Learning to see: visual tools in American mining engineering, 1860-1920
Nystrom, Eric C.
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The period between 1860 and 1920 saw the development of mining engineering as a profession, with journals, societies, and university programs. At the same time, mining engineers, as a group, gradually assumed more control over mining operations, both by being employed by more firms and by having greater responsibilities within mining companies. Mining engineers used visual tools – mine maps, blueprints, photographs, and models – to help them do their work. The creation and control of visual tools represents an important piece of the story of the professionalization of mining engineers that has hitherto gone largely unnoticed. I argue in this dissertation that if we are to understand the ability of mining engineers to increase efficiency, we need to understand the tools that they used, including visual tools. Mining engineers gradually learned how to make and use maps, photographs, blueprints, and models to help them gain greater control over work, information, the law, and public opinion. These visual tools were an integral part of the everyday work of mining engineering by the end of this time period. I examine each type of visual tool in turn, using specific historical examples. The Pennsylvania anthracite coal mines of Coxe Brothers & Co. allow me to trace the evolution of underground mine maps. Two Michigan copper mines, the Quincy and the Calumet & Hecla, help me explain how the advent of blueprint technology changed work and organization practices at the mines. My examination of three dimensional mine models begins with an overview and examples of their primary forms, then I use a mining law case from Tonopah, Nevada in 1914 to see how models and maps were used in the courtroom. Next, I focus on the topic of mine safety, using examples from anthracite and bituminous coal mines, to trace how managers used safety photographs to direct the work of miners. I then move outside the scope of individual mining companies and relate the project of the United States National Museum to explicitly boost the mining industry in the early 20th century by placing exhibits in the museum that painted the industry in a favorable light.
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