Comstock Lode
The Comstock Lode was the first major U.S. discovery of silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

An ore is a type of rock that contains minerals with important elements including metals. The ores are extracted through mining; these are then refined to extract the valuable element....

, located under what is now Virginia City
Virginia City, Nevada
Virginia City is a census-designated place that is the county seat of Storey County, Nevada. It is part of the Reno–Sparks Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 855 at the 2010 Census.- History :...

, Nevada
Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

, on the eastern slope of Mount Davidson, a peak in the Virginia Range
Virginia Range
The Virginia Range is a mountain range nearly entirely in Storey County, Nevada, that is a portion of the drainage divide between the Truckee River and the Carson River . Truckee Meadows and the Washoe Valley are to the west and the Lahontan Valley is east...

. After the discovery was made public in 1859, prospectors rushed to the area and scrambled to stake their claims. Mining camps soon thrived in the vicinity, which became bustling centers of fabulous wealth.

It is notable not just for the immense fortunes it generated and the large role those fortunes had in the growth of Nevada and San Francisco, but also for the advances in mining
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, from an ore body, vein or seam. The term also includes the removal of soil. Materials recovered by mining include base metals, precious metals, iron, uranium, coal, diamonds, limestone, oil shale, rock...

 technology that it spurred. The mines declined after 1874.

The discovery of silver

The discovery of silver in Nevada (then western Utah Territory
Utah Territory
The Territory of Utah was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 4, 1896, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Utah....

) in 1858 caused considerable excitement in California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 and throughout the United States. The excitement was the greatest since the discovery of gold in California
California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands , and Latin America, who were the first to start flocking to...

 ten years earlier at Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill was a sawmill owned by 19th century pioneer John Sutter in partnership with James W. Marshall. It was located in Coloma, California, at the bank of the South Fork American River...

. People from all over the United States started to be excited about this. According to Dan De Quille, a journalist of the period, "the discovery of silver undoubtedly deserves to rank in merit above the discovery of the gold mines of California, as it gives value to a much greater area of territory and furnishes employment to a much larger number of people".

Gold was discovered in this region in the spring of 1850. It was discovered in Gold Canyon
Gold Canyon
Gold Canyon is located a few miles south of Alleghany, California, on the border between Sierra and Nevada Counties. The middle fork of the Yuba River flows through the canyon. Gold mining began in Gold Canyon in the early 1850s and has continued to present day...

, by a company of Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

 emigrants who were part of the Mormon Battalion
Mormon Battalion
The Mormon Battalion was the only religiously based unit in United States military history, and it served from July 1846 to July 1847 during the Mexican-American War. The battalion was a volunteer unit of between 534 and 559 Latter-day Saints men led by Mormon company officers, commanded by regular...

. After arriving much too early to cross the Sierra, they camped on the Carson river in the vicinity of Dayton
Dayton, Nevada
Dayton is a census-designated place in Lyon County, Nevada, United States. The population was 5,907 at the 2000 census.-History:Dayton is at the western end of the Twenty-Six Mile Desert at a bend in the Carson River. Immigrants stopping there for water would consider whether to follow the river...

, to wait for the mountain snow to melt. They soon found gold along the gravel river banks by panning, but left when the mountains were passable, as they anticipated taking out more gold on reaching California. Other emigrants followed, camped on the canyon and went to work at mining. However, when the supply of water in the canyon gave out toward the end of summer, they continued across the mountains to California. The camp had no permanent population until the winter and spring of 1852–53, when there were 200 men at work along the gravel banks of the canyon with rockers, Long Toms and sluice
A sluice is a water channel that is controlled at its head by a gate . For example, a millrace is a sluice that channels water toward a water mill...


The gold from Gold Canyon came from quartz
Quartz is the second-most-abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust, after feldspar. It is made up of a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall formula SiO2. There are many different varieties of quartz,...

 veins, toward the head of the vein, in the vicinity of where Silver City
Silver City, Nevada
Silver City is a town in Lyon County, Nevada, USA, near the Lyon/Carson border. The population as of the 2000 census was 170....

 and Gold Hill
Gold Hill, Nevada
Gold Hill is a community in Storey County, Nevada, located just south and downhill of Virginia City. Incorporated December 17, 1862, in order to prevent its annexation by its larger neighbor, the town at one point was home to at least 8,000 residents. Prosperity was sustained for a period of 20...

 now stand. As the miners worked their way up the stream, they founded the town of Johntown on a plateau. In 1857, the Johntown miners found gold in Six-Mile Canyon, which is about five miles (8 km) north of Gold Canyon. Both of these canyons are on what is now known as the Comstock Lode. The early miners never thought of going up to the head of the ravines to prospect the quartz veins, spending their time on the "free" gold in the lower elevation surface deposits of earth and gravel.

