The Mechanics of Optimism: Mining Companies, Technology, and the Hot Spring Gold Rush, Montana Territory, 1864-1868 (Mining the American West)

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9781607321019: The Mechanics of Optimism: Mining Companies, Technology, and the Hot Spring Gold Rush, Montana Territory, 1864-1868 (Mining the American West)
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For every successful mining district celebrated in history, there were failed dozens whose stories have been largely forgotten. The Mechanics of Optimism documents, in rare detail, the boom-bust cycle of Hot Spring District, a mid-1860s Montana gold camp that did not pay, despite early predictions of a sure thing.

Historian Jeffrey J. Safford examines how gold mining ventures were developed and financed during and after the Civil War, and how men, primarily Easterners with scant knowledge of mining, were willing to invest large sums in gold mines that promised quick and lucrative returns.

Safford explains how these mining companies were organized and underwritten, and why a little-known district in southwestern Montana was chosen as a center of operations. Relying on extensive primary sources, Safford addresses the mind-set of the businessmen, the expectations and realities of new mining technology, the financial strategies, and the universality of the Hot Spring experience.

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About the Author:

Jeffrey J. Safford is professor emeritus of history at Montana State University.

Review:

"This is a scholarly book that explores from several cultural geographic perspectives a fascinating class of postproduction primary industrial landscapes in the United States. ...[Readers] will in particular appreciate its appropriateness for researching and teaching the 'sense of place' concept. This book can motivate critical thinkers and those interested in the history of geographic thought and current trends to discuss changes in cultural geographic practices and goals over the past several decades: their causes, their outcomes, and their implications."
The Professional Geographer

 

"Much of the literature about mining emphasizes its negative aspects such as pollution and landscape degradation. This book, however, is different. . . . one should be impressed by how tenacious the former mining population can be - and how deeply the mining experience can affect attachments to the land, even though outsiders may consider that land 'ruined.' Written with restraint and remarkable objectivity, Hard as the Rock Itself is highly recommended to anyone interested in mining history, environmental history, or simply how life and landscape are interconnected."
―Richard V. Francaviglia, Montana: The Magazine of Western History,


"...[A] compact, well-written, and very completely referenced book. For readers seeking a way to communicate the notions of place identification, heritage, memory, and the value of 'common' individual survivors of a physically brutal extracting industry, this book is a gold mine of style, fact, and story telling. This book is a positive addition to the study of community change, cultural geography, and mining in America. It is well documented, cleanly illustrated with black and white photographs and maps, and reads easily. Terms and definitions are explained in context. This book is a most enjoyable and stimulating read."
―Ralph K. Allen, Jr., Journal of Cultural Geography

 

"I advise American cultural geographers especially to move this provocative landscape study to the top of their reading lists....[Robertson's] wise and effective use of archival materials and active interviews enabled the inhabitants of these mining towns to 'speak for themselves' of their own 'sense of place.'...[G]iven the diverse background and training of its author, Hard as the Rock Itself provides a watershed example between traditional and 'new' cultural geographies in the United States."
―David J. Nemeth, University of Toledo; The Professional Geographer


"In this fascinating, fine-grained study of the rapid rise and even more rapid fall of one Montana mining district, Jeffrey J. Safford provides some answers, skillfully revealing how the 'mechanics of optimism' of the 1860s too often led capitalists and their mine managers into financial disaster. . . . Safford is such a fine storyteller that we end up caring enough about these men and their grandiose dreams that we indulge in our own unwarranted optimism, hoping they might yet succeed in the end. The do not succeed, of course, just like in the majority of other western mining ventures. Historians have long recognized that mining and mining investments in the American West were more likely to generate bankruptcies and lawsuits than wealth. Despite this realization, most mining historians have still preferred to attend at the birth of success rather than at the post-mortem of failure. Safford's book shows us why this prejudice for winners is such a mistake, demonstrating that the serious study of failure may tell us more about the history of the American West than do our traditional tales of success. . . . The Mechanics of Optimism should win a wide readership. Historians of mining in the American West will find the book indispensable, but there is also much to interest historians of technology, business historians, and a general audience seeking to better understand the mining frontier."
―Timothy J. LeCain, Mining History Journal

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