One of the advantages that the people of Grantville have in the novels 1632 and 1633 is their technology. With their tools, the people of Grantville can turn out cannon, rifles, and steam engines. With their chemical knowledge, they can create antibiotics, aspirin, and DDT. With their electronics, they can create diplomatic and broadcast radios. Everything's a piece of cake, right?
Everything is very far from a piece of cake. After making many cannon, the cutting edges of their machine tools will be worn out. There is no Hi-SpeedTM tool steel in the 1630s. It wasn't even invented until the late 1890s. In order to keep a cutting edge, the people of Grantville need some form of tool steel. Early tool steels contained iron, tungsten, and a small amount of carbon. Better tool steels also contain chromium and vanadium, and even more tungsten. Tungsten, chromium, and vanadium weren't known in the 1630s. The people of Grantville have no easy way of purchasing them.
Things get worse. In order to make pharmaceuticals, the people of Grantville need stainless steel, or glass-lined vessels. To make stainless steel, they will need chromium, nickel, and perhaps vanadium. Nickel wasn't known in the 1630s. (Yes, nickel ore was known. So were the ores for zinc and tungsten. The metals weren't known. More about those later.) For the proper glass, they will need borates. Borates were imported from Turkey and Italy.
There are many strategic minerals for Grantville that are necessary to gear down up-timer technology. Grantville has not brought the idea of strategic minerals to the seventeenth century, however. Already people are making a fortune in the creation of war-related brass and bronze. Gunpowder production was a booming industry.
The table below shows some of the resource needs to gear down Grantville's technology.
Even though this is a complex problem, the answer seems simple. Get out a CD-ROM atlas of the world, and search for needed minerals in or near Germany. If there isn't a CD-ROM atlas, look up mining sources for each of these metals. Then find maps of the places in a paper atlas, and start mining the material.
The problem comes down to three things: the politics of mining, the economics of mining, and the technical parts of geological surveying. Each of these will be covered in a section of this article.
There aren't enough up-timers to send out on the search. Only a few up-timers could be trained and sent out on surveys. No up-timers have all the needed skills. The last part of this article will deal with the role of the up-timers as they work with down-timers to obtain strategic minerals.
It's important to remember that Grantville didn't appear in a vacuum. Germany had been mined for a very long time by 1632. Political structures, bureaucracies, and economies had already been built around mining. Some important resources aren't in friendly areas right now. Cryolite is found only in Greenland, a province of Denmark, which is at war with Grantville. A middling good ore of bauxite is at Vogelsberg, within striking distance of Duke Bernhard. It's very hard to start a mine in a war zone. But even outside of a war zone, there are problems with just walking up and digging.
Mining law is complex stuff. Seventeenth-century European mining laws differ from up-timer mining law. The most important variations in Germany were not from place to place, but from product to product. The up-timers don't just have to deal with a different set of rules—they need to remember variations on these rules for different products and different areas.
In Germany, the status of mineral ownership depended heavily on the sort of the mineral. The emperors gave rights, which were often theoretical, to sovereigns of all sort (rulers, abbeys, towns, and so on) in the Middle Ages. But these rights didn't include all minerals. Only silver, gold, lead, copper, tin, and salt followed the strict rules.
Other mineral resources (iron, coal, hard rock, sand, clay, etc.) usually belonged to the landowner. Usually. In some parts of Germany sovereigns claimed ownership for all minerals. These claims were only partly successful in the first half of the seventeenth century. However (mining law is complex), iron was sometimes treated as a valued metal if it was high-quality hard ore that was mined, rather than quarried.
In general, permission was needed to prospect for minerals. More permission was needed for mining, and for using nearby wood and water. Permission for prospecting came from the landowner. The permission for mining valued minerals came from the ruler and/or the mining administration of the area. Base minerals were mostly considered the landowner's property, and could be mined without much trouble from a mining administration.
