During the 19th century “white gold” didn’t only refer to jewelry, but a substance of equal value: saltpeter (sodium nitrate). Until the beginning of the 20th century the substance, used for fertilizer and gun powder, couldn’t be synthetically produced and nitrate mines were highly valued. So much so that Chile went to war with Peru and Bolivia over nitrate mine territory in their country, ultimately winning control over some of the largest saltpeter mines in the world.
By 1900 the Humberstone and Santa Laura mines in Chile were operating at full force, and vibrant towns sprouted up around the mines. As men came in to work the mines, their families came too, and soon schools, theaters, and swimming pools were built to accommodated the influx.
Sadly for these towns, the discovery of ammonia in 1929 led to the ultimate demise of saltpeter mining. Both these mines, along with many others, closed in the 1960s and became ghost towns. Lucky for adventurous travelers Humberston and Santa Laura have been reopened as UNESCO World Heritage sites and are open for visitors. For more info, check our Atlas Obscura.
All Images: Teosaurio/Flickr