Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tin Mining in Orange County?

Consider this the first of multiple future posts about mining in Orange County (a place which in the last 130 years has been a site of mining for gold, silver, lead, zinc, and tin, among other interesting materials).

Since I first learned about tin ore earlier this year, I've been fascinated by it. Called cassiterite, it has very unique-looking black crystals. DK has an incredible image, visible here.

Smelted and refined as pure tin (see image), tin is a wimpy metal that saw its most recent heyday in the last century when used in cans. (Times eventually gave way to aluminum and stainless steel.) In the 21st century, it seems that tin has been reduced to little more than a lead-free alternative for electrical solder and fishing weights.

But before fishing weights and tin cans, tin was once a mighty metal. The more potent use of tin, of course, is as an additive to copper in creating the alloy bronze. Despite the relative weakness of tin and copper by themselves, the alloy is surprisingly strong. The term "Bronze Age" underscores the fact that it was the unique hardness of bronze which saw metal itself graduate from use as mere decorative curiosity (e.g. gold & silver jewelry) to primary material for tools and weaponry. So in no small way, tin lifted mankind out of the Stone Age and in so doing, brought him that much closer to the Iron & Steel Age (which continues at present).

Here's a link to a tantalizing blurb about tin mining in Orange County.

I've heard it said that no tin was ever found in Orange County, but the caption here suggests that one "A. Gasparina" discovered some tin ore in 1877.

The Geologic Map of Orange County (Morton & Miller, 1981) identifies both the Trabuco Tin Mine, and another one called the Temescal Placer Mine.

So perhaps the verdict is still out... was some tin in fact successfully mined in Orange County?

I've sent this query to several local Orange County history and geology buffs, who have already responded in kind with what promises to be some useful information. Once I learn more, I will amend an update to this post.

UPDATE: Read Chris Jepsen's post of April 22, 2009, "The Santa Ana Tin Mining Co.", over at OC History Roundup.