Minerals from the OWU Geology Collection
These specimens from the OWU Geology collection are examples of the types of natural resources that would have been identified by surveys of the American West. Exploiting the mineral wealth of the land was a high priority for Congress in the middle of the 19th century because minerals supported the industrial and economic development of the nation. Valuable ores—like copper, gold, and silver—would have been important for trade. Stones—like granite and rhyolite—would have been used in construction. Surveys, and the maps developed from them, were essential for locating mineral deposits and understanding the accessibility of the sites. To support industrialization, large-scale extraction operations became widespread across the new territories. For example, the minerals on display come from mines in Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Unfortunately, traditional mining practices have severe environmental consequences. As nations transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, creating more electric and battery-operated devices will increase the demand for mineral resources. For this reason, a contemporary challenge is to extract minerals in more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways.