TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey has an official state bird, two state foods, and even a microbe, but not an official mineral.
That is likely about to change. Since 2015, Sussex County legislators and schoolchildren have pushed to declare a state mineral. On Thursday, the Assembly passed a bill (S1727/A3393) that designates Franklinite the official mineral of the state of New Jersey.
“Franklinite is as unique to New Jersey as the Pine Barrens are, and was the driving force behind the state’s thriving mining industry in the 19th and 20th centuries,” Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, said. “The discovery and mining of this rare ore built Franklin. Its importance can’t be overstated.”
In 1819, French geologist Pierre Berthier discovered Franklinite, a reddish-brown or black zinc ore found only in Franklin and Ogdensburg boroughs and named for Benjamin Franklin. More than 33 million tons of zinc were mined over 250 years, and used in products ranging from sunblock to car tires, to cosmetics and brass. More than 350 minerals were found in the areas two mines, 19 of them found nowhere else on Earth.
According to an oral history shared in the Daily Record back in 2015, driven by the demand for that rare ore, Franklin became a booming mining town for 60 years. However, after the ore was exhausted, the Franklin Mine eventually shut down in 1954, and Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensburg in 1986.
The memory of this industry and the contributions it made not only to the region but the entire state are kept alive through the efforts of Franklin Mineral Museum, the Sterling Hill Mining Museum, and the Franklin-Ogdensburg Mineralogical Society.
“There are too many people to thank individually who helped get this bill to the Governor’s desk. But I need to mention it was originally Jeff Osowski of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum that built the momentum for this years ago, Bill Truran who took a keen interest in organizing support when he became the Sussex County Historian in 2019, and the students in Franklin, Ogdensburg, Hardyston and Sparta who kept writing letters to get this out of committee and onto the Assembly floor,” Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex), the Assembly bill’s other sponsor, observed. “Parker and I are grateful for the community involvement from our local elected officials to our schools that has led to this recognition of the giant contributions little Sussex County has made to the state’s history and economy.”
Sen. Steven Oroho’s bill passed in the Senate in October 2022. The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for signing.