Iron Mountain - Boyers, Pennsylvania

What if you were told that an impenetrable, blast-proof mine preserving irreplaceable documents of icons such as Bill Gates and Abraham Lincoln are stored and located in our own backyard in Butler County? It might be hard to conceive, but one man discovered a way to preserve important documents, films, and data in an iron-ore mine after attempting to hit big in the mushroom market.

Throughout the 1940s, Herman Knaust was known as the “Mushroom King” by his Hudson Valley neighbors and is responsible for the discovery of the Iron Mountain Atomic Storage Corporation in 1951. Mushrooms was the name of Knaust’s game. After purchasing a run-down iron-ore mine in 1936, he would take river ice into upstate New York to moderate the temperature of the mushrooms that he harvested in the summer months. Though this was successful at first, the market shifted in 1950, forcing Knaust to use his mine in another way.

In America at this time, the U.S. Steel Company was buying mines and extracting them for their limestone to build railways and skyscrapers. These secured, man-made caves were left behind and there needed to be another use for them. The National Storage Company was founded in 1954, and would branch out to buy mines throughout the country to store data that would be secured from any atomic blast (a Cold War fear at the time) that it is faced with.

After observing how the Germans stored their important war information underground, Knaust thought this storing method would be beneficial to the nation. These naturally-cooled mines were essential in preserving the files and objects that were deemed irreplaceable. Knaust confirmed to the American people and his clients that he could hold up to 1 million “cans” of information and would charge the public $2.50 per can a year to be stored in the mine. This new method would change the way we preserve priceless artifacts and data, and it has only grown since it’s discovery in 1951.

Located 9 miles east of Slippery Rock following Branchton Road, the Iron Mountain location in Boyers was bought in 1998 from the National Storage Company for $30 million to store documents, movies, vintage cars, and other valuable items. Limestone mining was a staple in Boyers in the late 1800’s, but as miners began to leave the area an alternate use for the massive underground space was beginning to take shape. 220 feet below the ground and with a temperature constantly between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit, the mine is home to a 150-acre underground lake that maintains a perfect temperature for document preservation. It also (surprisingly enough) has its own restaurant, fire trucks, and water treatment plant and is managed as its own underground community. The mine is almost completely out of the view of the public, meaning hundreds of people drive by it every day without even knowing it is there, which was the exact intention of the mine’s design.

During the Cold War, the atomic war was taking off rapidly. Americans and Russians alike were preparing for a potential nuclear attack on their own soil. Information about their plans had to be stored somewhere, and a heavily guarded mine underground and out of the people’s sights was surely a great place to preserve their secrets. Boyers, in particular, is laced with a 20 foot thick seam of limestone that is covered by impermeable shale rock that can withstand any explosion. With vaults ranging from a personal size of a few feet to that of shopping malls, (at around 220,000 square feet) it is easy to see why Iron Mountain is such a sought out and heavily secured area that is being protected by the community, state, and the government 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Boyers location is also home to over 27 million images originally stored by the technological tycoon Bill Gates to prevent their deterioration and keep them out of the public’s hands. Classic photos with legends such as Babe Ruth, John F. Kennedy, and Muhammad Ali (to name a few) have been stored in Boyers since it opened in 1998. But there is someone arguably more iconic whose historical mementos has taken residence in Boyers. Photos and memorabilia of President Abraham Lincoln were discovered and transported to Boyers, such as the original picture of him the day he gave his Gettysburg Address and the meeting of Lincoln and McClellan in Antietam, Virginia in 1862.

There is also an extravagant, multi-million dollar project occurring at the Boyers mine as you read this. Scientists are experimenting with “Room 48”, which is a data center 22 stories underground that has been testing the most efficient ways to use geothermal conditions to establish the perfect environment to store electronic information. This is essentially a trial to see if modifying the conditions of the mine would serve as an improvement in cost and efficiency to how it is budgeted and managed.

These blast-proof mines, like the one in Boyers, have been proven to be best place to preserve these documents, as the temperatures are nearly perfect and the spaces and sizes are truly immense. This discovery by Herman Knaust changed the way the world preserves paper documents, and more recently computer data. Iron Mountain in Boyers is just one of many important locations in an entire network of heavily secured mines working to preserve our world’s most sensitive data.