© 2021 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Lead has played a pivotal role in the history of Missouri. More than 17 million tons of lead have come out of the ground in the state over the last 300 years, and that has left a lasting impact on the state economically, environmentally and culturally. KBIA is exploring that history —and future—in our special series The Legacy of Lead.

Legacy of Lead: The Right Place to Teach Mining

Sophia Zheng

Today, Missouri is home to three major lead districts and the state has accounted for more than 90 percent of the nation’s lead production over the last century. But actually getting that lead out of the ground requires a lot of scientific knowledge and the hard work of underground laborers. Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla plays an important role in the history of lead mining in Missouri.

“The university is really, really good,” Professor Paul Worsey said, “It’s got a good reputation, for practical engineers.”

Credit Sophia Zheng / KBIA
Professor Paul Worsey

Worsey has been teaching mining and explosives engineering at Missouri S&T for 35 years. He says a big strength of the program is the experimental mine about five minutes away from the Rolla campus.

“One of the great things about this mine is that students get to do things,” Worsey said, “They get grubby, they get dirty, they have realistic conditions, and when they leave here, they know what it is all about.”

The land for the mine was first purchased in 1914 to build a quarry and mine for student experiments and projects.

At the time, the school was actually called the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy. When it was founded in 1870, the founding father of University of Missouri already outlined a blueprint for the school, which is to “unite headwork and handwork, to get more from the soil and to live better with better understanding of the law of nature.”

Lead mining was booming in Missouri in the late 1800s, and by the early 1900s, the industrial revolution demanded mechanics and technicians. Technical education was a way for many poor, young people to earn a bigger income and gain political influence quickly.

St. Joe Lead Company, which became Doe Run later on, was formed in 1864 and opened a lead smelter in Herculaneum in 1891. The company benefited from its location close to the school.

“Because of the graduates we are able to bring into Doe Run,” said Mark Commes, vice president for human resources and community relations at Doe Run, “we are able to sustain an industry that provides literally billions to the state economy.”

Worsey said the relationship benefitted his former students.

“If you go down to the Doe Run corporation,” Worsey said, “you will find most of the management people that are working are graduates from this university.”

Jimmy Nash is one of Worsey’s current students. He’s a senior studying mining engineering.

“My goal was actually to get my degree and maybe go back to lead mining,” Nash said, “It taught me a lot of hands-on experience than I had when I worked at Doe Run before I came up here.”

Credit Sophia Zheng / KBIA
Jimmy Nash

Nash grew up in between two mines in Bunker, Missouri. His great grandfather, grandfather, father and brother-in-law all worked in lead mining, and he has, too.

“When you are down in the lead mine,” Nash said, “you have 200 hundred sticks of dynamite, filling the wall, and you can actually see the water forming out a cloud and rift at you. That’s just fun.”

And for students like Nash, Missouri S&T continues to offer a way for him to add a degree to work his way up the ladder in his family’s field of work

“Now that I’ve gotten here,” Nash said, “I’ve seen all the other types of mines, and all these internships I’ve been on. I’ve been to West Virginia. I have been to Wyoming and Kansas. I’ve seen all the other operations. It’s opened up a lot of more aspects of mining than I thought just growing up with it.”