I am looking for an indication, possibly an Index, as to the value or importance of common minerals for the Industrial Revolution. So, for example how important was Manganese (or Lead, or Zinc..) relative to other minerals for the Industrial Revolution.

To be more precise, I mean economic importance as in "importance of a mineral for the whole economy" (and not for an arbitrarily chosen company). Also, I am mainly interested in a mineral's price as the measure of its value.

I am mostly interested in the U.S. and the time frame from 1830 to 1880.

This publication, suggested by AllnOne, gathers a lot of information for the time after 1900. Before, however, information is often missing.

This being said, I realize it might be difficult to find exact price data for the 19th century (any suggestions still highly welcomed).

An index of relative importance of minerals would be sufficient for me too. Say, I just discovered Zinc resource on my own ground in 1850, how valuable would that be compared to Manganese resource?

Any suggestions are highly appreciated, especially if they refer to historical articles that have tried to classified minerals or, even better, historical price data for such materials.

  • "Importance" to whom? If you (as a company) are into making things out of bronze, you need copper and tin. If you are into making stainless steel, you will need nickel and chromium. If you are into making tungsten carbide drill bits, you will need tungsten. Now, how would you measure them in relative imporance? By price? Gold is very expensive, but is it that useful from an industrial standpoint?
    – DevSolar
    Dec 12, 2016 at 16:05
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    If you created another account by mistake, please visit the link and merge the accounts. You would have been able to edit the post without going through the approval process if you had used the account used to ask this question. history.stackexchange.com/help/merging-accounts
    – Rathony
    Dec 13, 2016 at 11:03
  • Thanks for pointing that out, Rathony. I was able to merge them. Dec 13, 2016 at 20:20

2 Answers 2


US Geological Survey has some publications which may be of interest to you.

Here for example is the report on Copper. It lists prices in cents per pound every year from 1850 to 1998.

copper 1959 thru 1998

Here is the same report for Aluminum. This one has many gaps tho, and only includes three prices before 1895.

Edit: This publication appears to roll up all the other data into one document. There are extensive references cited which you may find useful as well.


[OP here. Found the answer and will share for future generations with the same question.]

In the book Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 published by the United States Census Bureau relevant information can be found in chapter M on minerals. In particular, page 582 and following pages contain information on historic prices for a comprehensive list of minerals including gold, silver, iron, copper, clay, cement, lime and many more. Historical prices start from 1870.

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