A Brief History of 7 Famous Mining Engineers

One of the very sad facts of our “pop” world is that, unless you invent something like the hoola hoop, no one remembers or recognizes you. So here is to those who toil in obscurity making the world a better place for millions. You disagree with this? Well where did all the bits and pieces of the screen you are reading this on come from? Maybe you believe that all the minerals and metal bits that make up your body just organized themselves in just the right way to make you, you but I can assure you that your computer’s bits did not.  The metals and minerals used in making the computer you have under your hands did not march out of the rocks and assemble themselves without there first having been a very clever mining/mineral process engineer to start the march along. And who are some of these famous mining engineers?

Ahibijah: This Hebrew engineer traced his ancestry from Egypt and the development of “a better brick”. The conditions of his ancestors employment did not allow the family to make any money from the development but it did elevate them from “whippable slave” to “slave” which, if you think about it, is a pretty significant step up the line. At any rate when it was time for King Solomon to plate everything in his temple and house with gold, he turned to Ahibijah to make it happen. And being a mining engineer, and very good mining engineer, Ahibijah did just that. King Solomon was renowned for his wealth – and Ahibijah got squat. You’ll see that this is a recurrent theme in history.

βράχος (Vrahos): This Greek mining engineer was the co-discoverer of the largest gold mine of Macedon in the 6th Century BC. Very little is known about the other discoverer other than that he was found face down at the bottom of the mine shaft one morning and the cause of his death, whether by murder or by accident, was never determined. In fact, we also know very little about Mr. Vrahos as his name (Rocky) might suggest. But his gold mine discovery tipped the scales for Athens and gave the Athenians the spark they needed to take on the Persians and then the Spartans. That little adventure was ended by Philip of Macedon who, untimely and coincidentally, was found poisoned at the bottom of a mine shaft.

Petrasius the Firesetter: It was about the time of the Roman’s that mining engineers finally broke down and started to follow the pop-mode of the day by giving themselves a second name. Petrasius is best known for being a bit of a brute in the gold mines of Spain. While fire setting as a means of splitting rocks by heating them and then splashing cold water on the heated rocks was a well established practice by this time in history, this is not the genesis of Petrasius’ nickname. He was one of those sadistic sods who think it is funny to set other people’s hair on fire. For this reason he is often left out of the pantheon of famous mining engineers but my view is you have to take the good with the bad and he did produce a lot of gold for the Roman empire.

Atahualpa: There has been a great deal of needless confusion about the origin of Atahualpa’s name and he is often confused with the Incan leader of the same name. But it was the Incan custom in those days to name your child after the children of the Inca’s in hopes that some of their good “karma” would rub off. That is the official reasoning. In fact, the real reason was that if someone killed the Inca then when the priests came asking for him there would be a seemless transition to glory and access to all the best babes in the Andes. Something like;

Priest: Has anyone seen Atahualpa? He is needed at the Festival of Inti Raymi. People (guiltily but in unison): I am Atahualpa!

And the priests would grab the nearest guy who seemed to fit the bill. It only really happened once in the couple of centuries of Incan rule but why would parents not so name their children? The rewards were huge if it happened to you. Anyway, Atahualpa the mining engineer was famous for the practice of luring Jesuit priests to the Incan mines and then tying them up so that he could pour molten gold down their throats. “You want my gold?! Here have my gold!” I assume this was followed by maniacal laughter. He was kind of a mean old cuss like Petrasius but … the good with the bad!

Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants: Very often Mr. Pleasants is left off the list of famous mining engineers and it is confusing to me why this would be so. He was a successful, if unhappy, mining engineer from Pennsylvania with a gift for the macabre but so what? Everyone has their weirdnesses. By joining the army and opting to serve under Major General Ambrose Burnside, he thought he would have the best chance of dying in battle. This was hardly fair to General Burnside but Fredericksburg was a burden he was never able to unload. And just as an aside, does anyone know that Ambrose Burnside was the inventor of a very successful repeating rifle? No… we know him for his “sideburns” which word is the inversion of his name. Remember what I said about people being fixated with pop cultural icons? It is a sickness of the human race.

But back to the Lt. Col. Being bored out of his mind and tired of ducking rebel bullets in his trench he thought it would be a really good idea to dig a tunnel from his trench under those of the Confederates and behind their lines, blow the whole thing up and, Bob’s-your-uncle, the war is over

So they dug the tunnel, loaded it up and lit the fuse but nothing happened. Into the tunnel went the intrepid mining engineer, relit the fuse and away it went. Voila! A huge ditch filled with grey jacketed soldiers trying to dig themselves out of the dirt. The downside to explosions is that when they go off, everyone feels they must pause and have a conversation about how cool it was. This the Union army did and then proceeded to jump into the new ditch only to discover that it was real easy for the Confederates to shoot them while they stumbled along below. It was a horrible disaster and Mr. Pleasants went to his death an angry man for the mess that had been made of his really good idea.

For the sake of completeness, it must be said that this little gimmick was not the first time blowing up a tunnel had been attempted. Sappers have been a part of warfare ever since castles were surrounded by walls. But there had never been an explosion like this one. And that is why mining engineering is so cool – explosions. In fact, during the siege of Vicksburg, a similar (although puny by comparison) explosion was attempted and the most noteworthy event coming from it was the ejection of Abraham, a black cook, from his campfire behind the Confederate lines to land at a campfire behind the Union lines. It is said that a private from Ohio made a small fortune by putting Abraham in his tent and charging 5 cents for a look. True story.

Herbert Hoover: The 31st president of the United States can be considered the “Big Kahuna” of mining engineers and he didn’t restrict his activities to mining engineering. He was present at the Boxer Rebellion in Tientsin, China and, looking for an excuse to blow something up, took charge of organizing the barricades around the expatriate community.


The Australians remember him for a famous mining stock promotion which made a lot of money for those in early and less for those in late. Subsequently he became president of the United States and got hung with the can of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. There are those churlish “armchair economists” who blame him for the economic mess of the Great Depression but what do you expect? He was a mining engineer and wanted to see things blow up. I mean really; how clearly do people need to have it spelled out?

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