Exploring the US Mining Jobs and the Industry’s Rise

10 min

The US is one of the largest mining markets where our recruitment consultants place senior-level mining jobs. It is a country that is synonymous with the global market due to its abundance of natural resources and proud mining history.  

What do you think of when it comes to American mining? Perhaps the legendary gold rushes of the 19th century? Or the vast copper and coal mines in the river basins and mountains of the incredible US landscapes? Whatever your view of the industry, it is undoubtedly fascinating to be a part of. 

The industry is vast, with mines and mining companies located across the country. When looking at the facts and figures, it is easy to understand why it is vital to the US economy. Here are a few key facts that highlight the sector's economic might:

  • The US is the second-highest country with the most natural resources, just behind Russia. 
  • Its resources have an estimated value of $45 trillion, with leading resources including coal, copper, and gold. 
  • For coal, the US is number one for reserves, with an estimated 250 billion tonnes
  • It is the fifth-highest gold producer in the world, behind China, Russia, Australia, and Canada, with a yearly production rate of approximately 186 tonnes.

With such incredible figures and facts, it got us thinking, what significant historical events got the ball rolling into turning the industry into the powerhouse it is today? So let's take a step back in time and look at three important events in the history of mining. 

Significant Events in the History of Mining in the US

California Gold Rush

A significant event in the history of mining in the US was the California Gold Rush, which was sparked by the discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in 1848 by James Wilson Marshall. Marshall, a carpenter originally from New Jersey, later recalled the historic discovery 'it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold.'  

Word eventually got out despite Marshall trying to keep the discovery under wraps. By June 1848, businesses and shops near San Francisco were almost empty, as around 75% of the male population abandoned the city to search for gold. Did you know miners extracted more than 750,000 pounds of gold during the gold rush? 

As news of the discovery spread, it started what became the largest mass migration in US history. In March 1848, there were around 157,000 people in California, which comprised of 150,000 Native Americans, 6,500 with Spanish or Mexican backgrounds, and less than 800 non-native Americans. Less than two years later, following the mass influx of settlers after the gold rush, the non-native population increased to more than 100,000. By the mid-1950s, there were more than 300,000 arrivals. Along with these new arrivals came money. The newfound wealth for the region accelerated it to statehood, and California became the 31st state in the Union.

Richmond Coalfield

The Richmond Coalfield is located west of Richmond, Virginia, and extends across several counties, including Amelia, Goochland, and Chesterfield.  

In 1701, French Huguenots who settled in the Manakintown area first discovered coal. However, it wasn't until 1748 that the first coal production began when 45 tonnes were mined that year. The Richmond Coalfield was the first commercial coalfield to start operation in the US. By the 18th century, the mine was producing coal shipped to New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. 

However, the rise of coalfields in Appalachia, particularly the Pocahontas coalfield, mixed with increasing difficulties in mining at the Richmond site, meant that it eventually closed in 1927. In its lifespan, the total production of the coalfield was 7,330,000 tonnes. 

As the first commercial coalfield, Richmond started the ball rolling in developing a vast mining industry in the US, and the country has since become one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of coal.  

Keweenaw Peninsula Copper Rush

Primitive copper mining activity dates back as far as 7,000 years ago when native people mined copper for tools, fish hooks, beads, and bracelets. It is the only site in the US where evidence of prehistoric copper mining has been found. 

Fast forward to the 19th century and the release of the 'Copper Report' by Douglass Houghton, a highly respected geologist. The report discussed the extent of the existence of copper in the region, and the news soon spread across the country. This triggered a migration or 'rush' to the Peninsula of fortune-seeking miners.  

The rush led to opening the first successful mine in the US, the Cliff mine. Located in the now abandoned town of Clifton, the Cliff was the most productive copper mine in the US from 1845 to 1854. Copper mining ran until 1887, and its total production was 38.2 million tonnes. Production was so rife in Michigan in this period that in 1869, it produced 95% of the country's copper.  


While a short-lived venture, the copper rush and the opening of the Cliff mine provided the kick-start for copper mining in the US, it has since become one of the biggest producers of the resource in the world, as we will discover next. 

Top Mining Resources in the US

With the US being one the largest mining industries in the world and playing such a vital role in the success of the national economy, let’s next look at three of the country’s top mined resources. We will discover the resources' history, their locations, and their production levels. 


There has been a long history of coal mining in the US, and it has the largest proven coal reserves in the world. As discussed earlier, coal fueled the Industrial Revolution in the northern US in the 1700s and 1800s, which helped give birth to modern America. 