In practice, if the prospector or mine operator showed that they had enough money and people to carry out the mining in an orderly fashion, permission was almost always granted. A mine was a source of free royalties to the ruler of the territory. The landlord usually got one or more shares, and these shares sometimes had some special privileges. Claim sizes were pretty standard, but there was some variation by the resource.
The way mine ventures were organized is beyond the scope of this paper. They weren't organized in the same manner as shipping companies, although shares were bought and sold. The thing to remember is that share owners also had to pay ongoing operating expenses if the mine was not able to make a profit. Think of owning a share in one of these ventures as a game of financial chicken.
Mine operators needed to pay out shares and royalties. Royalties were paid out with money or with a portion of the ore. If royalties were paid with ore, every tenth or so standardized basket of ore was set aside for the ruler. Shares were usually paid out to owners on a quarterly basis with money. Miners were sometimes the owners of shares or part shares, and sometimes the employees of the mine operator, or both. Owners paid for work that needed to be done on the mine, even if the mine had not brought in a profit. Even though rulers received royalties, they did not pay mine expenses, unless they acted as mine operators as well, or were shareholders.
Timber for supports, smelting, and machinery had to be purchased from the local holders of wood rights. In many places, part of the mining profits were set aside for the support of churches and charities. Unless the church or charity was acting as the mine operator, it did not need to pay expenses.
Mine claims had to be worked. In some cases, mining claims were leases for three to ten years. In most cases, they were perpetual leases, as long as mining lasted. If mining ceased for a period of time, the mine claim was forfeit. That was usually not a problem. (As long as two or more miners were working, the mine would be working legally and could not be forfeit.) If the district mine administrator requested that a mine improve its drainage or ventilation, and some effort was not made for improvement, the mine operator was fined. In some places, the mine was forfeit, and could be mined by another operator. In practice, if a mine was taking money out of the pockets of the mine operator, rather than making profits, the owners had to subsidize the mine.
Rules existed for mines. By 1632, there had already been several notable mining disasters. Usually the resulting rules did not involve the safety of individual miners, but rather the safety of the whole mine—drainage, ventilation, and the placement of tunnels and shafts.
There were environmental laws for the users of wood rights and for smelters. Mostly these laws involved the harvest of trees and the use of water. Water rights were even more complicated in heavily mined districts. Deforestation was a risk near the larger mines and an ever-present danger near the smelting ovens. Before the up-timers go in and try to create a mining bureaucracy, they need to remember that bureaucracies and mining consortiums already exist under the aegis of each local ruler.
Even with those rules, mining was a hard, dirty, and very dangerous job. It still is today. There are very few civilian jobs with a greater risk to health and life than underground mining. Even the best drainage and ventilation of the time was not always good enough. Because the miners used open flames (candles or oil lamps with reflectors), pockets of methane gas sometimes caused explosions. Other times, they just suffocated the miners. In the lead and silver mines, arsenic poisoning was sometimes a risk.
The Knappschaft, or miners' guild, was different from many other guilds in the seventeenth century. All miners, not just the master miners, belonged to the Knappschaft. There were miners' strikes, and mining law was changed to accommodate some demands of the miners. The Knappschaft also paid for the construction of a chapel for before-shift prayer outside most mines, and paid for charities for the members and families. The Knappschaft was not a modern miners' union, but the reactions of down-timer miners to the UMWA will be filtered through their experience with their local Knappschaft.
A mine is a hole in the ground that sucks up money. The world is full of abandoned mines that someone once felt worth starting. The greatest reason that mines are abandoned is that they don't pay enough to cover expenses.
The mines in the twentieth-century CD-ROMs and atlases are mines that are profitable using twentieth-century techniques for mining, ore dressing, and smelting. With a few notable exceptions, the mines in the oldest encyclopedias in the Ring of Fire were mines that were profitable using nineteenth-century techniques and transportation. Many of these mines could not be profitable with seventeenth-century mining, milling, and transportation. They might not be profitable after high explosives have been developed, and sometimes even after steam engines are available. Someone will need to survey the areas around known sources of the strategic materials to see if it is feasible to mine them.