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How Today’s Mining Industry Has Changed for the Better

Photo: Courtesy of Dominik Vanyi

The current U.S. mining industry is a far cry from the mining industry in the 1970s.

In the ‘70s, a 410-brake horsepower Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer with a 21.4 cubic yard capacity blade was considered large. Today an 862-brake horsepower Cat D-11 bulldozer with a 57 cubic yard blade is considered common. In the ‘70s, a 50- or 100-ton mine haul truck was considered a large truck. Today a 350- to 400-ton truck is considered common, and in some mines worldwide, the truck and its loader are operated by automation.

Likewise, drilling and blasting are often automated. Surveying is often done by drones and mine-planning is computerized. Reclamation, non-existent in 1970, is fully practiced from beginning to end of the mining process.

Industrywide changes

Mineral processing plants have likewise changed over the past 50 years. Crushing plants commonly have primary crushers with capacities of several thousand tons per hour. Flotation plants use a single semi-autogenous grinding or ball mill today to grind 25-30 thousand tons of ore per day, where in the ‘70s it was common to use a series of 10-12 smaller ball mills grinding the same amount of ore. Cyanide leaching is commonly used to recover gold, where in the early ‘70s it was a new technology. Mill controls are often electronic rather than manual.

In 1970 our nation had a population of 205.1 million, compared to today’s population of 325.7 million. Today the U.S. mining industry employs 626,100 individuals, about the same as in 1970, but the gross output of the mining industry in 2016 totaled $682.7 billion versus $187.7 billion in 1970 in current U.S. dollars. That represents an increase of 3.6 times above 1970 production.

Safety and sustainability

In the early 1970s, our mining industry was beginning its recovery from being the second most dangerous industry in the U.S. Today, with industrial safety a key activity in mining, our industry is rated twentieth in industry severity. In the 1970s, there were few women in the workforce. Today they are common. Likewise, social responsibility and sustainability are key items of management in today’s industry. 

Today we operate all manner of mines in a safe, environmentally friendly and efficient manner nationwide. These mines provide components of almost everything we use in our everyday lives. These items include automobiles and the material used in the roads we drive them on, equipment for the electric energy we use from solar, wind and thermally generated sources, the components in our cell phones, the fertilizer used in growing our food, the chemicals and pipes used to purify and carry water to our homes, and components of most everything we use to maintain our way of life. 

Today’s modern mining industry provides the minerals and fuels that America needs to sustain its high standard of living while providing high wages for the women and men working in the industry.  

A museum with a mission 

The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, located in Leadville, Colorado, is an organization whose mission is to tell the story of mining, its people and its importance to the American public. It is appropriate that we are in Leadville, which has a long history in mining. Silver, lead, zinc and gold are some of the mineral products for which the area is known.

The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum has a twofold purpose. Our first focus is to honor women and men who have made a significant impact on America’s mining industry and, through it, the U.S. economy. On the top floor of our facility are plaques honoring 240 individuals who have influenced our industry in a significant way. A U.S. President, leaders of industry, academics, inventors, individual miners and even a few scoundrels are found in our Hall of Fame. Each individual’s career and its impact on America is described both on plaques and digitally. 

The remaining portion of our 25,000-square-foot facility describes the past, present and future of mining in the U.S. and worldwide. Exhibits touch on the technical, operational and personal factors that make the mining industry capable of providing a fundamental base for America’s economic strength today. 

We encourage you to visit our facility and learn about the American mining industry.

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