By the time the last Park City mine shut down in 1982, the Park City Mining District produced an estimated 400 million dollars of metals, including silver, lead, and zinc. It took thousands of miners, huge capital investments from millionaires from New York City to San Francisco, and inventions from carbide lamps to steam powered water pumps to get the ore from the ground.
And it all started with the strike of a hammer—likely a four pound hammer called a single jack–held by a prospector who probably owned little more than a shovel, a burro, a pick and that hammer and chisel. While a mine starts with a single hammer blow, it takes millions of dollars of sophisticated machinery, and ever more innovative techniques, to dig the ore and sell it at a profit.
The first Park City miners were the prospectors, armed with hammers, picks and shovels. They discovered ore bodies, filed claims, and then sold those claims to bigger players who had access to the capital required to open and develop an industrial scale mine. For example, the four prospectors who discovered the Ontario ore vein sold it to mining mogul William Hearst and his partners for $27,000. From 1872 until it finally closed in 1982, the Ontario produced $50 million in ore and $15 million in dividends to its investors.
Those first underground miners worked by candlelight. By 1902, they worked by the light of the newly invented carbide lamp. Batteries later replaced carbide, and some tunnels eventually were lit by electric light bulbs.
The first miners removed ore and waste rock in hand carried buckets. Rock haulage evolved to hand pushed ore cars on rails to bigger carts pulled by horses, to electrically powered engines pulling several carts at once. Once outside the mine entrance, ore moved to railheads or processing plants first in saddlebags, then in horse drawn ore wagons, and on to inventions like the Silver King aerial tramway and the 24” narrow gauge railway called the Crescent Tram, which was the first such tram in the West.
Every innovation required more investment. The early “mom and pop” mines sold to bigger outfits which in turn were gobbled up by even bigger players. Finally, even the last surviving mine couldn’t make a return on the century of investment. That’s the story of the Ontario, and all Park City mines.
Tomorrow, Thursday, March 21st, mining engineer Mark Danninger will give a free talk on the evolution of Park City’s mining methods and technologies. Danninger, currently a project manager for Rio Tinto Kennecott Copper, is a mining history buff who grew up in Colorado mining country and made mining his career. His lecture “Mining Methods of the Park City District” is sponsored by the Park City Museum and the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History. It will take place at 5 pm at the Park City Museum Education and Collections Center, located at 2079 Sidewinder Drive.