What do the Amish, the nickel, 10 acres of slag and the current U.S. president have in common? I will attempt to make that clear.
It was friendship with an Amish family that took me to visit them at their home, just outside of Nickel Mine Pennsylvania. Knowing of my interest in things geological they took me to see something that they thought might interest me. As we walked through the quiet woods near their house, we came to a clearing revealing thousands of bathtub-shaped, massive, slag chunks strewn about as far as I could see, in a scene that seemed post-apocalyptically surreal.
What lay before me was the slag, or unusable waste, from a mine and smelter that once supplied 25% of the world’s nickel. In the 1850’s nickel was discovered in an area previously mined, somewhat unsuccessfully, for copper since its discovery in 1732. Between 1862 and 1893 the Gap nickel mine produced 4.5 million pounds of nickel. In 1862 the mine was aquired by the industrialist Joseph Wharton. The mine proved very productive and its new owner was very industrious. The ambitious Wharton, by pulling a few strings with his buddies in Congress, had the U.S. government minting a new five cent coin, named after one of its principal constituents, the Nickel. Since the Gap mine monopolized U.S. nickel production, Wharton was to provide all the nickel used in the metallugically epomymous new coin. The original proposed weight of the coin was increased, making it one of the heaviest per unit of value, presumably, so Wharton could sell more nickel.
Eventually the nickel at the Gap mine petered out and Wharton was forced to get his nickel from Canada. But Wharton had other enterprises, not the least of which was Bethlehem steel. Using his wealth Wharton formed the world famous Wharton school of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Among the many graduates of this prestigious institution is the current president of the United States. As promised, I have now connected all the dots from my lead sentence.
If you are a Yogi Berra fan like me then you probably remember his ” A Nickel A’int Worth a Dime Anymore” Yogism. Turns out he was right, but not in the way that he intended. During the war, between 1942 and 1945, the composition of the Nickel was changed from 75% copper and 25% nickel to 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese. This was done in order to conserve the nickel which was used in armour-plating. Had Yogi been referring to these “war nickels”, by yesterday’s prices the melt value would be $.9130635622, a lot more than a measly dime Yogi! Perhaps it was Yogi that alerted the government, since in 2006 it became illegal to melt down nickels in America or to carry more than five dollars worth out of the country. I always thought that Yogi was smarter than he sounded.
The slag itself is, to me, an amazing geological art form with fluid patterns and colors, reminding me of abstract art. So impressed was I that I spent an entire day loading vast quantities of my avant-garde geo-art into my car, which became overburdened, like the rail cars that came from the smelter to dump these things in what might have been their final resting place. Who, including Wharton, could have imagined that his slag would be sought after by the likes of me, over a hundred years after it was laid to rest by the miners. As the saying goes, (sort of) “One man’s slag is another man’s treasure”. My slag collection now lies proudly displayed at the entrance to my house. I’m sure nobody has a clue what it is, much less the story behind it. I plan to go back to visit my Amish friends and take them some photographic prints of my new artform.