So, how many coal mines are in the US? Despite its rich history, the number of coal mines in the US is falling. In 2000 there were 2,124 active coal mines, to 970 active mines in 2021. 

However, the coal industry in the US is still very robust. In 2021, the US produced approximately 557 million tonnes of coal, with 62% of this coal production coming from surface mines. This production means that the US is in the top 5 coal producers globally, alongside China, India, Australia, and Indonesia. 

Furthermore, the industry employs more than 330,000 coal mining jobs. Coal also generated $25 billion in sales and paid $10 billion in direct wages.   

Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state in the US, producing 41% of the country's coal. Unsurprisingly, seven of the ten largest coal mines in the US are based in Wyoming. 


While copper mining in the US dates back to the late 1800s, it wasn't until the 20th century that advancements in open-pit mining and the flotation process opened the door to larger-scale mining. These advancements made the US the leading country in copper production halfway through the 20th century. 

Today, the US sits fourth in the top five copper producers in the world, behind Chile, Peru, and China, and in front of Australia.  

The majority of the country's copper production comes from the following states:

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Nevada
  • Missouri 
  • Montana
  • Michigan  

Fifteen of the mines in these states account for 99% of the country's total copper production. 

 The US copper reserves are the sixth largest in the world at around 51 million metric tonnes. Incredibly, the country's copper reserves have increased by 400% since 1952 due to new copper discoveries and the advancement of mining technologies.  

The US is also ranked in the top ten exporters of copper in the global market, mainly in the form of concentrates, ores, and refined copper.  

If you'd like to read more about copper, discover our recent fascinating blog, where we explore the environmental and economic benefits of copper mining. 


Gold mining in the US has a rich history since it was first discovered on Reed Farm in North Carolina in 1799. However, it wasn't until 1848 that the industry really took off when gold nuggets were found in the Sacramento Valley in California, now known as the 'golden state.'

In 2022, the US produced an estimated 170 tonnes of gold. It currently has the fourth largest gold-holding reserves in the world, behind Australia, Russia, and South Africa. An estimated 14,879 people are working in gold mining jobs in the US.  

So, where are gold mines in the USA? The top five gold-producing states are as follows:

  1. Nevada 
  2. Alaska 
  3. Colorado
  4. California 
  5. Arizona 

Nevada is one of the largest sources of gold worldwide, producing 78% US gold and 5% global gold production.

Three of the Largest Mines in the US

The US is home to some of the largest mines in the world. These mines are vital to the local and national economies and provide extensive mining jobs to the talent market. But what are the largest mines in the US? Here are the largest mines from the US that produce three of their top mining resources, coal, copper, and gold. 

1. Bingham Canyon - Copper

Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Oquirrh Mountains is the Bingham Canyon Mine or Kennecott copper mine, as it is known to the locals. It is the biggest man-made excavation and the deepest open pit in the world. 

Owned by Rio Tinto, a powerhouse in the mining industry, the mine is 1200 meters deep and estimated to hold approximately 19 million tons of copper across 1900 acres of land. The mined copper accounts for 25% of the copper produced in the US. 

The Bingham Canyon mine currently has a workforce of approximately 2,500 people.  

The mine is currently experiencing significant investment and plans to secure its future. In December 2019, Rio Tinto approved a $1.5 billion investment to be made over the following six years, allowing the mine to extend its operations until 2032.

The mine also became the first mine in the world to receive the Copper Mark award. Copper Mark is the first and only current program for responsible production in the copper industry. For the mine to achieve this award, it was assessed for more than 30 criteria covering labour and working conditions, the environment, business, human rights, community, and governance categories. 

2. GoldStrike Mine - Gold and Silver

Based in Nevada, the Goldstrike Mine is the world's 10th largest mine. Since first commencing operations in 1975, the mine has been responsible for producing over 44 million ounces of gold and 80 thousand ounces of silver. 

Owned by the world's largest gold mining company, Barrick Gold, the mine operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

It forms part of a larger group of mines owned by Barrick called the Nevada Gold Mines (NGM). Other mines in the group include Cortez Gold Mine and Turquoise Ridge. Here are some key facts that highlight the importance of NGM for Nevada:

  • NGM produces two-thirds of all of Nevada's gold. 
  • Contributes $2.35 billion to Nevada's economy. 
  • Provides over 7,000 gold mining jobs with an average annual wage of $80,000.
  • 90% of employees believe that gold mining jobs are well-paid. 

