When someone thinks of the “Oregon Trail,” they usually conjure up the image of some pixelated caravan being towed by several ox across the continental United States as the passengers struggle to manage their supplies and keep their caravan members from getting dysentery. Of course, this is in reference to the 1971 game The Oregon Trail, a heavily outdated and simple game that served its educational purpose. Despite this, it managed to gain a huge cult following and force its way into pop culture. As the game’s success and popularity skyrocketed, so too did the effectiveness of its intended purpose. Many were fascinated by the game’s depiction of the real life Oregon Trail and the stories of real life prospectors who were willing to travel all the way to the American west coast in hopes of striking gold. Now, imagine this: Instead of 19th century prospectors in their ox-powered caravans travelling to California to find gold, a rugged mid-20th century man driving around in a Jeep in the desert to find uranium ore while using the latest technology available. This is the new gold rush. “Uranium Fever” they called it, and it swept the nation
Elton Britt’s song “Uranium Fever” was released some time in the mid 20th century during the Atomic Age. During this time, the United States, under President Eisenhower promoted the utilization of atomic technologies for uses not just related to the military, therefore skyrocketing the demand for uranium, a vital resource in the creation of atomic energy. Almost parallel to the California Gold Rush, hundreds of people were inspired by the success stories coming from those who made great profit from uranium mining, and thus the “Uranium Fever” began.
The song itself follows the adventures of a single prospector who puts everything aside and devotes all he’s got to finding uranium. The man sells his Cadillac and buys himself a Jeep and immediately goes on the search for uranium. He then drives for about 100 miles to the foot of a mountain that the Atomic Energy Commission claims to have deposits of uranium. However, the actual mine is on the new summit of the mountain, as the mountain’s cap had been blown off by explosives to allow easier mining. The man then spends a whole day climbing up the mountain’s terrain to get to the top of the mountain. Once there, he takes out his Geiger counter, a tool commonly used by uranium prospectors that makes a clicking sound when it comes in proximity to radioactive material, such as uranium. Unfortunately for him, the only “clicking sound” he hears is the sound of the bones one his back aching in agony. Despite this, he goes out again to keep on prospecting for uranium. This is exemplary of the real life uranium prospectors who were infected by “Uranium Fever.” They were so dead set on finding uranium and making it rich that they were willing to endure the harshest of conditions and the most damning of losses. As the man goes to another deposit, after enduring the same difficult conditions that he did on the mountain, he learns that the place had already been staked by many other prospectors and bled dry of uranium. This reminds the man that he’s not the only one in the uranium game and he is competing with other prospectors, who have also thrown away their lives just as he has.
Moral of the story, don’t get caught up in a “rush” or “fever”. As seen in the California Gold Rush and the Uranium Fever, there is the slight minority who devote their lives and make it rich, and there are people who do the same and make no profit at all, and are instead left at a net loss, losing not just money, but precious assets and time.