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The Strange Blowpipe 19th Century Miners Used to Analyze Ore

•, By Greg Miller
Get it wrong, and your company is going to waste a lot of time and money hunting for gold that's not there?or worse yet, miss out on the mother lode.

Not to worry, though, you've totally got this. You grab your trusty blowpipe kit, much like the gorgeous set above, and get to work.

Blowpipes have been used for centuries to identify which elements are present in a mineral sample, says William Jensen, an emeritus chemistry professor at the University of Cincinnati. In fact, Jensen says, blowpipes were used in the original discoveries of about a dozen elements, from nickel (in 1751) to indium (in 1863). This kit, produced around 1870, could be used for that type of analysis, but it could also be used to figure out how much of a particular element was in a sample of ore.

Portable kits like this were first developed in the 1830s at the Freiberg Mining Academy in Germany, Jensen says. "These kits would allow someone to set up a table and do the assay right at the mine site instead of taking samples back to the lab."

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