12 May 2016

Those Places Thursday: Nickel Mines, Lancaster County

Take a moment, if you would, and look at the spare change in your pocket. I would venture to bet you probably have a nickel in among your coins. Did you know that the history of the nickel is linked with a little rural village in Bart Township, Lancaster County? That hamlet is Nickel Mines!

The hamlet gets its name from the area mines which are abundant for nickel. The idea of today’s five cent piece – the nickel – was suggested by Joseph Wharton who bought the mine back in 1862. Nickel Mines is just a stones throw away from where I grew up in Sadsbury Township and I never knew this fact until last Friday when I was doing some background info on my great aunt’s husband, Chester Wiker, Sr. for the Funeral Card Friday post.

The year was 1862. The United States was being torn in two by the Civil War. Coins were then made of silver and gold so many people started holding on to their coins, not for monetary value but rather for the value of the silver and gold. Joseph Wharton took a chance and bought the Gap Mining Company.

I should back up here and mention a bit about the mines in the area. Nickel ore was discovered during the 1850’s in the waste products of copper mining. Concentration shifted to mining for nickel ore specifically and in the decade between 1850 and 1860, it has been estimated that over 35 million pounds of nickel ore was mined. Unfortunately during the Civil War there was little use for nickel and the mine fell on difficult times.

Wharton went to the Federal government and suggested, in light of the coin shortage, that a new coin be made of nickel. The nickel would be the new five cent piece. The idea was a hit. Congress, in 1866, required the United States Mint to produce a new five-cent coin made of nickel and copper, according to the US Mint.

In addition to the new coin, nickel was used for many other things. The mines continued to operate until 1893. Nickel ore was being imported from Canada at a lower price.

Wharton was not just successful, and now wealthy, but he was also a philanthropist. He financially founded the Wharton School of Business so that other men could also prosper. The Wharton School of Business in now part of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Wharton also co-founded the Bethlehem Steel Company.

“History of Nickel Mines,” Nickel Mines Mennonite Church. http://nickelminesmennonite.org/Nickel%20Mines%20History.html

Those Places Thursday is a genealogical prompt of GeneaBloggers.

© Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman, 2016

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Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.