When Europe went to war in August of 1914 the residents of Fort Valley Virginia could have scarcely realized how important their small community would become to the US economy.
During the late 1800s a manganese mine had operated in Fort Valley to provide ore to the country’s steel industry. However, cheaper manganese imports from Russia had closed the operation during the first decade of the 20th century. The beginning of the World War and the subsequent blockade of Russian ports eliminated this supply.
This led to the reopening of the Fort’s mines. Starting in 1915 a national consortium of businesses would operate the site and employ hundreds of locals. Their enterprise was named the Powell's Fort Mining Company.
Ore was shipped from the area to steel mills in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Manganese would also be used to create batteries, vehicle starters, and other items. The site was so essential to the war effort that the US government would exempt its employees from the draft after the nation entered the conflict.
When the war ended and Russian ports were reopened, the local mines were no longer profitable. The Fort Valley manganese mines were shuttered on November 18 1918 throwing 275 men out of work.