From the first recorded ore discoveries in 1859, the Comstock area was part of a global community. Arriving from places as diverse as the Germanies, Poland, Russia, and North America, Jewish immigrants with engineering backgrounds, entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity, they were foremost in developing innovative technological marvels. The Comstock Lode became the "richest place on earth" largely thanks to their remarkable contribution.
As the miners followed the Comstock Lode deeper into the ground, traditional methods of supporting the underground tunnels did not work. In 1860, the Ophir Mining Company hired Philipp Deidesheimer(1832-1916), a young German Jewish mining engineer working in theCalifornia gold mines, to solve the problem of the large, deep and unstable underground diggings. He invented a system of "cubes" (similar to a honeycomb structure) using heavy timbers or square set timbering, that enabled skilled miners to open three-dimensional underground cavities of any size. Deidesheimer never secured a patent on his significant and world acclaimed, widely used mining innovation. He was employed as a mine superintendent and invested in mines in Virginia City and California with varied success.
Although square set timbering allowed miners to go deeper underground, they encountered another problem - water. Water, mostly at scalding temperatures and not potable, seeped from underground sources and flooded the shafts. Huge steam driven pumps (Cornish pumps) and short-term drainage tunnels were used to rid the mines of the water, but these were only temporary solutions. Adolph Sutro (1830-1898) proposed a massive drainage tunnel that could also be used to transport ore and miners. He created the Sutro Tunnel Company in 1865 with a legislative charter and secured financing for a 3.88 mile long adit from the Carson River valley to the Comstock. In 1869, Sutro swing the first pick for construction of the tunnel, a town, and a mill at theopening of the adit. Tunnel construction was stalled politically for several years but finally completed in 1878 to drain at the 1,640 foot level. Although collapsed, the Sutro Tunnel still drains some water from the mines.
Meanwhile above ground, the growing population was struggling to find safe drinking water. In 1871, the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company devised plans to bring water from the Sierra Nevada range, thirty milesto the west with elevation differences of 2,000 feet at both ends. The Water Company's directors hired Herman Schussler (1842-1919), a civil engineer who had completed a smaller but similar system in California. Schussler designed an engineering feat of flumes, tunnels,tanks, and reservoirs in the Sierra to feed a pipeline that dropped into the Washoe Valley and rose back to the Virginia Range above the Comstock. The system required the development of an inverted siphon to carry the water uphill without pumps and a heavy gauge pipe to withstand the pressure. The system completed in 1873 still supplies water to the the Comstock.