Credit for the discovery of the Comstock Lode is disputed. It is said to have been discovered, in 1857, by Ethan Allen Grosh and Hosea Ballou Grosh, sons of a Pennsylvania clergyman, trained mineralogists and veterans of the California gold fields. Hosea injured his foot and died of septicaemia in 1857. In an effort to raise funds, Allen, accompanied by an associate Richard Maurice Bucke, set out on a trek to California with samples and maps of his claim. Henry Tompkins Paige Comstock was left in their stead to care for the Grosh cabin and a locked chest containing silver and gold ore samples and documents of the discovery. Grosh and Bucke never made it to California, getting lost and suffering the fate of severe hardship while crossing the Sierran trails. The two suffered from frostbite while crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains, and at the hands of a minor-surgeon lost limbs through amputation, a last ditch effort to save the lives of the pair. Allen Grosh died on December 19, 1857. R.M. Bucke lived, but upon his recovery returned to his home in Canada.

When Henry T. P. Comstock learned of the death of the Grosh brothers, he claimed the cabin and the lands as his own. He also examined the contents of the trunk but thought nothing of the documents as he was not an educated man. What he did know is that the gold and the silver ore samples were from the same vein. He continued to seek out diggings of local miners working in the area as he knew the Grosh brothers' find was still unclaimed. Upon learning of a strike on Gold Hill which uncovered some bluish rock (silver ore), Comstock immediately filed for an unclaimed area directly adjacent to this area.

The four miners that discovered the Gold Hill outcropping were James Finney ("Old Virginny"; a contemporary rumor was that he changed his name from Fennimore to Finney after murdering a man), John Bishop ("Big French John"), Aleck Henderson and Jack Yount. Their discovery was actually part of the Comstock Lode, but not a main vein. The four men are therefore credited with the rediscovery of the mine previously found by the Grosh brothers.

In the Spring of 1859, two miners, Peter O'Riley and Patrick McLaughlin, finding all the paying ground already claimed, went to the head of the canyon and began prospecting with a rocker on the slope of the mountain near a small stream fed from a neighboring spring. They had poor results in the top dirt as there was no washed gravel, and they were about to abandon their claim when they made the great discovery. They sank a small, deeper pit in which to collect water to use in their rockers. In the bottom of this hole there was material of a different appearance. When rocked out, they knew they had made their "strike" as the bottom apron was covered with a layer of gold.

In that hole, silver mining in America as we know it was born. In the rocker along with the gold was a large quantity of heavy blue-black material which clogged the rocker and interfered with the washing out of the fine gold. When assayed however, it was determined to be an almost pure sulphuret of silver.

In June of the year O'Riley and McLaughlin made their find, Henry T. P. Comstock learned of the two men working on land that Comstock allegedly had already claimed for "grazing purposes". Unhappy with his current claim on Gold Hill, Comstock made threats and managed to work himself and his partner, Immanuel "Manny" Penrod, into a deal that granted them interest on the claim.

The geographic accounts on the location of the Comstock Lode were muddled and inconsistent. In one report, the gold strike was "on the Eastern fork of Walker's river" and the silver strike "about halfway up the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada" and "nine miles West of Carson River."

Fate of the discoverers

The miners who discovered the mines, and the investors who bought their claims, did not know whether they had made a small, or large strike. The size, richness and cost of exploiting a buried ore body is very hard to estimate even today. Most of them assumed they had made a small to modest strike like nearly all other gold strikes. All of them knew they did not have the money or expertise to investigate the strike thoroughly. The size of the strike and its potential value would take many years of extensive work by thousands of miners and the investments of millions of dollars—which none of them had.

Patrick McLaughlin sold his interest in the Ophir claim for $3,500 which he soon lost. He then worked as a cook at the Green mine in California. He died working odd jobs.

Emanuel Penrod, partner to Henry Comstock, sold his 1/6 share of the interest in what would become the Ophir mine for $8,500.

Peter O'Riley held on to his interests collecting dividends, until selling for about $40,000. He erected a stone hotel on B Street in Virginia City called the Virginia House, and became a dealer of mining stocks. He began having visions and began a tunnel into the Sierras near Genoa, Nevada
Genoa, Nevada
Genoa is an unincorporated town in Douglas County, Nevada, United States. Founded in 1850, it was the first settlement in what became the Nevada Territory. It is situated within Carson River Valley and is about south of Reno....

 (an area of no known mineralization), expecting to strike a richer vein than the Comstock. He eventually lost everything, was declared insane and died in a private asylum in Woodbridge, California
Woodbridge, California
Woodbridge is a census-designated place in San Joaquin County, California. Woodbridge sits at an elevation of . The 2010 United States census reported Woodbridge's population was 3,984....


Henry Comstock traded an old blind horse and a bottle of whiskey for a one-tenth share formerly owned by James Fennimore ("Old Virginny"), but later sold all of his holdings to Judge James Walsh for $11,000. He opened trade good stores in Carson City
Carson City, Nevada
The Consolidated Municipality of Carson City is the capital of the state of Nevada. The words Consolidated Municipality refer to a series of changes in 1969 which abolished Ormsby County and merged all the settlements contained within its borders into Carson City. Since that time Carson City has...

 and Silver City. Being reportedly slow mentally, having no education and no business experience, he went broke. After losing nearly all his property and possessions in Nevada, Comstock prospected for some years in Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

 and Montana
Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller, "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name,...

 without success. In September 1870, while prospecting in Big Horn country, near Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman is a city in and the county seat of Gallatin County, Montana, United States, in the southwestern part of the state. The 2010 census put Bozeman's population at 37,280 making it the fourth largest city in the state. It is the principal city of the Bozeman micropolitan area, which consists...

, he committed suicide with his revolver.

Early mining and milling

The ore was first extracted through surface diggings, but these were quickly exhausted and miners had to tunnel underground to reach ore bodies. Unlike most silver ore deposits, which occur in long thin veins, those of the Comstock Lode occurred in discrete masses often hundreds of feet thick. The ore was so soft it could be removed by shovel
A shovel is a tool for digging, lifting, and moving bulk materials, such as soil, coal, gravel, snow, sand, or ore. Shovels are extremely common tools that are used extensively in agriculture, construction, and gardening....

. Although this allowed the ore to be easily excavated, the weakness of the surrounding material resulted in frequent and deadly cave-ins. The excavations were carried to depths of more than 3,200 feet (1,000 m).

The cave-in problem was solved by the method of square-set timbering invented by Philip Deidesheimer
Philip Deidesheimer
Philip Deidesheimer was a German mining engineer who invented a system of supports for mines, using heavy timber "cubes" now known as square set timbering, that enabled skilled miners to open three-dimensional cavities of any size underground...

, a German who had been appointed superintendent of the Ophir mine. Previously timber sets consisting of vertical members on either side of the diggings capped by a third horizontal member used to support the excavation. However, the Comstock ore bodies were too large for this method. Instead, as ore was removed it was replaced by timbers set as a cube six feet on a side. Thus, the ore body would be progressively replaced with a timber lattice. Often these voids would be re-filled with waste rock from other diggings after ore removal was complete. By this method of building up squares of framed timbers, an ore vein of any width may be safely worked to any height or depth.

Early in the history of Comstock mining, there were heavy flows of water to contend with. This called for pumping machinery and apparatus, and as greater depth was attained, larger pumps were demanded. All the inventive genius of the Pacific Coast was called into play, and this resulted in construction of some of the most powerful and effective steam and hydraulic pumping equipment to be found anywhere in the world. Initially, the water was cold, but the deeper workings cut into parts of the vein where there were heavy flows of hot water. This water was hot enough to cook an egg or scald a man to death almost instantly. Lives were lost by falling into sumps of this water hot from the vein. The hot water called for fans, blowers and various kinds of ventilation apparatus, as miners working in heated drifts had to have a supply of cool air.

