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Mining in Kansas

Much of the state's economic growth has been based on abundant mineral deposits. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coal, oil and natural gas, lead and zinc, salt, and many other natural resources were extracted from the earth. In varying degrees, most of these resources continue to be of importance to the state's economy. 

Lead and zinc mining took place, primarily, in what is called the tri-state mining district located in southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma. Zinc and lead were important minerals for the U.S. war efforts in World War I and World War II.  For approximately 50 years, this area was the world leader in zinc production but lead, silver, cadmium, and several other minerals were also mined.  Most of the minerals were extracted via underground mining methods but some strip mining occurred in Cherokee County. The peak year for lead and zinc extraction in Kansas was 1926 but most of the mining ended by 1970.  A number of hazards in the local landscape, such as open pits, shafts, and collapsed surfaces still exist. 

Coal mining in Kansas peaked between 1917 and 1918.  Bituminous coal deposits were widely distributed in eastern Kansas.  Deep mining and surface mining methods were used in at least 20 coal beds but the bulk of the mines were in southeastern Kansas in the counties of Cherokee, Crawford, and Bourbon as well as one large area in Osage County.  The published reports of the State Inspector of Coal mines are available on Kansas Memory.  The reports cover the years from 1884 to 1956.  From 1929 on, these reports also contain information on metals mining.

Salt was found in the central portion of the state and has been the source of another important sector of the Kansas economy.  These salt deposits resulted from the time period when most of central Kansas was a vast inland sea (Permian Sea).  Counties where mining occurred or still occurs are Reno, Rice, Ellsworth, and Kingman.  Salt extraction was first through pumping water into the ground to dissolve the salt and then recover it through evaporation.  This was replaced by underground mines with the rock salt extracted similar to coal mining.  The Hutchinson Salt Company underground mine is more than 600 feet deep while the Lyons Salt Company operates at a depth of over 1000 feet.  In the Hutchinson area, one salt mine that is no longer used has been turned into an underground paper storage warehouse and another has become the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.

Several historical events are tied to these various mining industries.

Amazon Women - Coal miners went on strike in southeast Kansas after World War I ended.  The families of the coal miners were upset that volunteers, called "scabs" were being hired during the strike.  A group of southeast Kansas wives, mothers, and sisters marched from coal camp to coal camp to protest the hiring of the scab labor.  They became known as the "Amazon Army" or "Amazon Women."

Big Brutus - One of the largest pieces of mining equipment is the state was an enormous power shovel that towered 15 stories high and weighed 11 million pounds. Completed in June 1963, Big Brutus, with its 90-cubic yard shovel, could move 150 tons of coal in one bite, enough to fill three railroad gondolas.

Court of Industrial Relations - This unique approach to dealing with union labor disputes was initiated in 1921, in response to coal mining strikes in southeast Kansas.  It was ultimately declared unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court.

External link

Brady, Lawrence L., Kansas Geological Survey, "Mining History in Kansas"

Entry: Mining in Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2010

Date Modified: March 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.