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Silver Rush at Silver Mountain near Virginia City

Georg Thoma from the tranquil town of Hinterzarten - the uncle of Dieter Thoma, who became an Olympic and world champion in ski jumping in the 1990s - was the first non-Scandinavian to win the Olympic gold medal in the Nordic combined in 1960. The venue for the Olympics was a hitherto largely unknown place called Squaw Valley, not far from Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada, some 250 km northeast of San Francisco. A century before athletes from all over the world competed for silver in Squaw Valley, a town arose less than 50 km to the east that was to become the cradle of modern silver mining and a Western legend - Virginia City.


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Virginia City owed its founding in 1859 to the 2,500 meter high Mount Davidson, also called Silver Mountain, Sun Peak or Mountain of Promise. Named after its discoverer Henry Comstock - the Silver King - the Comstock Lode was one of the most spectacular silver discoveries of all time. With the help of German mining experts from the silver city of Freiberg, large quantities of silver were extracted using modern ore mining methods. Even if Eldorado was never found, Silverado had been discovered.

The most prominent resident of Virginia City was Mark Twain, who was at the beginning of his writing career. After having little success as a silver prospector, he hired on as a reporter for the local newspaper, Territorial Enterprise. His sometimes mocking to sarcastic, but always enigmatic articles are invaluable documents of the events of the time.

Twain thus took part in the myth surrounding the Wild West. At that time, the stock market was already very important. Especially in the 1870s, it was just as crazy as the countless silver-seeking desperados. As Twain put it, "They were almost all swindle mines, and they were utterly worthless, but nobody wanted to admit that at the time."[1] The situation at the time is reminiscent of those around 125 afterwards, when fortune seekers blindly invested in the astronomically highly valued but ultimately largely worthless technology and Internet companies in the wake of the New Economy.

in 1873, Mount Davidson became the richest deposit ever discovered. This brought another boom, but three years later it flagged again, as a world economic crisis and the demonetization of silver led to falling silver prices, while at the same time mining costs rose as the mines became less productive. By the end of the 1880s, the mining of silver-bearing ores in Virginia City, as well as in nearby Gold Hill and Silver City, which was pioneering for silver mining, had ceased. A total of 800 km of adits had been built and 5.5 thousand tons of silver had been mined to a depth of 1,000 meters.

In its heyday, Virginia City had 30 thousand inhabitants; today it has just 800, with some 50 thousand people visiting the legendary silver town each week during the summer months, making it "the world's liveliest ghost town."[2]


This article was written by Dr. Jochen Dehio - author of the book"Gold oder Silber - wem gehört die Zukunft?

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Gold und Silber für Einsteiger

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[1] Zitiert in Ludwig, G. und G. Wermusch (1986), Silber: S. 225.

[2] Vgl. Ludwig, G. und G. Wermusch (1986), Silber: S. 213.