May 2011

Economic Geology

The foundations of modern economic geology (Part 3)

By R. J. (Bob) Cathro


Architect’s drawing of the Engineering Societies Building at 29 West 39th Street, New York, opened in 1907 (Parsons, 1971)

Two other prominent mining engineers who made important contributions to the emerging field of economic geology were Rossiter W. Raymond and Richard P. Rothwell. Both had received unusually broad educations. Rothwell (1836-1901), the eldest by four years, was born in Oxford, Ontario. After studies at Trinity College in Toronto, he graduated in civil engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York). He then took a three-year course at the Imperial School of Mines (Paris) followed by further studies at the Bergakademie (Freiberg, Germany).

Raymond (1840-1918) was born in Cincinnati and educated at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, the Bergakademie, and at Heidelberg and Munich universities. In 1868, he earned a PhD from Lafayette College (Easton, Pennsylvania); he was a lecturer on economic geology there from 1870 to 1882 and also taught the entire course on mining engineering for one year. In addition, he became an expert on mining law and was admitted to the bar of the New York Supreme Court and the Federal District and Circuit courts in 1898, and lectured on mining law at Columbia University in 1903.

Both men recognized that the technical capacity of the industry had to grow in order to provide the raw materials for an increasingly complex industrial economy. They were instrumental in organizing a meeting in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on May 16, 1871 to establish the American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME), where the 22 men present chose Rothwell as provisional chairman and Raymond as provisional secretary. Wilkes-Barre, where Rothwell lived, was close to the Wyoming Valley coalfield and an important Pennsylvania mining centre.

At the first business meeting the following day, the members present approved the credentials of 71 applicants as associates. Pennsylvania-based engineers filled 13 of the 18 elected positions, with Raymond serving as a vice-president and Rothwell as a manager (Raymond soon took over the presidency when the elected president retired due to ill health, as expected). Rothwell then delivered the Institute’s first technical paper titled “The Waste of Coal in Mining.” The next day, three more papers were presented, including one by Raymond on stamp milling. The first volume of the Transactions, containing the 17 papers presented at the Wilkes-Barre meeting and another conference at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, included six that dealt with mining methods (including one on diamond drilling), five on geological topics, four on milling and metallurgy, and two on smelting.

The year 1871 was a significant time for the creation of AIME. It was a crucial period for the U.S. mining industry, which was dominated by the production of bituminous and anthracite coal, petroleum, salt, pig iron, gold and silver. The Drake well, near Titusville, Pennsylvania, had been discovered 12 years earlier, with the oil used mainly for kerosene lamps. The light fraction, known as gasoline, was something of a nuisance, and refiners produced as little of it as possible. The first electric light bulb was still eight years in the future, and the gasoline-powered automobile did not arrive until 1892.

Pig iron was mostly produced from magnetite ores in the eastern states, which would soon be replaced by high-quality hematite ores from Michigan. Steel production was about to grow substantially as it became recognized as superior to iron for the production of rails for the railways. John Roebling had just built the first suspension bridge, at Cincinnati, from iron and proceeded to build a much longer bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan entirely of steel. The highest buildings were massive structures of up to eight or 10 stories built of natural stone; the first skyscrapers built with steel frames commenced 20 years later.

The small market for copper was supplied almost entirely by native copper mines in Michigan until Butte began to supply the growing needs of the electric power industry around 1890 (Cathro, 2009). Butte was still a silver camp when AIME was formed. Portland cement was manufactured in the United States for the first time in 1871 at a small plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Its market soon expanded tremendously as concrete became indispensable for construction and road building. Three mineral products of vital importance in an industrial economy were unknown in the U.S. in 1871 – sulphur, aluminium and magnesium.

Rossiter W Raymond
Raymond, who was described as ”a most able and beneficent autocrat,” dominated the Institute during its first 40 years. He served three terms as president and was secretary for 27 years (1884-1911), during which time he edited the first 40 volumes of the Transactions. He also presented more than his share of papers and discussed others on almost every subject. His amazing versatility was credited partly to his service from 1868 to 1876 as U.S. Commissioner of Mining Statistics, which required repeated visits to western mining districts. Equally important was his ability to absorb details of geology, mine operation and ore treatment.

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