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The History of Metals

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The History of Metals

The History of Metals

We have documented the history if individual metals before and we have also visualized their annual production. However, we have not seen all of the metals on one timeline before such as in this infographic.

Worth noting is gold’s prominence ever since the beginning of history. Because the yellow metal is one of the rare elements that can be found in native form (such as nuggets), it was used by the earliest of our ancestors.

Comparatively, it is only recently that the technology has advanced to allow us to discover or extract the rest of the metals on today’s periodic table. For example, even though we knew of titanium as early as 1791, it was relatively useless all the way up until the 1940’s because of its metallurgy. In the 20th century, scientists advanced a way to remove the impurities, making it possible to get the strong and hard titanium we know today.

Another standout fact is that it took all the way until the early 19th century for two very important elements to be discovered. Both are not found free in nature very often and thus slipped detection for many centuries. Silicon, which actually makes up 26% of the earth’s crust, was discovered in 1823. Then in 1827, aluminum was discovered – we now know today that it is the most common metal in the earth’s crust (it’s actually 1200X more abundant than copper).

Original graphic from: Makin Metals

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Charted: The Value Gap Between the Gold Price and Gold Miners

While gold prices hit all-time highs, gold mining stocks have lagged far behind.

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Line chart comparing gold price and gold mining stocks since 2000.

Gold Price vs. Gold Mining Stocks

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Although the price of gold has reached new record highs in 2024, gold miners are still far from their 2011 peaks.

In this graphic, we illustrate the evolution of gold prices since 2000 compared to the NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index (HUI), which consists of the largest and most widely held public gold production companies. The data was compiled by Incrementum AG.

Mining Stocks Lag Far Behind

In April 2024, gold reached a new record high as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signaled policymakers may delay interest rate cuts until clearer signs of declining inflation materialize.

Additionally, with elections occurring in more than 60 countries in 2024 and ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, central banks are continuing to buy gold to strengthen their reserves, creating momentum for the metal.

Traditionally known as a hedge against inflation and a safe haven during times of political and economic uncertainty, gold has climbed over 11% so far this year.

According to Business Insider, gold miners experienced their best performance in a year in March 2024. During that month, the gold mining sector outperformed all other U.S. industries, surpassing even the performance of semiconductor stocks.

Still, physical gold has outperformed shares of gold-mining companies over the past three years by one of the largest margins in decades.

YearGold PriceNYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index (HUI)
2023$2,062.92$243.31
2022$1,824.32$229.75
2021$1,828.60$258.87
2020$1,895.10$299.64
2019$1,523.00$241.94
2018$1,281.65$160.58
2017$1,296.50$192.31
2016$1,151.70$182.31
2015$1,060.20$111.18
2014$1,199.25$164.03
2013$1,201.50$197.70
2012$1,664.00$444.22
2011$1,574.50$498.73
2010$1,410.25$573.32
2009$1,104.00$429.91
2008$865.00$302.41
2007$836.50$409.37
2006$635.70$338.24
2005$513.00$276.90
2004$438.00$215.33
2003$417.25$242.93
2002$342.75$145.12
2001$276.50$65.20
2000$272.65$40.97

Among the largest companies on the NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index, Colorado-based Newmont has experienced a 24% drop in its share price over the past year. Similarly, Canadian Barrick Gold also saw a decline of 6.5% over the past 12 months.

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200 Years of Global Gold Production, by Country

Global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s, with 86% of all above-ground gold mined in the last 200 years.

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global gold production

Visualizing Global Gold Production Over 200 Years

Although the practice of gold mining has been around for thousands of years, it’s estimated that roughly 86% of all above-ground gold was extracted in the last 200 years.

With modern mining techniques making large-scale production possible, global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s.

The above infographic uses data from Our World in Data to visualize global gold production by country from 1820 to 2022, showing how gold mining has evolved to become increasingly global over time.

A Brief History of Gold Mining

The best-known gold rush in modern history occurred in California in 1848, when James Marshall discovered gold in Sacramento Valley. As word spread, thousands of migrants flocked to California in search of gold, and by 1855, miners had extracted around $2 billion worth of gold.

The United States, Australia, and Russia were (interchangeably) the three largest gold producers until the 1890s. Then, South Africa took the helm thanks to the massive discovery in the Witwatersrand Basin, now regarded today as one of the world’s greatest ever goldfields.

South Africa’s annual gold production peaked in 1970 at 1,002 tonnes—by far the largest amount of gold produced by any country in a year.

With the price of gold rising since the 1980s, global gold production has become increasingly widespread. By 2007, China was the world’s largest gold-producing nation, and today a significant quantity of gold is being mined in over 40 countries.

The Top Gold-Producing Countries in 2022

Around 31% of the world’s gold production in 2022 came from three countries—China, Russia, and Australia, with each producing over 300 tonnes of the precious metal.

RankCountry2022E Gold Production, tonnes% of Total
#1🇨🇳 China33011%
#2🇷🇺 Russia32010%
#3🇦🇺 Australia32010%
#4🇨🇦 Canada2207%
#5🇺🇸 United States1705%
#6🇲🇽 Mexico1204%
#7🇰🇿 Kazakhstan1204%
#8🇿🇦 South Africa1104%
#9🇵🇪 Peru1003%
#10🇺🇿 Uzbekistan1003%
#11🇬🇭 Ghana903%
#12🇮🇩 Indonesia702%
-🌍 Rest of the World1,03033%
-World Total3,100100%

North American countries Canada, the U.S., and Mexico round out the top six gold producers, collectively making up 16% of the global total. The state of Nevada alone accounted for 72% of U.S. production, hosting the world’s largest gold mining complex (including six mines) owned by Nevada Gold Mines.

Meanwhile, South Africa produced 110 tonnes of gold in 2022, down by 74% relative to its output of 430 tonnes in 2000. This long-term decline is the result of mine closures, maturing assets, and industrial conflict, according to the World Gold Council.

Interestingly, two smaller gold producers on the list, Uzbekistan and Indonesia, host the second and third-largest gold mining operations in the world, respectively.

The Outlook for Global Gold Production

As of April 25, gold prices were hovering around the $2,000 per ounce mark and nearing all-time highs. For mining companies, higher gold prices can mean more profits per ounce if costs remain unaffected.

According to the World Gold Council, mined gold production is expected to increase in 2023 and could surpass the record set in 2018 (3,300 tonnes), led by the expansion of existing projects in North America. The chances of record mine output could be higher if gold prices continue to increase.

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