Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum History

Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum History

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ARIZONA MINING AND MINERAL MUSEUM

Mineral Exhibits pre-date the Museum

The first Arizona Territorial Fair was held November 10-16, 1884.

Pre-Fair publicity in the Arizona Gazette stated, “the mineral display, we believe, will overshadow all else.”   Thus was the beginning of the collection that was to become the collection of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum.

In 1905, the first Territorial Fair on the present State Fairgrounds site was held.

The Arizona Republican of November 19, 1905, stated:

“The Fair commission has caused the erection of a permanent brick structure for the mining building in which the displays are to be kept the year around, and it is hoped that as many as possible will send in permanent displays”. 

In 1917, the Legislature authorized $30,000 for the construction of the Mineral Building.

These funds were not sufficient to complete the structure and construction stopped.

In 1919, J. C. Goodwin and Charles F. Willis asked the mining companies of Arizona to donate funds to “finish” the building.  The funds were raised and the building was completed for use in the 1919 Fair.

  • No fair was held from 1932 through 1940 due to the economy of the country.
  • With the outbreak of World War II, the entire Fairgrounds were commandeered by the War Department.
  • In 1946, the first post-war fair was held. The Fair commission appointed      Arthur L. Flagg as superintendent. 
  • Rehabilitation was started in August and continued up to the opening day.
  • During that period, members of the Mineralogical Society of Arizona (MSA) of which Mr. Flagg was a member (MSA was founded by A.L. Flagg in 1935 and continues to this day), contributed over six hundred hours of volunteer labor. The specimens were thoroughly cleaned and the cases refinished.
  • In 1947, the Legislature passed a law and made an appropriation of $7,900 permitting the Department of Mineral Resources to install its offices in the Mineral Building at the State Fairgrounds. This appropriation was to cover the cost of preparing the space in the Mineral Building and moving the Mineral Resources Department from its downtown offices.

In 1953, a mineral museum was established by six of the state’s major mining companies:

  • American Smelting and Refining Company
  • Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company
  • Kennecott Copper Corporation
  • Magma Copper Company
  • Miami Copper Company
  • Phelps Dodge Corporation

These companies agreed to underwrite the expense of opening the museum and maintaining it on a year-round basis.  Details of handling the project were approved by the Arizona State Fair Commission, the State Auditor, and the Attorney General.

  • The Mineral Building on the State Fairgrounds was selected as the location and management of the museum was given to the Department of Mineral Resources.
  • In 1953, A. L. Flagg who had worked for the Department of Mineral Resources as a field engineer and also served as Superintendent of the Minerals Department of the Arizona State Fair since 1946, was appointed museum curator and remained so until his death in 1961.
  • On August 2, 1973, the Arizona Mining Association formally presented the Arizona Department of Mineral Resources with all the material, specimens, furnishings, fixtures and other items they owned in the museum.
  •  In addition, they provided the Department of Mineral Resources the sum of $48,000 to continue operating the mineral museum for the next two years.
  • In July of 1991, the Department and the Museum moved from the State Fairgrounds to the renovated El Zaribah Shrine Building at 1502 W. Washington, Phoenix.
  • During that time, members of the Maricopa Lapidary Society (MLS) contributed hundreds of hours of volunteer labor to clean the specimens and refinish the cases.
  • The new building was renamed the Polly Rosenbaum Building to honor Representative Polly Rosenbaum of Globe for all the efforts she expended getting the building preserved and put on the Historic Register.
  • “Polly” Rosenbaum’s Legacy “A permanent home for the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum”

In an article published February 21, 2003, in the Arizona Capitol Times, Polly said,
“These new People have a very short view of history. The (Mineral) Museum is about more than minerals; it’s the identity of Arizona.” “The prospector and burro came hunting for gold and silver, but copper revolutionized the electrical industry and created the modern world. Many people had no idea how dependent we are on minerals, until they came to the Museum.”

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During the last 20 years of its history, thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in private donations made the AZ Mining and Mineral Museum #10 of the Top 12 Things to do in Phoenix —U.S. News & World Report
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Events leading to the closing of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum

(As chronicled on Mineral Museum Madness – minmumad@blogspot.com)

Curiously, in 2009 Governor Brewer’s budget plans assumed the Arizona Historical Society (AHS) would be weaned off of tax dollars and become self supporting.   Their approximately 4 million dollar a year budget was to be reduced by 20% over a period of 5 years to give them time to raise private support.  This is documented in a letter to the Friends of AHS (June 7, 2009 letter from the AHS Director).  But, somehow between June 2009 and February 2010, the AHS was pulled off the chopping block and assigned the responsibility of operating the Arizona Centennial Museum.

On February 12, 2010, Governor Brewer entered the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum with other members of the Arizona Centennial Commission and announced her “Birthday gift to the people of Arizona” and presented a “repurposing” of the mineral museum building.   Using large sketches she explained her plan for a 5C Centennial Museum to be constructed in the same building.  The sketches showed exterior and interior views of the building, but with no visible trace of any of the existing displays, mining equipment, or artifacts that were in or around the museum.  The mineral museum volunteers that happened to be present saw plans that completely obliterated their hundreds of thousands of hours of volunteer work.

Not only were the volunteers never thanked or even acknowledged, they were insulted.  The Governor had an attorney from the Attorney General’s office place them all under a gag order. The gag order prohibited them from disclosing any of the information presented presumably because the Governor had not yet pushed House Bill 2251 through the legislature. That bill eventually transferred all mineral museum assets to the historical society.

The 2010 Arizona House Bill 2251 established the 5C Arizona Centennial Museum which was to be constructed in the building occupied by the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. This bill revised the statutes to transfer Arizona’s mineral collection from the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources to the historical society and went into effect on July 29, 2010.

On April 30, 2011, the historical society closed the mining and mineral museum and proceeded to scatter its display cases and the mineral collection across the state, ironically destroying Arizona’s historic mining and mineral museum.

  • The Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum has been closed and the building empty for over four years now thus depriving thousands of people from Arizona and around the world, and most importantly Arizona’s children, a unique educational experience.

This content was provided by Shirley Cote.