Mining Towns

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MINING TOWNS. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, mining towns were central to industrialization and the economic growth of the United States. Mining towns grew up around numerous ores, and the particular minerals and the technologies required to remove them from the earth had different impacts on the development of social relations with in the towns.

Mining towns arose quickly once a mineral deposit was discovered. This was particularly true in the case of gold and silver because people understood the direct link between the amount one could extract and one's wealth. "Gold Rush" towns were notorious for a quick rise and, often, an equally dramatic fall. These temporary towns were often dominated by young, single men who came from all over the United States as well as from around the world to take their chances at striking it rich.

Not all mining towns experienced the boom-and-bust cycle. Those that surrounded large metal deposits, like the gold and silver in Nevada's Comstock Lode and in Cripple Creek, Colorado, and the copper at Butte, Montana, expanded and became more permanent. Coal mining towns in central Illinois, southwestern Pennsylvania, and West Virginia produced for decades and ensured railroad development across the continent. Permanency changed the demography as well as the conditions of mining communities. Mining towns often became family towns where male, female, and child labor became essential for production and profits.

Mining towns became famous for working-class struggles and militant unionism. Some of the nation's most important labor battles occurred in mining towns, such as the great anthracite strike of 1902, the strike that led to the

1914 massacre of coal workers at Ludlow, Colorado, and the 1917 forcible removal from the state of Arizona of International Workers of the World members and sympathizers in Bisbee, Arizona. Indeed the Western Federation of Miners and the United Mine Workers of America were dominated by progressive U.S.- and European-born miners whose beliefs were molded in America's mining towns.


Francaviglia, Richard V. Hard Places: Reading the Landscape of America's Historic Mining Districts. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.

Long, Priscilla. Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America's Bloody Coal Industry. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

Rickard, T. A. A History of American Mining. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1932.

Waszkis, Helmut. Mining in the Americas: Stories and History. Cambridge, U.K.: Woodhead, 1993.

Caroline WaldronMerithew

See alsoBoomtowns ; Ghost Towns .