Goldfield was a boomtown in the first decade of the 20th century due to the discovery of gold between 1903 and 1940, Goldfield's mines produced more than $86 million. Much of the town was destroyed by a fire in 1923, although several buildings survived and remain today, notably the Goldfield Hotel, the Consolidated Mines Building (the communications center of the town until 1963), and the schoolhouse. Gold exploration still continues in and around the town today.
Gold was discovered at Goldfield in 1902, its year of inception. By 1904 the Goldfield district produced about 800 tons of ore, valued at $2,300,000, 30% of the state's production that year. This remarkable production caused Goldfield to grow rapidly, and it soon became the largest town in the state with about 20,000 people. In its heyday in 1907, Goldfield had 49 saloons, 27 restaurants, 22 hotels, 21 grocers, 17 laundries, 15 barber shops, 14 cigar stores and six bakeries. The professionals included 162 brokers, 84 attorneys, 54 assayers, 40 doctors and 10 undertakers.
One of the most colorful aspects of Goldfield’s gold mining trade was the shady practice known as high grading, a form of thievery by miners who worked in company mines. The methods ranged from concealed pockets in the tail of a miner’s shirt and oversized boots and trick lunch buckets to such devices as the one in which the company blacksmith went in cahoots with the highgrader in an ingenious scheme that worked fine until it was discovered.
The blacksmith bored a hole in the miner’s pick handle. During the underground shift the cavity was filled with gold, corked, and a little mud smeared over the end of the handle. When the pick was sent to the blacksmith to be sharpened he took out the gold and later it was shared. Many assayers who set up shop did so to take advantage of the illegal trade. But they were shut down once the powerful mine owners caught on.
One prominent, or notorious, early Goldfield resident was George Graham Rice, a former check forger, newspaperman, and racetrack tipster, turned mining stock promoter. The collapse of his Sullivan Trust Company and its associated mining stocks caused the failure of the Goldfield State Bank in 1907. Rice quickly left Goldfield, but continued to promote mining shares for another quarter-century.
Another prominent resident from 1908 was George Wingfield, one of Nevada's entrepreneurs, in collaboration with his partner George S. Nixon (who was to become a US Senator in 1904), made huge fortunes in Goldfield by forming the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company. By 1906 they were worth $30 million. Wingfield moved to Reno soon after realizing his great wealth could be spread across northern Nevada and northern California.
Virgil Earp came to Goldfield in 1904. Virgil was hired as a Goldfield deputy sheriff in January 1905. In April, he contracted pneumonia and, after six months of illness, he died on October 18, 1905.
Goldfield reached a peak population of about 20,000 people in 1906 and hosted a lightweight boxing championship match between Joe Gans and Oscar "Battling" Nelson.
In addition to the mines, Goldfield was home to large reduction works. The gold output in 1907 was over $8.4 million, the year in which the town became the county seat; in 1908, output was about $4,880,000.
By the 1910 census, its population had declined to 4,838. By 1912, ore production had dropped to $5 million and the largest mining company left town in 1919. In 1923, a fire caused by a moonshine still explosion destroyed most of the town's flammable buildings. Some brick and stone buildings from before the fire remain, including the hotel and the high school.
Labor relations during the boom years.
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