The richest silver mine in the United States, the Comstock Lode also contained a large amount of gold. The ore deposit was found in 1857 at Mount Davidson in western Nevada, about 16 miles (26 kilometers) southeast of Reno. The discoverers Ethan Allen Grosh and Hosea Ballou Grosh, however, died before they could record the claim. Prospector Henry T.P. Comstock (1820–1870) laid claim to the lode in 1859, but later he sold it for an insignificant amount compared to what it was worth. The mine flourished until 1865 and again between 1873 and 1882—when the "Big Bonanza," a super-rich ore vein, yielded more than $100 million. By 1882, near the end of the Comstock Lode's greatest activity, it had yielded $397 million in ore and had produced half of the United States' silver output during the period.
Western Nevada became a hotbed of mining activity, attracting numerous prospectors. Among those who made their fortune from the Comstock Lode was mining magnate and future senator George Hearst (1820–1891). He used his fortune to buy the San Francisco Examiner in 1880, which was taken over by his son, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951), seven years later. Virginia City, established in 1859 at the site of the discovery, became one of the West's boomtowns during the late 1800s. By 1898 the mines at Comstock Lode were all but abandoned; wasteful mining methods and the demonetizations of silver brought about the mine's demise.
See also: Gold Rush of 1848, Westward Expansion
COMSTOCK LODE, one of the richest deposits of precious ores ever discovered, located in Virginia City, Nevada. Between 1859 and 1979, these mines produced more than $500 million in silver and gold, creating great fortunes for San Francisco–based investors. This lode, especially the Big Bonanza mine, made Virginia City one of the most influential political, financial, and social hubs in the West.
Enormous amounts of technology helped build the city around the lode. Water was imported to the city through pipes, tunnels, and flumes made in San Francisco to fit around mountains and cross valleys. To extract the silver from the rock, the old Mexican patio method was first used; later, the amalgamating process was employed for the reduction of the ore.
James, Ronald M. The Roar and the Silence: A History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1998.
James, Ronald M., and C. Elizabeth Raymond, eds. Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1998.
Smith, Grant H. The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850–1997. Reno: Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, 1998.
Effie MonaMack/h. s.