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Strategic Metals Flashback – or Flash Forward?

Our Director of Research, Sandra Wirtz, unearthed this piece from the Time Magazine online archives  – “Strategic Metal: #1,” dateline October 13, 1941 – just weeks before Pearl Harbor.  It inspired me to do a little research on my own, with an eye toward our present-day approach to strategic metals.

With war raging in Europe, Time Magazine was reporting on U.S. demand for manganese, which was critical to steel manufacture.  Time noted that the U.S., at the time, was producing just 10 percent of its annual need from domestic mines – most of it as a by-product from a copper mine in Montana.

In 1941, our biggest foreign manganese supplier was Russia, providing 25 percent.  But Time observed that Nazi forces had just taken over a key mining region in Ukraine, interrupting Russian supply.  Fortunately – especially so few weeks from the Pearl Harbor attack – the U.S. had hoarded two years’ worth of manganese in the National Defense Stockpile.

Fast forward to present day:  America currently produces 0 percent of its annual Manganese usage. The last U.S. manganese mine stopped operating in 1970 – importing 100 percent, with our leading suppliers being South Africa, Gabon, and China.  Our U.S. stockpile has a “negative balance” (some sort of government accounting legerdemain seems at work here.  Let’s hope we don’t “owe” the U.S. stockpile some of the manganese we’re already not producing).

Hopefully, there’s not another Pearl Harbor on the horizon.  But then, that’s what we thought the day that Time Magazine hit the newsstands on October 13, 1941.