Compressed air
Compressed air
Compressed air is air which is kept under a certain pressure, usually greater than that of the atmosphere. In Europe, 10 percent of all electricity used by industry is used to produce compressed air, amounting to 80 terawatt hours consumption per year....

 for running power drills and for driving fans and small hoisting engines was adopted in the Comstock mines. Diamond drills for drilling long distances through solid rock were also in general use, but were discarded for prospecting purposes, being found unreliable. Several new forms of explosives for blasting were also developed.

Great improvements were also made in the hoisting cages used to extract ore and transport the miners to their work. As the depth of the diggings increased, the hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

A rope is a length of fibres, twisted or braided together to improve strength for pulling and connecting. It has tensile strength but is too flexible to provide compressive strength...

s used to haul ore to the surface became impractical, as their self-weight became a significant fraction of their breaking load. The solution to this problem came from A. S. Hallidie in 1864 when he developed a flat woven wire rope
Wire rope
thumb|Steel wire rope Wire rope is a type of rope which consists of several strands of metal wire laid into a helix. Initially wrought iron wires were used, but today steel is the main material used for wire ropes....

. This wire rope went on to be used in San Francisco's famous cable car
Cable car (railway)
A cable car or cable railway is a mass transit system using rail cars that are hauled by a continuously moving cable running at a constant speed. Individual cars stop and start by releasing and gripping this cable as required...


In 1859 the Americans knew nothing about silver mining. In the California placer mines there were a number of Mexicans who had worked silver mines in their own country. Initially, the Comstock miners endeavored to partner with Mexicans, or at least hire a Mexican foreman to take charge of the mine. The Mexicans adopted their methods of arastras, patios and adobe smelting furnaces to process silver ore. These methods proved to be too slow for the Americans and could not process the quantities of ore being extracted. The Americans introduced stamp mill
Stamp mill
A stamp mill is a type of mill machine that crushes material by pounding rather than grinding, either for further processing or for extraction of metallic ores. Breaking material down is a type of unit operation....

s for crushing the ore, and pans to hasten the process of amalgamation
Pan amalgamation
The Pan amalgamation process is a method to extract silver from ore, using mercury. The process was widely used from 1609 through the 19th century; it is no longer used....

. Some of the German miners, who had been educated at the mining academy of Freiberg
Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg
The Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg is a small German University of Technology with about 5000 students in the city of Freiberg, Saxony...

, were regarded as the best then existing to work with argentiferous ores. They introduced the barrel process of amalgamation and the roasting of ores. While the barrel process was an improvement on the patio, it was found not to be well adapted to the rapid working of the Comstock ores as pan amalgamation
Pan amalgamation
The Pan amalgamation process is a method to extract silver from ore, using mercury. The process was widely used from 1609 through the 19th century; it is no longer used....

. The Comstock eventually developed the Washoe process of using steam-heated iron pans, which reduced the days required by the patio process
Patio process
The patio process was a process used to extract silver from ore. The process was invented by Bartolomé de Medina in Pachuca, New Spain , in 1554. The patio process was the first process to use mercury amalgamation to recover silver from ore. It replaced smelting as the primary method of extracting...

 to hours.

In the early days of pan processing of ores, there were tremendous losses in precious metals and quicksilver (mercury). Almost every millman was experimenting with some secret process for the amalgamation of ore. They tried all manner of trash, both mineral and vegetable, including concoctions of cedar bark and sagebrush tea. At that time, untold millions in gold, silver and quicksilver were swept away into the rivers with the tailings. Although many patterns and forms of amalgamating pans were invented and patented, there was much room for improvement. Improvements were made from time to time, resulting in reductions in losses of metals, but none of the apparatus in use on the Comstock was perfect.

The days of "bull teams" and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad

Before railroads were built, all freight and passengers were transported by teams of from 10 to 16 horses or mules. Ore was hauled to the mills by these teams, which also brought to the mines all the wood, lumber and timber required. Teams also hauled over the Sierras all the mining machinery, all supplies required by both mines and mills, and goods and merchandise needed by the stores and businesses. Each team hauled trains of from two to four loaded wagons. When the large reduction works of the Ophir Mining Company were in peak operation, lines of teams from one to three miles (5 km) in length moved along the wagon roads, and sometimes blocked Virginia City streets for hours.

