New Appalachian Moments Blog Post by Scott Ballard
Well, it’s true that a variety of minerals have been mined in the mountains of North Carolina. People have dug for gold on Grandfather; silver on Beech Creek; lead from the Linville Falls area; clay from Linville; Copper from Ore Knob in Ashe County, and iron from the famous Cranberry Mines, but mica has easily been the most versatile and important. But this isn’t a geology lesson, we’re digging deeper into the stories of the people who mined and manufactured Mica!
Because it was so clear, mica was sometimes used as windowpanes in local houses and in the doors of coal stoves. One newspaper reported that large sheets of mica “were used in the cornfields to frighten the crows away.”
In 1881, Thomas Edison invented an electrical motor and guess what he used in his capacitors? Mica from North Carolina. This is when mining by the mountaineers really began to power up. In fact, mica from Mitchell County, NC was displayed in 1892 at the world’s fair in Chicago. Still yet, mica was only mined on a part-time basis because, well, you couldn’t eat it! But once the crops were in, a farmer could then head to his secret spot and resume mining as long as the weather held out.
In an interesting cycle of work and pay, Avery County miner Joe Davis would take his mica down the mountain and trade it for coffee, which he used to pay his workers…who, in turn, dug deeper and faster I guess!
In 1909, David Vance founded The Tar Heel Mica Company also in Avery County. He soon became known as the Mica King. The Winston-Salem Journal reported in 1923 that his operation was the second largest in the world!
In 1942, the federal government created The Colonial Mica Corporation and became the sole buyer of domestic mica. Seventy-five percent of the mica mined in the US during the war years came from Western North Carolina. Not only was mica found in the electrical components of every plane, truck and tank, but also in gas masks, road goggles and armored car peep holes.
The US Army even created a 30-minute film about how this little crystal from North Carolina was being used to win World War II! Can’t say that about gold or silver! Click below if you’d like to listen to the podcast and remember to like, comment and share your stories!