From Deep in the Earth to High on the Moon

An aerial black and white photograph of the Bureau of Mines with the river in the background.
Minnesota Historical Society and St. Paul Dispatch & Pioneer Press.
As the American frontier closed and Americans realized the country's natural resources were not infinite, Congress responded to concern over the waste of human and natural resources. In 1896, it established the Federal Department of Mines, and in 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt recommended creating a U.S. Bureau of Mines within the Interior Department.

After World War II, Congress established 11 regional centers, placing Region V in Minneapolis. In 1951, the Bureau of Mines officially acquired the property around Coldwater Spring for its Twin Cities Research Center (TCRC) from Veterans Administration, although it had begun occupying the campus in 1949.

Formal research began on the property in the early 1950s and continued for the next 46 years.

During its short history, the TCRC accomplished nationally and internationally significant breakthroughs in mine and mine safety technology. Work included research and development in the following areas:

Coal & rock fragmentation
Blasting research
Rock physics
Mine hydrology
Vibrations and airblast from surface-mining blasting
Surface mine equipment safety
Mine fire protection

Drilling technology
Advanced fragmentation research
In situ mining & leaching
Waste-water technology
Diesel health and safety
Minimizing dust generation
Iron ore processing & pellitizating

Specifically, the TCRC:

  • Conducted research on applications for drilling on the moon as part of NASA's Apollo Moon Program;
  • Developed the Tilden process for separating non-magnetic taconite from ore which led to the development of the taconite industry on Minnesota's western Mesabi range, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and other locations worldwide;
  • Developed diesel engine safety techniques to reduce the potential for ignition of methane gas and the reduction in toxic and carcinogenic exhaust fumes in underground mines;
  • Developed a vehicle and equipment operator notification system to reduce the number of collisions and injuries during backing-up operations, a system now employed on school buses, dump trucks, and many other types of equipment and vehicles;
  • Developed an ultra-low radio frequency system that could penetrate thousands of feet of rock, an application now marketed worldwide.
Despite these accomplishments, in January 1996 President Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Downpayment Act, terminating funding for the Bureau of Mines nationally. In March 1996 the TCRC closed.

Return to From Gunflints to Moon Rocks.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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