In 1859, 1860 and 1861, great quantities of goods were transported across the Sierras to and from California on the backs of mules. When the Central Pacific Railroad
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

 line was completed, this hauling was from Virginia City to Reno via the Geiger grade wagon road, for transfer to rail for delivery to points east and west.

Ground was broken on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad
Virginia and Truckee Railroad
The Virginia and Truckee Railroad was built to serve the Comstock Lode mining communities of northwestern Nevada. At its height, the railroad's route ran from Reno south to Carson City, Nevada. In Carson City, the...

 on February 19, 1869 and eight months thereafter, the most difficult section from Virginia City to Carson City was completed. Rails were extended North across the Washoe valley, from Carson City to Reno, where it connects with the Central Pacific. Between Virginia City and Carson City, at Mound House, the railroad also connects with the Carson and Colorado Railroad
Carson and Colorado Railroad
The Carson and Colorado Railway was a U.S. narrow gauge railroad that ran from Mound House, Nevada, to Keeler, California below the Cerro Gordo Mines. It was incorporated on May 10, 1880 as the Carson and Colorado Railroad, and construction on the railroad began on May 31, 1880. A track gauge of ...


The Virginia City and Gold Hill Water Company

When silver was first discovered on the Comstock, the flow of water from natural springs was adequate to supply the needs of the miners and small towns of Virginia City and Gold Hill, Nevada. As population increased wells were dug for domestic needs, and the water within several mine tunnels was added to the available supply. As the mills and hoisting works multiplied, the demand for water for use in steam boilers became so great that it was impossible to supply it without creating a water shortage among the residents, now thousands in number. In this need, the Virginia City and Gold Hill Water Company was formed, being the first non-mining incorporation on the Comstock Lode.

Water from wells and tunnels in the surrounding mountains was soon exhausted. It became imperative to look toward the main range of the Sierra Nevada mountains, where there was an inexhaustible supply. Between the Sierra and the Virginia ranges lay the Washoe Valley, a great trough nearly 2000 ft (609.6 m) in depth. Hermann Schussler
Hermann Schussler
Hermann Schüssler or Schussler was a German water-systems engineer and architect of dams famous for designing the Comstock water system.-Early years:...

, a Swiss trained engineer of great repute who had planned water works in San Francisco, was brought to the Comstock to plan and design the new works. Surveys were made in 1872, the first sections of pipe laid June 11, 1873 and the last on July 25 the same year.

The initial pipe was made of wrought iron, a total length of over 7 mi (11.3 km), with an interior diameter of 12 in (30.5 cm) and a capacity of 92,000 gallons per hour. The pipe traversed the Washoe Valley in the form of an inverted siphon, and at the lowest point having a pressure of 1720 ft (524.3 m) of water, or 800 pounds per square inch. The inlet being 465 ft (141.7 m) above the outlet, the water is forced through the pipe at tremendous pressure. Water was brought to the inlet in the Sierra Nevada range from sources of supply in two large covered flume
A flume is an open artificial water channel, in the form of a gravity chute, that leads water from a diversion dam or weir completely aside a natural flow. Often, the flume is an elevated box structure that follows the natural contours of the land. These have been extensively used in hydraulic...

s, and at the outlet end of the pipe was delivered in two large flumes a distance of 12 mi (19.3 km) to Virginia City. The pipe was constructed of sheets of wrought iron riveted together, each section fastened with three rows of rivets. Lead was used to secure the joints between each pipe section. The first flow of water reached Gold Hill and Virginia City on August 1, 1873 with great fanfare. This accomplishment was the greatest pressurized water system in operation in the world, having superseded the water system at Cherokee Flat
Cherokee, California
Cherokee is a census-designated place in Butte County, California An area inhabited by Maidu Indians prior to the gold rush. But that conversly takes its name from a band of Cherokee prospectors who perfected a mining claim on the site. The population was 69 at the 2010 census...

 also designed by Schussler.

The water company laid an additional pipe alongside the first in 1875, and a third pipe in 1877. These pipes of lap welded joints delivered more water, there being less friction of rivet heads upon the water. Additional flumes were also constructed to diversify and improve reliability of supply.

