Many people assume that mining is a thing of the past, and that America’s classic image of the coal miner is over. But it’s not true! Mining is still a vital part of the world’s manufacturing needs, and an essential part of America’s economy.
Mining coal, metals, and other materials produces over $300 billion dollars in the American economy per year, and employs over 320,000 individuals.
Mining Shaped America’s History
Mining has been a driving force in the history of the nation. Not only did it power migrations and settlements throughout the country, and in the American West in particular, it also had an influence on every social issue that our young nation came across, from race and class distinctions to environmental protection acts. The ability to produce metal and other materials that enable manufacturing, like coal or oil for energy production, has been the backbone of many countries and societies throughout the history of the world. America was no different, and mining was (and is) a cornerstone of our prosperity and growth.
Coal and Precious Metals
Gold and silver are perhaps the most notable movers and shakers when it comes to analyzing America’s history. The California Gold Rush in the mid-1800’s drove thousands of immigrants west in a search for riches and early retirement. California wasn’t the only state that boomed due to mining expeditions, though. Colorado also had its own gold rush, and silver in Nevada and Idaho also spurred individuals westward in the hopes of a sudden change in their fortune. Major western cities like San Francisco and Denver were built on these booms, and their subsequent influx of immigrants. Although the rush may have died, US gold production hasn’t. Today, we’re still the second biggest producer of gold (and of copper, by the way).
Although gold spurred the most dramatic migrations and motivations, coal has actually been the workhorse of American manufacturing. Today, coal is mined in 25 different states, and America is a key producer of coal around the world. In 2015, we exported 74 million short tons of coal to various countries, mainly in Europe. Coal mining in the US goes back as far as 1300, when Native Americans mined coal for heat and energy.
Mining in the Future
The appearance of the American mining industry has changed over the years. Instead of the soot-streaked worker with a pickaxe and headlamp, we see advanced technology that ensures safety and effective progress, along with scientific know-how that determines how to find the best quality and volume with the least environmental impact and general cost. Although US coal production is down, the mining industry continues to grow, with an estimated 12% growth in jobs between 2012 and 2022. The fact remains that we need skilled workers, smart safety measures, and a united vision in order to continue to enrich America’s contribution to the world.