Philipp Deidesheimer

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

Phillip Deidesheimer was an important mining engineer who invented square-set timbering for the Comstock. The method of mine support became the international standard for decades.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

After Philipp Deidesheimer invented the square-set timbering method for the Comstock mines, he had his wife Matilda settled in Virginia City, becoming a fixture of society.

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

A cross section of Virginia City's Belcher Mine includes various images of mining technology. The square-set timbering method that became the hallmark of Comstock mining dominates the drawing.

Philipp Deidesheimer, the Comstock inventor of the square-set timber system, made deep hardrock mining a possibility throughout the world, thereby becoming a respected mining engineer. Deidesheimer was born to Jewish parents in Darmstadt, Hesse in 1832 before German unification. He attended the prestigious Freiburg School of Mines. At nineteen, the young mining engineer traveled to the California gold fields to work for several years. Eventually, he addressed one of the Comstock's most critical needs.

By 1860, miners found the Comstock Lode was dozens of feet wide in some places making it impossible for timbers to support caverns cleared of gold and silver ore. Seeking a solution, Ophir Mine director W. F. Babcock summoned Deidesheimer to Virginia City. The engineer arrived in November 1860. After about a month, he developed the famed square-set timber method.

With thick timbers of regular dimensions, carpenters could assemble Deidesheimer's series of cubes in any direction to support every underground situation. Unfortunately, he failed to patent his invention, and other mines adopted the system without payment. Deidesheimer's square-set timbers became an international standard for the next fifty years.

Because Deidesheimer's name commanded respect, mines quickly employed him. Unprofitable properties exploited his credibility to boost stock prices, and ultimately, he failed economically. He eventually relocated to Sierra City, California, where he continued as a mine supervisor. Deidesheimer died in 1916.

Further Reading

History of Nevada 1881. Ed. Myron Angel. Oakland, CA: Thompson and West, 1881.
Ronald M. James. The Roar and the Silence: A History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1998.
Eliot Lord. Comstock Mining and Miners. Washington, D.C.: General Printing Office, 1883.
Grant H. Smith. The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850-1920. Reno, NV: Nevada State Bureau of Mines and the Mackay School of Mines, 1943.
Otis E. Young. Philipp Deidesheimer, 1832-1916: Engineer of the Comstock. Series 57. Southern California Quarterly, Winter, 1975.

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