A presentation on "From Mine to Metal – A History of Zinc in Eastern Pennsylvania" will be given on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum, by Peter Kern, former New Jersey Zinc senior vice president of Research and Development.
The presentation will begin at 1 p.m. at the museum, located at 432 W. Walnut Street in Allentown. Stuart Schneider will follow with a presentation on fluorescent minerals.
"New Jersey Zinc lasted for nearly 100 years in Palmerton under that name," Kern said, "but most people don't understand how the ore got there, how it was processed, and what was unique about the ore."
Palmerton never had zinc mines. Initially, its ore came from New Jersey's zinc oxide-rich mines in Ogdensburg and Franklin, New Jersey. Later, it began using sulfur-rich zinc ores from Friedensville, Pennsylvania.
"The ores from the mines in New Jersey were among the richest zinc ores in the world," Kern noted. "There were two mines: one in Ogdensburg and one in Franklin. The one in Franklin was worked out sometime about 1950. The one in Sterling Hill in Ogdensburg was closed around 1986."
Because the Ogdensburg and Franklin ores were free of sulfur, they did not produce sulfuric acid as a byproduct. The New Jersey mines were discovered in the 1600s and initially believed to be copper mines. In the 1800s, the predecessor of the NJC began to mine it and bring it to Newark, N.J. for processing.
By the 1890s, as the market for zinc products for paint, pigments and brass continued to grow, New Jersey Zinc looked for a location to build a new smelter. They chose Palmerton because of its nearness to metallurgical anthracite and availability of rail transport.
After the Franklin Mine closed around 1950, things became increasingly difficult for the zinc company. It became increasingly dependent on the Friedensville sulfur-bearing ore, which produced sulfuric acid as a byproduct, and any released material could be a source of acid rain.
Between 1981 and 1986, it was only producing half the amount of zinc that it had produced thirty years earlier. It also was being charged a local extraction tax, which increased its costs to the point that it became cheeper to recycle zinc-rich dust collected from electric arc steel furnaces.
Around 1986, Kern was directed to close and seal the Ogdensburg mine. The borough of Ogdensburg later sold the mine to a group that reopened the entrance to the mine as a museum.
Today, 12 million tons of zinc and zinc products are used in die cast car parts, for galvanizing steel, in brass, for paints and pigments and in the production of tires.
"New Jersey Zinc was a leader in the development of patents and new alloys," Kern said. "It was one of the, if not the, world leader in the manufacture and development of zinc and zinc products."
Peter Kern, a chemical engineer, was hired by New Jersey Zinc in 1965 as a research engineer in the Research and Development department of NJZ. Working there for 23 years, he was promoted to senior vice president of research and development. In 1988, he left NJZ to become CEO of Palmerton Hospital.
In the presentation, slides and exhibits will illustrate the operation of the Franklin and Ogdensburg mines, the fluorescent properties of zinc ore, and the smelting operations at Palmerton.
For further information on From Mine to Metal - A History of Zinc in Eastern Pennsylvania, call (610) 435-1074, or see lchs.museum.