A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.
The Riverton Museum has opened a new exhibit about the uranium industry in Wyoming. The exhibit describes the timeline for the discovery of uranium in the Gas Hills and Jeffery City. On display, are various instruments used in the mining process and objects discussing the process of mining uranium.
On September 13th, 1953, Neil and Maxine McNeice headed to the Gas Hills east of Riverton, Wyoming on a prospecting trip. Using a Geiger counter that Maxine has given Neil for Christmas in 1952, the McNeices discovered uranium ore in the Gas Hills. The McNeices had a verbal agreement to be business partners with Lowell Morfeld if either party found uranium during a prospecting trip.
Together with Morfeld, the McNeices filed for mining claims and founded the Lucky Mc Uranium Corporation. The corporation was named after the ‘lucky’ McNeices.
Settlements grew around the Gas Hills soon after the discovery of uranium. By the 1960 census, Gas Hills was listed as the third-largest town in Fremont County, with a population of 1,129 people. After, the election of Mayor Wilma Corbett in 1955, many improvements were made to the town of Riverton using money brought to the town by the uranium industry.
One of the improvements made under the administration of Mayor Corbett was the paving of the roads in town and out to the Gas Hills. As the roads to the Gas Hills improved, the workers began moving to Riverton, which reduced the population of the town in the Gas Hills.
In 1960, Lucky Mc and Utah Construction merged. Utah Construction was a highly regarded construction company who had taken part in the construction of the Hoover Dam, the Alaska Highway, and the tunnels in the Wind River Canyon. Together, Lucky Mc and Utah Construction began expanding the uranium mining operation in the Gas Hills into the Shirley Basin.
Later in 1976, Utah Construction merged with General Electric. After the merger, the mining division located in Wyoming was renamed to Pathfinder Mines in 1978. In 1982, the Pathfinder Mines division was sold to COGEMA, the atomic power subsidiary of the French government.
Once the McNeices’ discovered uranium in the Gas Hills, other companies moved to Wyoming to begin mining and milling operations. Two such companies were Federal American Partners and Union Carbide.
Federal American Partners was founded by Irv Marshak and Cotter Furguson. The company began as Gas Hills Uranium Company, Inc. In 1957, the Gas Hills Uranium Company partnered with Federal Uranium Company and built a mill in the Gas Hills. Later in 1967, Gas Hills Uranium Company changed their name to American Uranium and became known as Federal American Partners.
Union Carbide operated mines and mills at the north end of the Gas Hills. The mill operated by Union Carbide opened in 1960 and was operated by a subsidiary called Globe Uranium. Union Carbide’s uranium division was later named Umetco. In 1984, the Umetco Gas Hills mill was shut down.
Inspired by the discovery of uranium in the Gas Hills, a restaurant owner named Bob Adams from Rawlins began prospecting for uranium. In March 1955, Adams founded the Lost Creek Oil and Uranium Company. After the company raised nearly $300,000 dollars they discovered uranium deposits near Crooks Gap.
In August of 1956, Adams decided to expand his company by building the first uranium processing mill in Wyoming after securing a contract with the Atomic Energy Commission.
Along with a mill Adams decided to build a town to provide housing and amenities for the miners and millworkers. The town was named Jeffery City after the most ambitious investor, C.W. Jeffery. The town and the mill were dedicated on September 1957. In 1959, Bob Adams changed the company name to Western Nuclear.
Jeffery City grew and shrank with the uranium industry. In the 1970s, the town population reached its peak of 5,000. By 1971, Phelps Dodge bought Western Nuclear from Bob Adams and by 1972 Adams had acquired Energy Fuels, which operated the largest coal mine in Colorado. In 1986, Phelps Dodge sold Western Nuclear which has since moved from owner to owner.
Next up for the Fremont County Museums
September 14th, 2 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Tin Candle Lantern Making”
Baily Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series
September 14th, 1-3 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “The Apple City Festival”
Baily Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series
September 19th, 6:30 pm at the Riverton Museum, “The History of Uranium in Fremont County”
Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series
Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.
Photo: Arial Photo of Lucky MC Mine, Courtesy of Riverton Museum