Since the 1848 discovery of gold in California, Death Valley has experienced over 140 years of boom and bust mining. From the 1880s to early 1900s mining was limited and sporadic in the Death Valley region. Many of these early mining districts met with a notable lack of success. Primitive and inefficient technology, scarcity of water and fuel, and the difficulties of transportation made it economically impossible to mine any but the highest grade ores.
One of the earliest successful mining operations was the Harmony Borax Works, which was active from 1883 to 1888. This mill was famous not for its ore deposits, but for the Twenty Mule Team wagons used to transport the partially refined borax. A very memorable advertising campaign used the wagons’ image to promote the company’s Boraxo soap and the Death Valley Days radio and television programs.
Boom & Bust
With renewed interest in gold and silver mining, the early 1900s witnessed new mines. Skidoo, Rhyolite, and Keane Wonder became large-scale operations. The boom towns which sprang up around these mines flourished during the first decade of the 20th century but soon slowed down after the panic of 1907. Besides searching for gold and silver, prospectors scoured the mountains for antimony, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten. Prosperous large-scale metal mining in Death Valley ended around 1915.
In February 1933 President Herbert Hoover signed the proclamation creating Death Valley National Monument. This resulted in a temporary closing of monument lands to prospecting and the filing of new mining claims. By prior agreement the monument was quickly reopened to prospecting and mining by Congressional action in June of the same year.