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Giant Stonebreaker
Workers huddle around a piece of equipment
known as a "giant stonebreaker."

Launders used gravity to drain water from the mines. Flooding was a constant danger.

Revolving Barrel
The revolving barrel in this picture were used
to prepare chloroauric acid, a necessary ingredient for the Wohlwill Process.

Mining Technology of the 1890s

click any of the photos for more detail.

Though the 1890s evoke images of a historic past, the mining operations at Morro Velho in that decade actually employed a significant amount of technology. Power plants produced the electricity that ran drilling and crushing equipment, cable cars, power saws and other tools, and lighting systems. (Prior to electric lighting, the use of oil lamps had caused a catastrophic fire at Morro Velho in 1867.) Other devices made use of natural forces such as gravity. logo

Flooding was a constant concern of any deep excavation such as that at Morro Velho. As such, the Saint John d'El Rey Company employed a number of divers in case of emergency. Of course, preventing flooding altogether remained preferable. The works at Morro Velho featured launders to help drain the mines. Launders had been used since prehistoric times, with the most primitive being little more than hollowed out logs laid at an incline. The launders at Morro Velho made use of mechanized weirs to assist gravity.

The production of gold through the removal of impurities in the ore also employed fairly advanced technology. The Wohlwill Process, invented in 1874, involved melting ore with acid and then subjecting it to electrolysis. The gold would accumulate on gold cathodes, and the other minerals, such as silver, would settle out as particulates. The process was used at Morro Velho and resulted in 99.999% pure gold. It remains the preferred method of gold production today.

The Saint John d'El Rey Company employed
divers in case of flooding.

Overflow Weir
Water drains out of the mine and
into a weir via the launders.

Electrolysis Vats
Workers prepare the electrolysis
chambers for gold purification.

Last updated: May 3rd, 2010.
Created by: Beau Steenken - Graduate Research Assistant
Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin
Please send comments to: schroer@mail.utexas.edu

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