The Basic Magnesium Inc. (BMI) Records and Photographs (1933-1965) document the planning, construction, and management of the BMI magnesium manufacturing plants near present-day Henderson in Clark County, Nevada and a magnesium mining operation in Gabbs, Nye County, Nevada. Materials include chronological reports, press releases, telegrams, budgets, building diagrams, maps, and black-and-white photographic prints. The records document employee housing and infrastructure projects, magnesium production statistics, and employee data. The photographic prints, which include many aerial images, provide a visual record of the construction of the plant, the mining operation, and the associated support facilities and employee housing.
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Scope and Contents Note
The Basic Magnesium Inc. (BMI) Records and Photographs (1933-1965) document the planning, construction, and management of the BMI magnesium manufacturing plants near present-day Henderson in Clark County, Nevada and a magnesium mining operation in Gabbs, Nye County, Nevada. Materials consist of chronological reports produced by BMI that include correspondence about the formation of the plant, the contract with the Federal Defense Plant Corporation, press releases, telegrams, budgets, building diagrams, and maps. Also included is a 1943 BMI foreman's manual, a history of BMI written by the BMI engineering department, magnesium production statistics, site plans for employee housing areas and employee data.
Additional materials include a 1933 report about magnesium prospects, mining plans, and site sketches in Stanislaus and Kern counties, California; Nye and Clark counties, Nevada; and the Northwest Magnesite Company operations in Chewelah, Washington. Also included are photocopies of Las Vegas and nationwide newspaper articles, promotional materials, flyers, and magazine articles pertaining to BMI from 1942 to 1944 and a small quantity of personal correspondence, mainly to or from Howard P. Eells, president of BMI from 1941 to 1942.
The bulk of the materials are black-and-white photographic prints that depict aerial views of BMI, the construction of various buildings, excavation, and interior construction at the BMI Henderson site. A portion of the photographs also show the BMI Oxide Plant in Gabbs, Nevada.
Collection is open for research.
Materials in this collection may be protected by copyrights and other rights. See Reproductions and Use on the UNLV Special Collections and Archives website for more information about reproductions and permissions to publish.
Material is arranged by material type.
Biographical / Historical Note
Basic Magnesium, Inc. (BMI) formed in June 1941 as a joint venture between Basic Refractories, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio and Magnesium Elektron, Limited of England. Basic Refractories, Inc. owned mining claims in Gabbs Valley, Nye County, Nevada, which produced the magnesite and brucite needed to produce magnesium metal. Magnesium Elektron, Limited owned the patent for the electrolytic process of extracting metallic magnesium from these minerals. The United States Federal Government required magnesium, a lightweight metal, for the creation of an aluminum alloy used in the production of incendiary bombs, munitions casings, and airplane parts during World War II. In August 1941 the Federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation’s Defense Plant Corporation (DPC) granted BMI a contract to build a magnesium manufacturing complex codenamed Plancor 201. The contract also allowed BMI to extend mining operations in the Gabbs Valley.
With funding from the DPC, the mining camp grew to include open pit quarries for the mining of magnesium oxide and magnesium carbonate, concentrating and roasting plants, and a town named Gabbs for employee housing. With raw materials available, the United States army ordered BMI to build the magnesium manufacturing complex a minimum of 250 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. BMI selected an area of 18,400 acres southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada on unincorporated land. Because of its proximity to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the location could meet the demand for electricity and water needed for the electrolytic process of magnesium metal production.
BMI, under the leadership of Howard P. Eells, began construction of the plant in September 1941, completing almost 80% of the facilities before the Anaconda Copper Mining Company gained control of the corporation in November of that year. BMI contracted companies to build chlorine, refining, and magnesium metal plants at the site, and constructed a railroad for the transportation of raw materials from Gabbs and another line that linked the facility to the Union Pacific railroad branch in Boulder City, Nevada. In 1942, the government hired California architect Paul Revere Williams to design the 1,000-unit Basic Townsite, 509-unit Victory Village apartments, and the racially segregated 324-unit Carver Park complex.
The plant, though unfinished, was already producing magnesium in October 1942 and reached the capacity output of refined magnesium required by the DPC and the Federal Government in June 1943. In 804 days of production, the Henderson BMI plant produced 166,322,685 pounds of refined magnesium metal. The plant continued operating above production capacity until April 1944 when the War Production Board issued a curtailment order, which cut the magnesium output by 40%. Production gradually reduced until the plant shut down in November 1944. In 1947, the War Asset Administration offered the BMI site for sale as war surplus property and the Nevada State Legislature approved a bill granting the Colorado River Commission authority to purchase the complex. In 1949, Basic Refractories, Inc. purchased the mining operation in Gabbs, built a refining factory, and continued to sell refined magnesium to the private sector.
Lyle, Michael, "Well-known Architect Designed Henderson's Carver Park," Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 6, 2012, accessed August 30, 2019, https://www.reviewjournal.com/uncategorized/well-known-architect-designed-hendersons-carver-park/
Hopkins, A. D., "Magnesium Maggies," Las Vegas Review-Journal, February 7, 1999, accessed August 30, 2019, https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/magnesium-maggie/
Schumacher, Geoff, Sun, Sin & Suburbia: The History of Modern Las Vegas, (Las Vegas, Nev.: Stephens, 2004), pp. 135-138.
Basic Magnesium, Inc. (BMI) Records and Photographs, 1933-1965. MS-00126. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Materials were donated by Howard P. Eells, Jr. in 1958 and 1968; accession number T-06.
Material was processed by a Special Collections a staff member. In 2014, as part of a legacy finding aid conversion project, Hannah Robinson wrote the collection description and entered the data into ArchivesSpace. In 2019, as part of an archival backlog elimination project, Melise Leech rehoused and arranged the materials and revised the collection description to bring it into compliance with current professional standards.
The photographs that were previously known as the Howard Eells Photograph Collection on Basic Magnesium Inc. (PH-00154) were removed and placed into this collection.