Located in Blaine county, Triumph is a rather small unincorporated community in central Idaho (numbering fewer than fifty residents) roughly 12 miles north of Hailey and 5 miles northeast of the of Gimlet which shares the only accessible road to the community. The town is positioned on the east fork of the Big Wood River which runs by Sun Valley and Ketchum. While seemingly unremarkable at first glance, the town of Triumph has been a noticeable influence in Idaho’s local and environmental history, namely due to the Triumph mine.
Primarily known for its substantial deposits of silver, lead, and zinc, the now inactive mine was consistently operated from the late 19th to mid-20th century. Beginning with its discovery in 1884 with the North Star Claim, additional claims emerged over the following two decades, and the mine eventually saw the merging of over a dozen smaller companies into the Triumph Mining Company. Positioned in the Warm Springs mining district, the largest in the Wood River Valley, the output of the Triumph Mine exceeded both the North Star and Independence mines, the two other major mines in the area until they too merged into the Triumph mine in 1930.
The greatest boost in productivity occurred with the advent of World War II when the Department of the Interior, overseen by the War Department, expanded the mine and improved its facilities to meet the demand for precious metals to contribute to the war effort. This included the construction of new buildings and a main tunnel running 1.5 miles into the mountain. Roughly 200 men were employed as the mine operated round the clock, extracting hundreds of thousands of tons of precious metals and achieving the world record for the amount of zinc produced by a single mine at the time.
The momentum did not, however, last for long. In 1959, the mine shut down due to the demand for higher wages by organized labor as well as the gradual devaluing of zinc, silver, and lead following WWII. Renewed mining operations occurred in the following decades overseen by various companies, and an estimated $45 million worth of gold was discovered in 1982. But the gold was left untouched as the War Department did not see any strategic value in acquiring it.
The Triumph mine is also infamous for nearly being an environmental hazard due to the leaking of toxic heavy metals into the surrounding groundwater and soil, a product of past mining practices. This potential threat to the community necessitated a multimillion dollar cleanup proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and primarily headed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality which began in 1998 and was mostly complete by 2004, though several routine remediation projects to prevent contamination have followed since.
While the Triumph mine still has considerable resources, a formal agreement was made to indefinitely cease operation in 1985. Though it no longer sees active use, various structures can still be observed today. The Triumph Mine serves as a reminder of how seemingly unremarkable and often neglected communities have made and continue to make a great impact on our local and national history. The mine also demonstrates the need for agency in ensuring the health and safety of our communities and the environment by maintaining these facilities.