colborn March 19, 2018 at 8:27 am - Reply

    My husband lived in Pittsburg, Kansas, just 20 minutes away from Joplin, til college. We go visit every other year and so I have been to Joplin many times and know about the history of mining in the area, including Big Brutus!

    • Jeff & Crystal March 19, 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Many people drive through and never realize what they are missing. Glad you and he know the true value of the region.

  3. Charles Mccool March 22, 2018 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    I have a distant cousin who lives in Joplin. That person plus the mention in the famous song are all I know about Joplin. I had no idea the town had such a museum. Good stuff.

    • Jeff & Crystal March 23, 2018 at 4:01 am - Reply

      Joplin has some other interesting places, as well. We will have more to see on them in the coming weeks.

  4. Sue Reddel March 24, 2018 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    I have to be honest and say that I don’t know much about mining. I found your post very interesting and informative. I’ve visited Galena, IL several times and was excited to see you add that mining element to your story. You should visit there some day.

    • Jeff & Crystal March 25, 2018 at 5:46 am - Reply

      Thanks for visiting. The story is actually about Galena, Kansas. We do plan a visit to the Illinois namesake, as well.

  5. Marilyn Jones March 25, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    I have been on several mining tour and visited their museums. I always find it fascinating! I really enjoyed reading about what you saw and learned about in Joplin!!

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