gotta go, you gotta go!|
If you mention "Butte mining" to a young
Montanan, chances are their first thoughts will
be of the Berkeley Pit. However, open-pit
mining in Butte didn't start until the mid-1950s.
This week's picture is a symbol of the earlier
years of underground mining; those years
when Butte earned its title as "the Richest Hill
How sweet it is (NOT!) . . .
The photo shows one of the "honey cars" that
served as toilets for the men as they worked
the mines deep beneath the surface of Butte.
These "sweet" smelling rail cars consisted of
iron tanks with toilet seats on top. The rail car
design allowed the honey cars to be moved in
and out of the mines on the same system of
rails that was used to haul copper ore to the
Hazards of working the underground mines . . .
The work of the underground miners was both
demanding and dangerous. Occasionally
parts of the mine would collapse, burying men
beneath large pieces of rock referred to as
"Dugans" (named after the family that owned
the local mortuary). Fire was also a danger. In
1917 an underground fire 2,400 feet below the
surface in the Granite Mountain Mine* killed
168 men. For those who survived careers
underground, years of inhaling the dusty air
often caused lung diseases that stole years
away from retired miners.
Electrifying the USA . . .
The underground mines of Butte dominated
world copper production between 1887 and
1920. By 1916 over 14,000 miners worked the
underground mines on rotating shifts around
the clock. At one point about a forth of the
world's copper was coming out of Butte. As result, Butte is sometimes called "the city that electrified a nation" because Butte copper was used as wiring in homes. The light bulb had been recently evented and people all over the country wanted the new technology. By
1950, over 400 underground mines,
consisting of several thousand miles of
interconnected workings, had operated or
were operating. The last underground mine
closed in 1981.
NOTE: The photo was taken at the World
Museum of Mining which is located near the
campus of Montana Tech in Butte.
Terms: ore, open pit mine