August 1959 was a difficult time for one North Arkansas community. The mine that had long been the focal point of the community of Cushman closed, forcing many men out of work and beginning a decline for the community as it struggled to find new ways of maintaining its economy. The cause for the collapse of one community’s economy was the mining of one almost unheard-of metal: manganese.
Manganese is a hard, brittle metal. It is almost always found combined with other elements. For centuries, it has been used to color glass. Manganese dioxide is often used in producing chemicals in laboratory experiments. Manganese was also found to be useful in coating metals to protect them from corrosion. Modern uses also include its use in batteries and another form of the metal is commonly employed in the circuit boards of various electronics products.
Manganese itself is also used in steel production, specifically for removing impurities such as sulfur and oxygen from steel to make a more durable product. In high concentrations, manganese steel increases the hardness of steel overall. Starting in World War I, manganese steel was used to make helmets for British and American infantry troops. As tanks began being employed by Allied armies, manganese became increasingly important for military use. Tanks, specifically tanks with steel reinforced by manganese compounds, became an essential part of the modern armed forces.
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