(1883 - 1941)
Livingston Wernecke, undated
Photo Credit: John Mulligan Collection
Livingston Wernecke, explorer, scientist, and mine executive, was born January 16, 1883 in Livingston, Montana and named for that Rocky Mountain city. Wernecke graduated with honors in mining engineering and geology from the University of Washington School of Mines in 1906.
Wernecke started his mining career as a draftsman, and later as a construction engineer at the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company plant in Ely, Nevada. He was chief engineer for the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad from 1910 to 1912.
From 1913 to 1917, Wernecke was chief geologist for the Treadwell Mine. During that period he investigated causes of subsidence in the mine and wrote a lengthy report with a recommendation of a 40-month plan of action on controlling the problem. The Treadwell Board of Directors approved his recommendations in September of 1916, but there was not enough time to fully implement it before the mine flooded on April 21, 1917. While investigating the cave-in and flooding of the mine, he was the last man to be lifted out of the mine.
During the four years following the flooding of the Treadwell mine, Wernecke examined hundreds of prospects by dog sled and aircraft throughout Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon on behalf of the company. His search led to the development of the Nixon Forks mine near McGrath, which he managed from 1919 to 1925.
From 1918 until the time of his death, Wernecke was the chief geologist for the Alaska Juneau mine, vice-president and manager of the Treadwell Yukon Mining Company. In 1921, on behalf of the Treadwell Yukon Company, he purchased and operated the northernmost silver mine in the world in the Mayo district of the Yukon. It was there that he pioneered aviation in northern mining and the use of tractors to haul ore over snow. Much of Wernecke's early flying was over territory never before explored by air or ground. His notes and photographs taken on flights east from Point Barrow into the vast reaches of the Canadian arctic were turned over to the Canadian government, which hailed them as valuable contributions to the knowledge of its geography.
In 1929, Wernecke's geologic report predicted that a rich ore-body would be found at depth in the northern half of the A-J Mine. His prediction came true and led to the most profitable years in the mine's history.
A co-founder of the mine's loan fund for needy students at the University of Washington, Wernecke lectured there many times on visits while traveling between his Berkeley home and his northern interests.
In his home in Berkeley, California he built an advanced scientific laboratories, which included a rock cutter and thin-section grinder of his own design.
On October 21, 1941 Wernecke and his pilot Charles Gropstis, while returning from an investigation of the Riverside Tungsten mine near Hyder, Alaska, perished in a plane crash on the shore of Millbank Sound, British Columbia.
Equally at home in the boardrooms of eastern corporations and in the arctic wilds, Wernecke died as he would have wanted to die, his friends believed - quickly, and in the wilderness where he won so many victories in life.
Written by Charles C. Hawley and John Mulligan, 1999