Thomas L. Pittman

(190 9- 1992)

Pittman portrait

Thomas L. Pittman @ Windy Craggy Deposit in Canada; circa 1984

Noted metallurgist and U.S. Bureau of Mines State Minerals Officer Thomas L. Pittman died in a taxi of a massive heart attack on November 3rd, 1992, while traveling from the Anchorage International Airport to the Sheraton Hotel to attend the annual Convention of the Alaska Miners Association. At the time of his death, he was the longest serving employee of the U.S. Bureau of Mines in Alaska.

Early Years

Pittman was born on December 19th, 1909 in Lewiston, Montana, where he spent his formative years. He earned B.S. and M.S Degrees in Metallurgy from the University of Washington in 1931 and 1933 respectively. In 1936, Tom married Pamelia Fergus Pittman. The couple would have three children.

After his formal education, Tom became a metallurgist for a number of companies active in Kenya, East Africa, Nevada, Montana, and Washington. His work in Africa included beneficiation analysis of both placer and lode mineral deposits. In 1957, after a twenty-plus year career in the private sector, he accepted a position with the U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) in Juneau, Alaska.

Career with the USBM

In 1958, as Alaska was preparing to enter into Statehood, the Territorial Department of Mines signed a formal agreement with the USBM for the mutual cooperative interchange of information, thus eliminating duplication of effort and achieving significant cost savings. As the new State was being formed, there was a free exchange between the USBM, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the newly forming State Department of Natural Resources. The AEC, which was focused on the search for radioactive elements, especially uranium, agreed to share information with the other agencies that was previously considered classified. As new data gathering roles evolved between State and Federal agencies, Tom Pittman became involved early in the acquisition of minerals information, a function he carried out for 34 years until his death in 1992. Pittman was involved in many field investigations for the USBM. Prior to 1970, Tom pursued numerous mineral examinations and was listed by the USBM as an Exploration Engineer. For years, many of his projects took place on Prince of Wales Island west of Ketchikan. He was involved in the evaluations of copper and iron-bearing deposits on the Kasaan Peninsula and at Copper Mountain on Hetta Inlet. The former are now considered Iron Oxide Gold Copper (IOGC) deposits, whereas the latter are classic metalliferous skarn deposits. He also worked on the copper-precious metal volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits at Niblack Anchorage and the Trocadero Bay-Twelve Mile Arm areas.

In 1980, AFOC Director John Mulligan formally appointed Tom Pittman the State Minerals Officer for the Bureau. In that role, he compiled information to be used in the Bureau's Annual Year Book summaries, and worked with various Alaska State officials. One of Tom's important achievement was acquiring the official company records of the Kennecott Copper Corporation for their time in Alaska from 1920-to-1942. These records are an invaluable source for mining activity information for about half of Kennecott's time in Alaska when their mines in the Wrangell Mountains and in Prince William Sound operated.

The writer remembers working with Tom Pittman during much of the 1980s, while compiling mineral exploration and production statistics for the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) Mineral Industry Summaries. Pittman was easy to work with and strongly supported the efforts of the State to acquire their own mineral industry exploration, development, and production information data bases. His openness with the sharing of mineral resource data formed a long and productive relationship between the USBM and State of Alaska government agencies. Pittman was particularly helpful with providing production statistics to the State from the sand and gravel and building stone industries. He also provided important information on the development and economic activities related to the poorly known, offshore barite mine near Petersburg in southeast Alaska operated by ChromalloyTM and other firms from 1963-to-1980. Throughout the years where the writer was involved with Tom until his untimely death, the sharing of data between ADNR and the USBM was reciprocal. Pittman was an important source of historical photographs from the Juneau Gold Belt, which were used in various State of Alaska publications.

Pittman sampling iron gossan at Glacier Bay

Tom Pittman sampling of an iron gossan at Glacier Bay, circa 1970s.
Photo Credit: David Carnes

During the Wilderness Act studies in southeast Alaska and the D-2 land investigations of the 1970s, Pittman became attached to various field studies conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Mines and U.S. Geological Survey, and completed much field work in Tracy Arm, Glacier Bay and in other areas being considered for wilderness status. He was chiefly a minerals sampler and metallurgist, and was involved in beneficiation studies of known mineral deposits; for example, the Brady Glacier and Yakobi Island nickel- copper deposits. During field investigations, Tom worked with U.S. Bureau of Mines Mining Engineer and close friend Art Kimball aboard the U.S. Geological Survey vessel Don J. Miller.

Tom Pittman worked with the Haines-Skagway mining district investigations headed up by USBM project managers Jan Still and Bob Hoekzema. The writer was also connected to this study through an agreement of cooperation between the USBM and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys; Wyatt Gilbert was the State's representative.

In 1984, one of us (Bundtzen) accompanied Pittman on a visit to the very large, stratiform, massive sulfide, Windy Craggy copper cobalt gold deposit in British Columbia, Canada; across the border from the Porcupine Mining district in Alaska. Pittman reviewed the various physical aspects of the massive sulfide mineralization from the point of view of a metallurgist, and made recommendations to employees of then operator Geddes Resources concerning beneficiation and possible environmental issues associated with the deposit

Tom in SE Alaska

Tom Pittman, second from left, during field work in SE Alaska
Photo credit: Joe Kurtak

Other Interests

In his later years, Pittman was considered by many to be exceptionally fit for his age and often outdistanced many younger colleagues on numerous field excursions. His three primary interests outside of his career with the USBM was his wife and family, down-hill skiing, and amateur radio. During the 1960s, Pittma was instrumental in establishing Juneau's power ski tow on Douglas Island. Each weekend, he would pack a car battery three miles up into the ski basin. Then he would use it to start the old engine that powered the rope tow. Tom then served as operator of the rope tow. His pioneer efforts formed part of the backbone of the local Juneau Ski Club. During the 1970s, as the Juneau City and Borough contemplated a more formalized ski area, Tom was instrumental in planning and installing what became the Eaglecrest Ski area, which first opened in 1975. Tom taught 'beginner' skiing lessons to many novice skiers and was on the local ski patrol.

To honor his pioneering efforts, one of the mountain ridges in the area was formally named 'Pittman Ridge'. Today, the Eaglecrest Ski area has four double-lift chairlifts that access 640 acres of ski slopes, with 34 marked alpine runs, two Nordic skiing loops, and access to world class back country. Olympic down hill ski medalist Hilary Lindh grew up skiing at the Eaglecrest ski area.


At the time of his death, Tom Pittman was a Director Emeritus of the Alaska Miners Association; there were eleven (11) other emeritus directors active at that time. As Wes Moulton would relate:

"Tom Pittman was a real gentleman in all senses of the word. They just don't make many like him anymore."
Many others share similar sentiments about Thomas L. Pittman.

Written by Tom Bundtzen and David Carnes, with contributions from Robert Hoekzema and Joe Kurtak.

Pittman Ridge at Eagle Crest Ski Area

Eaglecrest ski area, Douglas Island, Southeast Alaska; Pittman Ridge in the right foreground

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