3. North Antelope Rochelle - Coal

Based in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, the North Antelope Rochelle is the world's largest coal mine. The mine is estimated to contain more than 1.7 billion tonnes of recoverable coal.  

Owned and operated by Peabody Energy, it was originally split into two mines, North Antelope, which opened in 1983, and Rochelle opened in 1985. 1n 1999, the two mines were merged, becoming the single operation it is today. 

Did you know that in 2019 the mine, directly and indirectly, produced an incredible $2.3 billion in economic benefits? Furthermore, the mine produces 12% of the total coal produced in the US. It is expected to remain in operation until 2047 and remains vital to the future of coal mining in the US.

Three Senior Mining Jobs Leading the US Industry

The growth of the US mining industry has meant that it has gone beyond the traditional views of working in mining. Rather than just miners working down the shafts, as we always picture when thinking of mining, talented senior leaders are in high demand to drive the industry into the future. Here we take a look at three roles that are playing a pivotal role in leading US mining.

 To explore senior mining roles further, discover our dedicated page

1. Mining Engineer

Mining engineers play a vital role in the industry as they assess a potential mining location's safety, feasibility, and productivity. Once the location has been chosen, they plan and manage the extraction of deposits from the surface and underground. During mining production, engineers continuously assess methods of optimising the extraction of these deposits for increased productivity and financial return.  

Key responsibilities of the role include: 

  • Create and review design concepts to ensure effective and safe mining practices.
  • Monitoring day-to-day operational challenges to assist in developing and completing schedules to reach forecasted targets.
  • Lead risk assessment and safety management plan development. 
  • Organise and secure mining contracts with contractors and monitor their work in mining operations. 
  • Continuous development and review of mining processes to grow the mined resource. 

Mining engineers are required to hold a degree in relevant fields such as mining engineering, civil engineering, or geology. Engineers are also expected to have critical skills such as high problem-solving and analytical skills, managerial and interpersonal skills, and strong technical skills. 

2. Vice President of Exploration

A vice president of exploration works closely with the CEO and COO to plan, design, and implement a mining company's exploration and development activities. They play a critical role in the future growth and success of the company. 

 Key Responsibilities of a vice president of exploration include the following:

  • Planning and leading a mining company's exploration activities. 
  • Achieving exploration goals within budget. 
  • Identifying exploration opportunities that are consistent with a company's strategic plan.
  • Assisting in the negotiations for the acquisition of these opportunities. 
  • Commissioning and supervision of external contractors and consultants.
  • Communicating and coordinating with stakeholders in achieving exploration goals. 
  • Promoting and fostering health and safety and environmental responsibilities across the exploration process.

Vice presidents need to hold an undergraduate or advanced degree in geology. Furthermore, they are to possess around fifteen years of relevant experience within the mining industry, that includes in an upper management role. 

3. Account Manager

Account managers are expected to create and nurture deep and meaningful long-term relationships with clients across the mining sector to understand their business needs and offer tailored solutions. 

Account manager responsibilities include the following: 

  • Create and develop robust relationships with new and existing customers. 
  • Act as the primary point of contact for clients on allocated accounts. 
  • Maintain a deep understanding of the technology to increase revenue by broadening and strengthening contract scope. 
  • Provide feedback to internal team members on potential product improvements. 
  • Manage effective delivery of contract scope.
  • Creating and developing sales opportunities for mining product lines with assigned clients.

Account managers are expected to have several years of account management experience in the mining industry or working with technical products (this will vary for each employer). Furthermore, they must also possess skills such as strong communication, presentation ability, and confidence in negotiation.

4. Principle Process Engineer

A Principal Process Engineer focuses on the analysis of company processes to establish any potential areas of improvement and highlight strong areas of efficiency.

Principle Process Engineer responsibilities include the following:

  • Monitoring
  • Trouble shooting
  • Optimization
  • Improve product 
  • Recovery and quality
  • Process control
  • Production planning
  • Process optimization
  • Design calculations
  • Design criteria

To succeed in a role as Principal Process Engineer, you must have strong analytical, technical and organisational skills.

Looking for the Latest Mining Jobs?

As we have seen, the US mining industry is vast and has some of the largest mines and reserves in the world. As a result, talented senior-level professionals are in high demand to continue to drive the success of this industry well into the future. 

As a specialist mining recruitment agency, we are passionate about identifying and placing high-quality senior-level talent in mining jobs across the US. In addition, we are dedicated to connecting exceptional candidates to trusted and respected mining companies across the US. 

If you want more information about the latest mining jobs, visit our dedicated mining, metals, and minerals page, and discover your next career.