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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/74

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

neously other navigators of the same nationality landed on the eastern coast of South America and took possession of the country for the throne of Portugal, under the name of Brazil.

History tells what a marvelous change came over Europe as the spoils from the East Indies, consisting mainly of gold and precious stones, and the silver and gold from Mexico and Peru, began to flow into the channels of trade. This was intensified when the Brazilian gold fields (placers) were opened in 1675, and under the impetus of this fresh and enormous volume of new circulating medium the modern era began.

But as yet there was no such thing as an established precious-metal mining industry. The millions that had come from Spanish America and the East in the years between 1510 and 1700 were largely spoils, or the result of crude operations on alluvial deposits, and when the flood began to slacken Europe fell on hard times again, like a young rake that had lived beyond his income. This brought on the era of dissatisfaction that caused the beginning of emigration among the French, English and Dutch to North America, resulting in the partition of the continent among these races, and the formation of the American republic and the colony of Canada, where up to the middle of the nineteenth century (less than seventy years ago) gold coin was almost unknown, and the real medium of exchange was mainly the Mexican silver dollar.

In 1849 the gold fields of California and Australia were almost simultaneously discovered, and during the following ten years more of the precious metal was produced and turned into the channels of trade than had come from the earth for a thousand years previously. But as most of this was derived from alluvial diggings that were quickly exhausted it was really not until 1860 that the modern industry of gold mining began.

Placer or surface mines, where the gold exists in the form of fine grains or dust, are productive and profitable for a time, but are short-lived, while vein or reef mines that extend indefinitely into the earth are permanent, and when these began to be attacked, and machinery was devised to crush the quartz, and quicksilver employed to gather and catch the golden grains, and when finally a smelting industry came into existence, so that the so-called refractory ores could be treated and their precious contents recovered, then and not till then did gold mining become a well-defined business, and the production of the metal fairly constant and regular.

It is a marvelous tale, this history of gold, and wrapped up with it are clues to many obscure points in the story of civilization. For, as the blood to the human system, so has gold been in the commercial world, the circulating medium carrying life to all parts of the social and political organizations that men have constructed.