Zinc: The hidden metal that went on to become the lifeblood of Palmerton.
Peter Kern, chamber president, discussed with members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday the importance of zinc to the industrial development of the region.
Kern, a former vice president of Horsehead Industries, told the chamber he gave several presentations in recent months at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum attended by over 130 guests.
"There's a lot of interest in the Lehigh Valley about Palmerton," Kern said. "I think they're finding out more and more that Palmerton is rich, not only in its history, but its beauty as well."
As part of his presentation to the Chamber, Kern described the events from over a century ago that led to the decision to build a world class zinc smelter at the confluence of the Lehigh River and the Aquashicola Creek.
Kern said there were ore bodies that were discovered in Ogdensburg and Franklin, NJ in the 1600s. It wasn't until 1848, when he said the predecessor of the NJC mined it and brought it to Newark, NJ, for processing.
"They were a unique zinc ore, found almost nowhere else in the world," he said. "The two ore bodies are about 500 miles apart; they are not connected that we know of."
By the 1890s, Kern said the demand for zinc began to grow, which prompted the company to expand its operations
"There was a tremendous increase in the amount of die cast parts," he said. "Zinc was being used in greater amounts in the 1890s."
In search of a new location to build a zinc smelter, Kern said the NJC chose Palmerton due to close proximity of anthracite coal and availability of rail transport.
Kern said that the presence of the Lehigh/New England, Lehigh Valley, and Jersey Central railroads, the Delaware & Lehigh Canal, and tremendous access to Anthracite Coal, prompted NJC to locate the plant in Palmerton.
When the West Plant was built in the early-1900s, Kern said 100,000 tons of zinc metal was produced per day, as was the same amount of zinc oxide.
Kern said the Franklin mine closed in 1950, while the Ogdensburg mine closed around 1986. The borough of Ogdensburg later sold the mine to a group that reopened the entrance to the mine as a museum.
"Most of the plants have disappeared as the result of changes in environmental laws," he said. "They have been replaced by electrolytic zinc plants."
However, Kern noted that there are still operations in Palmerton, which serves as a recycler of zinc.
"Everybody wants to know about Palmerton," he said. "People are very interested in the area, and I think you are going to find even more interest."