Yellow Jacket Mine fire

On the morning of April 7, 1869, a fire spread at the 800 foot level in the Yellow Jacket Mine. Firefighters entered the mine but the smoke and flames pushed them back. As the fire burned, wood timbers collapsed and poisonous air expanded into the adjacent Kentucky and Crown Point mines. The fires persisted and mine sections were sealed off and remained hot for several years. At least thirty five miners died, and some bodies were never retrieved. The Yellow Jacket Mine fire was the worst mining accident in Nevada history up to that time.

The Sutro Tunnel

While there was a scarcity of water on the surface, there was an excess of water underground in all the mines. Floods in the mines were sudden and miners narrowly escaped being drowned by vast underground reservoirs that were unexpectedly tapped. Intrusion of scalding-hot water into the mines was a large problem, and the expense of water removal increased as depths increased. To overcome these troubles, Adolph Sutro
Adolph Sutro
Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro was the 24th mayor of San Francisco, and second Jewish mayor, serving in that office from 1894 until 1896...

 conceived the idea of running a drain tunnel under the Comstock Lode from the lowest possible point. A survey was made by Schussler and work commenced in October 1869. The Sutro Tunnel was completed from the valley near Dayton through nearly four miles of solid rock to meet the Comstock mines approximately 1650 ft (502.9 m) beneath the surface. From the main tunnel, branches were run north and south along the vein a distance of over two miles (3 km), connecting to various mines. The tunnel was 16 ft (4.9 m) wide and 12 ft (3.7 m) high. Drain flumes were sunk in the floor and over these were two tracks for horse carts. It required over eight years to complete construction. The tunnel provided drainage and ventilation for the mines as well as gravity-assisted ore removal. However, by the time the tunnel reached the Comstock area mines, most of the ore above 1650 ft (502.9 m) had already been removed and the lower workings were 1500 ft (457.2 m) deeper still. Although virtually no ore was removed through the tunnel, the drainage it provided greatly decreased the operating costs of the mines served. The ventilation problems were solved at about the same time by the use of pneumatic drills
A jackhammer is a pneumatic tool that combines a hammer directly with a chisel that was invented by Charles Brady King. Hand-held jackhammers are typically powered by compressed air, but some use electric motors. Larger jackhammers, such as rig mounted hammers used on construction machinery, are...


Big Bonanzas

The total product of ore extracted and milled in the Comstock District, 1860 to June 30, 1880, was 6,971,641 tons, 640 pounds. Peak production from the Comstock occurred in 1877, with the mines producing over $14,000,000 of gold and $21,000,000 of silver that year (about $270 million and $400 million adjusted for inflation
Inflation adjustment
Inflation adjustment is the process of adjusting economic indicators and the prices of goods and services from different time periods to the same price level. To adjust for inflation, an indicator is divided by the inflation index...

, as of 2007, respectively). Production decreased rapidly thereafter, and, by 1880, the Comstock was considered to be played out. The deepest depth was struck, in 1884, in the Mexican winze
A winze is an opening in an underground mine that is sunk downward from inside to connect lower levels. The top of a winze is located underground, in contrast to a shaft where the top of the excavation is located on surface....

 at 3300 ft (1,005.8 m) below the surface. Underground mining continued sporadically until 1922, when the last of the pumps was shut off causing the mines to flood. Re-processing of mill tailings continued through the 1920s, and exploration in the area continued through the 1950s.

Comstock's silver mines were criticized for the way that their share prices were manipulated on the San Francisco stock exchanges, and for the way that insiders skimmed the profits to the detriment of the common shareholders. Insiders used rumors or assessments to drive share prices down, buy up the cheap shares, then spread rumors of large new silver finds to increase prices once more so that they could sell their shares at a profit. Mining company managers also issued contracts to themselves for timber, and water. Ore from the mines was commonly processed by ore mills owned by the company insiders, who were accused of keeping part of the silver they extracted for themselves, and refusing to make an accounting.

Nevada is commonly called the "Silver State" because of the silver produced from the Comstock Lode. However, since 1878, Nevada has been a relatively minor silver producer, with most subsequent bonanzas consisting of more gold than silver.

Comstock kings

Four Irishmen, John William Mackay
John William Mackay
John William Mackay was an American capitalist, born in Dublin, Ireland.-Early years:His parents brought him in 1840 to New York City, where he worked in a shipyard.-Gold and silver mining:...

, James Graham Fair
James Graham Fair
James Graham Fair was the overnight millionaire part-owner of the Comstock Lode, a United States Senator and a colorful real estate and railroad speculator.-Early life:...

