Thursday, February 9, 2023

George W. Starr - Hardrock Gold Miner

William Bowers Bourn was the original owner of the Empire Mining Company, but in 1874, he died in San Francisco from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the stomach.  At the time of Bourn’s untimely death, the Empire Mining Company was still in financial straits as a result of the Panic of 1873.  After Bourn’s death, his son, William Bowers Bourn, Jr., operated the mine, and in 1881, William Bowers Bourn’s nephew, George W. Starr, started working at the Empire Mine as a mucker.  A mucker is a miner who shovels broken rock into mining cars for removal from the mine.  Starr was an orphan at the age of 11 after his mother died and he was abandoned by his father.  Despite his humble background, Starr had knack for mining and was very talented miner.  Starr work is way from being a mucker, to a miner, and to a shift boss.  Finally, and after six short years, Starr became the superintendent of the Empire Mine to whom the younger Bourn, after selling his controlling interest in the mine, left the management of the mine.

Starr had knack for mining and was very talented miner.  Starr embodied the notion that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.  He constantly strove to improve the operations of the Empire Mine.  In 1890, Starr introduced drills powered by compressed air which increased the productivity of the miner as well as the depth to which the miners could dig, and in 1891, Starr launched electric lighting to the tunnels of the mine.  At the Empire Mine, Starr built a formidable reputation as a miner in California and worldwide as an authority on hardrock gold mining.

In 1893, Starr was lured to South Africa John H. Hammond.  Starr left Grass Valley, California, for the gold mines continents away.  Prior to Starr’s departure, the Empire Mining Company began to take a slight downturn which subsequently became a large downturn.  In fact, and in 1893 and again in 1894, the Empire Mining Company failed to pay expenses.  With the drop in value of the mine, Bourn bought low and regained his controlling interest in the Empire Mining Company in 1896.  During the period from 1893 to 1898, the mine was actually run at a loss.

Shortly thereafter, and while Starr was visiting San Franciso from South Africa, Bourn convinced his cousin, Starr, to rejoin him at the Empire Mine.  Bourn offered his cousin the position of Managing Director with the understanding that Starr would bring the mine back to its former greatness. 

Prior to accepting the position, Starr examined the operations of the mine and demanded $200,000 from the board of directors and investors in order to modernize and to repair the above-ground facilities which were dire straits.  While the board of directors was at first quite hesitant, Bourn pressured the board to accept Starr’s terms.  Starr, with a newly freed hand, went about turning the mine around.  Under Starr’s management and armed with the experiences from hardrock gold mining in South Africa, Starr reinvigorated the Empire Mine leading it to become and extremely profitable venture.  During the early 1900’s, the Empire Mining Company became a model mine.  Starr got rid of the old Cornish pumps and replaced them with new hydraulic pumps as well as completely renovating the above-ground facilities (rock crushers, boilers, compressors, and offices).  Starr explained, “What appears as an extravagance is a renumerative improvement.” 

During Starr’s tenure, the mining operations never shut down and he never requested additional funds aside from the initial $200,000.  All improvements in addition to the initial $200,000 was paid for out of earnings and the company still issued dividends.  In short, George W. Starr was a driving force behind the success of the Empire Mining Company.

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