One of the most conspicuous resources of Chile is given by mineral products, whose value was 1,178,000,000 pesos in 1913, and exceeded two billion in 1929. Of this total, about 55% is given by saltpeter, 35% from copper and less than 10% from all other products combined. This complex is divided as follows: 52.4% to the province of Antofagasta; 23.4% to the province of Tarapacá; 1.4% to the province of Colchagua; 6.4% to the province of Atacama; 2.7% to the province of Concepción.
According to ebizdir, the basic mineral product of Chilean remains therefore the nitrate of soda (NaNO 3) or saltpetre, designated on the market with the name of nitrate of Chile.. The nitrate region is confined to a strip of territory between the 19th and 26th degree of latitude S. and arranged along the 70th degree of longitude W.: it is on average 70 km away. from the Pacific coast. Its maximum extension in length reaches 700 km., While the width varies from 5 to 90 km. The main basins or nitrieri districts already recognized and under exploitation are: that of Tarapacá cultivated since 1830, those of Tocopilla, Antofagasta, Aguas Blancas, Taltal, administratively dependent on the province of Antofagasta. At the end of 1929 the number of workers working in the five mining districts mentioned was 99,103 distributed in 68 factories.
The nitrate area is a desert. Despite these unfavorable circumstances it developed rapidly giving rise to important and populated cities, railways, ports. Nitrate occurs in the form of efflorescence and deposits: the latter are the only ones currently being cultivated. They consist of several layers; what contains the nitrate of soda is the so-called caliche, whose power usually does not exceed 2 meters. The lithological composition and physical structure of the caliche are extremely variable: the most common are those of a puddinga, with calcareous nodules of mediocre hardness. The color can vary from white to yellow, brown, violet, black, etc. Caliche contains as main elements: nitrate, chloride, sodium sulphate; as secondary elements potassium chloride, calcium sulphate and nitrate, magnesium chloride and nitrate, various iodine salts.
The problem of the origin of nitrates continues to be much debated. The most accredited opinion is the one that wants them to derive from the decomposition of plant materials (algae) and animal materials (guano) in the lagoons now without communication with the sea. The unequal solubility of nitrate and sodium chloride explains the partial separation of the two salts. The solubility also varies rapidly with the temperature of the water and the methods of processing the caliche for the purification of the nitrate are based precisely on these differences in solubility.
A by-product of this process is iodine. Since the early years of the last century, nitrate had been recognized in the Pampas east of Iquique and was used for the manufacture of the powder. Recognizing its fertilizing qualities, the Peruvian government tried to limit its export to protect its guano from this competition. Despite the tiredness (trade monopoly) established to reduce production, the nitrate extraction industry was established between 1860 and 1878 in the pampas of Tamarugal. One of the consequences of the discovery of saltpetre and the usefulness of its application (mid-last century) as a fertilizer was the war in the Pacific which, if it paralyzed the industry of the province of Tarapacá for a moment, provoked by the Chilean administration the suppression of the estanco and therefore the preponderance of this province in production. The oldest production area, which still supplies more than a third of the total, is the Tarapacá pampas where the deposits form an uninterrupted zone, about 200 km long.
Chile is attributed a nitrate supply of 240 million tons in the fields under exploitation alone, from which only 60 million tons have been extracted so far. It is also estimated that 480 million tons exist in unexplored land. The export value of chylene nitrates reached 75% of the total export value before the war and 60% in 1922, 55% in 1925, 50% in 1928. In general the volume and value of nitrate exports they were very erratic after 1914.
Nitrate from Chile is exported all over the world. Annual world consumption is calculated at 22 million metric tons of which 580,000 belong to Italy. The nitrate industry rests on a strong organization. The association between the producers regulates the prices and distributes the production among the different companies. On this basis, nitrates in the years 1914, 1919, 1921 and 1922 had a profound impact on national life. The Chilean economy is based almost exclusively on the export of mineral products, especially nitrates. Export rights on nitrates are the main source of chylene finances; the reduction in nitrate sales is reflected in a drop in the exchange rate. The closure of the mines and factories leads to repatriation to the central provinces of a part of the working population of Tarapacá and Antofagasta, in order to determine a crisis of unemployment that affects the whole country. In fact, the saltpetre industry entered a crisis after the war: the causes are very complex, but the main one consists of the enormous increase in world production of synthetic nitrogen during and after the war. The result of this fight between nitrates and nitrogen was a sharp contraction in the production and export of sodium nitrate, with considerable damage to the general Chilean economy. The phenomenon was also observed and followed with interest by the English nation, which has invested considerable capital in the nitrous industry and owns and operates a third of the Chilean factories.