, James C. Flood and William S. O'Brien
William S. O'Brien
William S. O'Brien was an American businessman who formed a business partnership with fellow Irishmen James Graham Fair, James C. Flood, and John William Mackay, the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company...

 formed a business partnership, the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company, in Virginia City which dealt in silver stocks and operation of mines on the Comstock Lode. These four men became known as the "Bonanza Kings
Bonanza Kings
The Bonanza Kings, also called the Silver Kings, was a nickname given to the four men who started a stock brokerage called Flood and O'Brien, more commonly known as the Bonanza Firm...

" or "Silver Kings" of the Comstock.

George Hearst
George Hearst
George Hearst was a wealthy American businessman and United States Senator, and the father of newspaperman William Randolph Hearst.-Early life and education:...

, a highly successful California prospector, became a partner in Hearst, Haggin, Tevis and Co.
Hearst, Haggin, Tevis and Co.
Hearst, Haggin, Tevis and Co., a company started in California in the 1850s and headed by San Francisco lawyer James Ben Ali Haggin with Lloyd Tevis and George Hearst, grew to be the largest private firm of mine-owners in the United States...

, the largest private mining firm in the United States, which owned and operated the Ophir mine on the Comstock Lode, and other gold and silver mining interests in California, Nevada, Utah, South Dakota and Peru. Hearst was a member of the California State Assembly
California State Assembly
The California State Assembly is the lower house of the California State Legislature. There are 80 members in the Assembly, representing an approximately equal number of constituents, with each district having a population of at least 420,000...

 and became a United States Senator from California. George Hearst was the father of the famed newspaperman, William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst was an American business magnate and leading newspaper publisher. Hearst entered the publishing business in 1887, after taking control of The San Francisco Examiner from his father...


William Chapman Ralston
William Chapman Ralston
William "Billy" Chapman Ralston was a San Francisco, California businessman and financier, and was the founder of the Bank of California.-Biography:...

, founder of the Bank of California
Bank of California
The Bank of California was opened in San Francisco, California, on July 4, 1864, by William Chapman Ralston. It was the first commercial bank in the Western United States, the second-richest bank in the nation, and considered instrumental in developing the American Old West.-History:The ancestor of...

, financed a number of mining operations, repossessed some of those mines as their owners defaulted, and ultimately made enormous profits from the Comstock Lode.

William Sharon
William Sharon
William Sharon was a United States Senator from Nevada who profited from the Comstock Lode.-Early life:Sharon was born in Smithfield, Ohio, January 9, 1821, the son of William Sharon and Susan Kirk. He attended Ohio University. After studying law in St. Louis, Missouri, he was admitted to the bar...

, a business partner of Ralston, was the Nevada agent for the Bank of California, and acquired Ralston's assets when his financial empire collapsed. William Sharon became the second United States Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 from Nevada.

William M. Stewart
William M. Stewart
William Morris Stewart was an American lawyer and politician.-Biography:Stewart was born in Wayne County, New York. As a child he moved with his parents to Trumbull County, Ohio. As a young man he was a mathematics teacher in Ohio. In 1849 he began attending Yale University but left in 1850 to...

, who abandoned mining to become an attorney in Virginia City, Nevada, participated in mining litigation and the development of mining on the Comstock Lode. As Nevada became a state in 1864, Stewart assisted in developing its constitution, and became the first United States Senator from Nevada.

Silver baron Alvinza Hayward
Alvinza Hayward
Alvinza Hayward was a well-known gold mining millionaire who made his fortune in California. He later became a prominent financier and businessman in the San Francisco bay area.-Early life:...

, known in his lifetime as "California's first millionaire", held a significant interest in the Comstock lode after 1864.

Notable miners

The poet and politician John Brayshaw Kaye
John Brayshaw Kaye
John Brayshaw Kaye was an English-born American poet, lawyer and politician.-Life and works:John Brayshaw Kaye was born in Yorkshire, England, June 10, 1841, the fifth child and the fourth son of Abram and Mary Kaye, in a family of fourteen children...

, worked in the mine for a short period in the 19th century.

Current mining activity

The Comstock Lode is being explored by Comstock Mining Inc. of Virginia City, Nevada.

External links

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