Lawmakers eye declaring an official state mineral, again

Bill is a nod to N.J.’s rich mining history

By: - March 3, 2022 6:51 am

Franklinite is a shiny, black mineral made up of zinc, iron, and manganese. There’s an effort under way to make it New Jersey’s official state mineral. (Courtesy of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum)

New Jersey has a state animal (horse), state bug (honeybee), and state shell (knobbed whelk).

It also has a state dinosaur (Hadrosaurus foulkii), state fish (Brook trout), state bird (Eastern goldfinch), state tree (red oak), state fruit (blueberry), state flower (violet), and state reptile (bog turtle).

It even has a state microbe called Streptomyces griseus, which is found in dirt and was used to create the common antibiotic streptomycin.

But New Jersey does not have a state mineral, and several North Jersey lawmakers have been on a years-long crusade to fix that.

On Thursday, a bill sponsored by Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) to designate Franklinite the state mineral will go before the state Senate’s historic preservation committee for consideration. An identical bill has been introduced in the Assembly by Assemblymen Parker Space and Harold Wirths, also Republicans from Sussex County.

Bills like this are a legislative staple, popping up every session and usually lurking ignored in the Statehouse’s sea of wannabe laws. In past sessions, legislators have introduced proposals to declare state songs, state flags, and an official anthem for the Statue of Liberty. None passed. The Franklinite bill has been introduced unsuccessfully five times since 2015.

To Sue Altman, such bills divert attention from critically important legislation that can cost taxpayers a bundle and impact residents in every corner of the state.

“I’m not going to blame the box turtle. I’m not going to blame Franklinite. But I do think there should be a lot more attention paid and organizing around the types of bills that are convoluted on purpose that contain Easter eggs that benefit the politically connected,” said Altman, state executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Party.

But to Bill Kroth, the Franklinite bill is a “no-brainer.” Kroth is president of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, and a retired geotechnical engineer who used to teach engineering geology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.

“With Ukraine, with the economy, with all of the things going on, yeah, it’s a drop in the ocean in terms of importance,” said Kroth. “But most states have a state mineral. We don’t. If any state has an association with a mineral, if any state has the right to pick their mineral, New Jersey has the most right to have a state mineral in Franklinite.”

He added: “This is about state pride, it’s about uniqueness, it’s about getting kids interested in science and lighting that spark of wonderment.”

Why Franklinite

The legislation rhapsodically explains Franklinite, named in 1819 after Ben Franklin, like this: “Franklinite, with a striking black color, submetallic luster, and sharp octahedral crystals, is aesthetically pleasing and makes for handsome mineral specimens, creating the potential for strong interest from mineral collectors around the world.”

Oroho fills in the context.

“Franklinite is a very well-known mineral worldwide, and there are so many uses for it. It’s found in very, very limited places around the world,” Oroho said.

Kroth agreed: “Franklinite is really not found anyplace else on the planet in any appreciable amount, but here, it drove the great zinc mines of New Jersey.”

Franklinite is made of zinc, iron, and manganese, and those elements are used to make everything from tires to high-impact steel to ammunition and more, Kroth said.

“The world’s richest and purest zinc was found in these two towns, Franklin and Ogdensburg. It was just a godsend for the state for economic development,” said Kroth.

Kroth thinks the crusade to make Franklinite the official state mineral hasn’t passed yet because Sussex County “is like the red-haired stepchild of New Jersey. We’re also a Republican county. We don’t get a lot of respect and attention, and things don’t go our way for a lot of reasons.”

Oroho was less cynical, saying: “There’s just a lot of bills that get introduced, and some can take a number of years” to become law.

Oroho, Kroth, and other Franklinite fans have enlisted Sussex County schoolchildren to write letters to legislators, urging them to act on the bill. Oroho is confident it’ll make it to the governor’s desk this time around.

“Sometimes perseverance is the best thing for a bill,” he said.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.