The Eureka Vinyl Mine in La Brea, California, closed May 13 of 2011. The mine had been producing natural vinyl since 1896. Prominent investors included Thomas Edison and Johnny Mercer. The demand for virgin vinyl has steadily dropped since the polycarbonate CD hit the market in 1982 with the release of Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.
Vinyl mining was once a vital part of the manufacturing economy in Southern California. These rich vinyl deposits produced exceptionally high grades of vinyl late into the 1990’s. Flemish immigrant Goeskin Goossaert discovered a vein of natural vinyl while excavating a foundation in the Pasadena area in 1874. In it’s natural form, vinylite is dark in color and is grainy and brittle with striations of styrenite.
Not knowing what the material was, Goossaert set some ore aside for a time. Eventually Goossaert discovered that the material melted easily and burned with a piercing odor. For a time he sold the ore as fuel under the unfortunate name of Stinkenkool. But the problem with vinylite as a fuel was that it melted and spread burning material throughout the enclosure. This unfortunate behavior lead to several highly publicized tragedies. Soon the new fuel was shunned in favor of coal or kerosene.
Noting that the material could be molded, Goossaert contacted Thomas Edison and arranged to send samples to the Wizard of Menlo Park for evaluation. Within a short time Edison fashioned a recording cylinder out of it and patented the invention, leaving Goossaert without any share.
Other veins of vinylite were discovered and soon many applications of this thermoplastic substance were found. To a large extent, the recording industry in LA was founded on the availability of this wondrous substance. Goossaert never attained wealth from his discovery and died penniless in 1928.