The gravity of the situation has prompted the government and the companies concerned to go into the negotiations for the solution of the crisis. In 1930, a £ 75 million capital company was established between the government and the saltpeter producers, half of which is owned by the government and half by the producers.
The shipment of nitrates before 1919 was carried out only in certain seasons (September and January). Shipments are now more evenly divided throughout the period of the year as a result of market irregularities and stocks are instead built up in consuming countries. In some of the most important salnitreras there are parallel to the saltpeter workshops those for iodine which give a strong income despite the fact that the process is very expensive and the export duty to be paid by the manufacturer is very high. Maximum production was reached in 1916 with 1,200,550 kg. Production in 1923 only touched 417,078 kg.
Among the salts, borax is still important, half of which is exported to England, a quarter to America and a quarter to Germany. National industries make no use of it. The exploited fields gave a maximum production of 34,000 tons in 1923. Small quantities of potash chloride are still extracted.
Guano is an important fertilizer for Chile, whose lands require nitrogen fertilizers ; natural fertilizer produced from the feces of the “paynios” and “pajacos lobos”, of alkas, cormorants and other marine birds that abound in species near Mejillones and Pisagua.
The ‘ gold gives its name to the first chilena mining era that began at the time degl’Inca. During the sec. XVIII Chile produced on average 15,000 kg. of gold per year, occupying the third place in the world, while today in front of the abundant half million kg. extracted in the world, Chile is placed at one of the last places, with a production that does not reach 1000 kg. This production comes from places enormously distant from each other: from the northern veins near Taltal (El Guanaco), Chañaral (Inca de oro), Copiapó (Tierra Amarilla), from the southern coasts and rivers, while the distant deposits of the territory of Magellano and Tierra del Fuego seem to be exhausted. The value of the gold extracted fluctuates between 3 and 4 million pesos per year.
The ‘ silver characterized the second mining era. The great mines of the provinces of Atacama (Caracoles, Tres Puntas, Chañarcillo) and Coquimbo (Concoriaco, Arqueros) had their period of greatest splendor in the century. XIX.
In the world production of 7-8 million kg., The Chilean one in 1925-26 reached 101,000 kg: later it did not even reach half.
The copper gives its name to the third epoch of Chilean mining development: ours. Especially in the post-war period, production took on grandiose proportions, thanks to the impetus of North American capital: while in 1913 production was 42,000 tons, it rose to 192,000 in 1925; to 286,000 in 1928; to 300,000 in 1929. The mines of Chuquicamata, Potrerillos, El Teniente, Chagras, Naltagua, Gatico are currently in full operation. Immense and almost inexhaustible deposits are found in the department of Chanaral, in the province of Atacama, in a very arid area, about 3300 meters above sea level. At the end of 1929, 25,500 workers were employed in this industry, of which 7,250 miners and 13,000 workers in metallurgical plants. After saltpetre, copper is Chile’s second wealth; Chilean copper production occupies second place in the world (after the United States), with 200-250,000 tons per year (world total approximately 1.5 million tons). The export is mainly aimed at the United States.
The iron, of which deposits of extraordinary richness seem to exist, is for now extracted only from the coastal mountains of the provinces of Atacama and Coquimbo. The mines of Las Cardas between La Serena and Andacollo and those of Tofo and La Higuera not far from La Serena are rich in excellent iron, but progress in exploitation is slow, although uninterrupted. In fact, in 1913 the Chilean production of iron was 14,000 tons; with the impetus given by the war and after the war it rose to 1,234,000 tons in 1925 and in the following years progressively up to 1,525,000, for a value of 13 million pesos. It is worthy of the utmost attention that North Americans have gotten their hands on future needs and secured the richest deposits.
The coal industry employs about 11,000 workers in the exploitation of the various mines located in the provinces of Concepción and Valdivia, and in the territory of Magellano: the province of Concepción holds the primacy, where almost all Chilean coal is produced, centered in Arauco. Production was 1,283,000 tons in 1913 and 1,376,000 tons in 1928: the quantity is not enough and must be supplemented by imports from England, the United States, Australia. However, these imports are in sharp decline, in favor of very large oil imports.