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The Comstock Lode was discovered in the spring of 1859 and over the next 75 years produced $310 million in silver and gold. The enormous bullion production of the Comstock Lode helped materially to bring the Civil War to a successful conclusion. The boom in population due to mining activities, in addition to the financial support during the war, allowed Nevada to be admitted as a state in 1864.

As production on the Comstock wound down, prospecters were actively searching for the next big deposit. In 1900, a second series of mining rushes began with the discovery of silver and gold in Tonopah, followed two years later by the discovery of gold and silver in Goldfield.  Some of the equipment used by these early miners is displayed at the museum.


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John W. Mackay was born in Dublin, Ireland on November 28,1831. His family immigrated to New York when John was nine, where his father died just a few years later. In 1851, at the age of eighteen, Mackay sailed to California to seek his fortune as a gold miner. In 1860, after little luck in California he headed for the hills around Virginia City, where he had heard of the discovery of new deposits. In 1869, after moderate success as a miner, he was able  to form a partnership with James G. Fair, James C. Flood, and William S. O'Brien. This partnership was known as the Bonanza Firm, developers of the famous Comstock Lode. In 1873, Mackay struck one of the richest veins in history, the Big Bonanza, which produced more than $180 million in ore in just over four years.

By the end of 1877, the Big Bonanza had more or less finished production and the very rich John W. Mackay moved to San Francisco. Rather than bask in retirement, he founded a new company, the Commercial Cable Company, with James G. Bennett.   It was while on a business trip for this company that John W. Mackay died of heart failure in London on July 20, 1902.

Mackay’s widow, Marie Louise, and their son, Clarence, were interested in keeping his legacy alive, and in 1908 a statue of John W. Mackay by Gutzon Borglum was unveiled at the University of Nevada, Reno.



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This magnetic inclinometer is an early and effective geophysical exploration instrument

The W.M. Keck Museum houses many mining artifacts.

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These unique candleholders were made by John Doerfler in 1910, Goldfield Nevada

some early mining equipment

Coin Dies used by the U.S. Mint, Carson City, Nevada

Tonopah, Goldfield and Bullfrog districts

In 1900, so the story goes, Jim Butler's straying mule broke off a silver-rich rock from a ledge, thus starting Nevada's second great mining boom. Butler named the new camp Tonopah, and by the spring of 1901 it was the center of a major mining rush, bringing in miners and merchants by the hundreds. At the end of 1901, Tonopah had 32 saloons, 6 gambling houses, 2 dance houses, 2 weekly newspapers, a public school, 2 daily stage lines and 2 churches. Production in Tonopah remained steady, with a high in 1914 of $9,042,471 and in 1918 of $9,311,560. However, by 1930 silver production reached an all-time low of $162,841, and Tonopah gradually declined. Tonopah today is the county seat of Nye County, and exists as a supply center for surrounding livestock and mining interests in addition to nearby federal installations.

The first claims at Goldfield were staked by Billy Marsh and Harry Stimler late in 1902 on Columbia Mountain, 30 miles due south of Tonopah.   By early in 1903 a tent camp had formed on the claim, and in October 1903 the Goldfiled Townsite Company platted the new town about halfway between the mines at Columbia Mountain and Malpai mesa to the west.  Goldfield experienced a very rapid growth, by 1906 more than 150 buildings were going up monthly, and the town had a population of over 15,000.  Despite a miners stike and a nation-wide financial panic in 1907, Goldfield continued to produce gold ore, and by 1908 Goldfield was Nevada’s largest city with a population of more than 20,000 people.  The mines continued to do well until a peak of production of $11 million was attained in 1910 .  In 1913 heavy rains resulted in flashfloods sweeping through Goldfield, and in 1923 a fire wiped out 53 square blocks of the city.  These events combined with low metal prices resulted in mine closures and the gradual demise of the once great city.  Goldfield today has a population of about 200 people, and exists mainly to serve as county seat for Esmeralda County.

The third major mineral strike was made 70 miles south of Goldfield, just a few miles east of Death Valley, in 1903. The district was named Bullfrog because the green coloring of the ore was reminescent of the color of a bullfrog. Rhyolite, the main town of the Bullfrog district, is today one of the Nevada's best examples of a ghost town, having passed from boom to bust in just eleven years.


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