Innovation and Innovators

In a previous blog, I mentioned Bill and I were taking a break after the Grand Opening of enCore Energy’s  Rosita Uranium Plant… which by the way has already shipped off uranium to its utility customers. So off we went to Telluride, a wonderful little ski town with an amazing history of mining and innovation. I love to ski and never get enough time on the hills. But this is not a story of a ski trip though it was fun, almost as much fun as just sitting in the winter sun with Bill and our dogs.

Telluride in 1880s

Telluride is well known for stunning scenery, skiing, golfing and biking, but most important – Telluride came into existence in the 1800’s due to mining. It turned into a place that led the nation and the world in innovation, thanks to Mr. Nunn and his vision.  It’s a wonderful story of innovation that brought the world new technology due to the need for viable economic industry (mining) at a gold mine in Telluride. A story that involved the leaders in American innovation of the day, including Nicola Tesla, George Westinghouse, Otto Mears  and LL Nunn to name a few. All of this in a remote little mining town that became the first town in the United States powered by A/C (alternating current) electricity –now known as electricity in our homes. Homes where we gratefully enjoy the benefits of an innovation brought to you by the courtesy of mining.

Born in 1853, L.L. Nunn was an innovator who studied law at Harvard and moved to Telluride in 1890, established a bank and owned a gold mine. Nunn had originally used coal to power the mine, but it was not a viable power source and hurt the economics of the operation. He needed a new solution.  Nunn, working with the financial support and horsepower of George Westinghouse, financed the development and construction of world’s first A/C power plant used for industrial purposes (mining). This plant, still visible up in the mountains of Telluride, later became part of the Nunn’s Telluride Power Company which would later become part of Utah Power and Light, and would lead to the design the Ontario Power Plant in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Smuggler-Union hydroelectric power plant at Bridal Veil Falls, southeast of Telluride

To staff the power plants, Nunn created a work study program called the Telluride Institute, where upon completion of the course the graduates furthered their education through scholarships. Many of these students went to Cornell University and resided at Telluride House, which Nunn founded and exists to this day. Alumni and faculty of Telluride House include many academics, politicians, scientists, World Bank presidents and Nobel laureates in Physics.

And as I sit in this beautiful ski town, I wonder what it was like to arrive here in the 1800’s (probably via Otto Mears railway), whether as a prospector, businessperson or a miner. The rough and tumble town has seen many moments in history from bank robbers (Butch Cassidy) to innovators (Nunn and Tesla). It has provided good jobs for miners, tax revenue and infrastructure for the country and the world AND it has helped educate our future leaders.

It must have been overwhelming when they showed up in that little remote town, yet they survived, prospered and then transformed our lives. This is what mining does for the world, it brings benefits from power generation, essential minerals, developments that enhance our lives and creates programs that build future world leaders. We need to celebrate mining a bit more while we enjoy the secondary industries like skiing and that brew pub balcony in the sun.


About the Author

Janet Sheriff

An innovative entrepreneur, Janet brings her extensive experience in all aspects of strategic planning, management, indigenous affairs and communications to start ups, new ventures and the mining & exploration sectors. Janet focuses her entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills and vision to create new opportunities, award-winning innovative programs and new ways of conducting business. Her strong commitment to community engagement, sustainability and inclusion provides her the proven ability to work effectively and respectfully in cross-cultural environments.