Silver Boom Brings Historic Sunshine Mine Back Online

By Jessica Robinson

The high price of silver is bringing one of the Northwest's oldest silver mines back online. The Sunshine Mine in north Idaho is known for one of the worst mining disasters in the nation’s history. It will resume production in late 2014.

Miners begin work at the Sunshine Mine in 1972.The new owner, Sunshine Silver Mines Corp., bought the mine after the previous owner went bankrupt. It happened just in time for silver prices to hit $30 an ounce, and mostly stay there. The company expects to hire 250 miners once production begins.

It was during the last major silver boom forty years ago that the Sunshine played a critical, and tragic role in mining history. In 1972, an underground fire in the Sunshine Mine killed 91 miners. Jim McReynolds is a mining historian in Idaho’s Silver Valley.

Jim McReynolds: “After that disaster what you saw was real improvements in mine safety, how ventilating systems work, there's a device that every miner carries called a self-rescuer.”

The disaster also inspired the federal government to create an agency that later became the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It now makes quarterly inspections of silver mines.

In fact, inspectors were called out last winter to another fire at the Sunshine Mine. No one was injured. Refurbishing efforts halted for several months to ensure the fire was out.

Photo: Miners begin work at the Sunshine Mine in 1972. The Mine is about 8 miles east of Kellogg, Idaho. Credit: MSHA

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