James Joseph Brown

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James Joseph Brown
"J.J." Brown in 1908.
Born (1854-09-27)September 27, 1854
Waymart, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died September 5, 1922(1922-09-05) (aged 67)
Nassau, New York, U.S.

James Joseph "J.J." Brown (September 27, 1854 – September 5, 1922), mining engineer, inventor, and self-made member of fashionable "society", was born in Waymart, Pennsylvania. His wife was RMS Titanic survivor Molly Brown.

J.J's father, James Brown, was an Irish immigrant. His mother, Cecilia Palmer, was a schoolteacher. J.J's family moved to Pittston, Pennsylvania shortly after his birth. J.J's mother home-schooled him and later sent him to St. John's Academy. He left home at the age of 23 lured by the riches in the West. His first stop was a farm in Nebraska. From Nebraska he moved to the placer mines in the Dakotas. He spent two years learning the mining trade before moving to Colorado where he tried his luck in Georgetown, Aspen, and Ashcroft. He spent another two years in the Aspen and Ashcroft area before moving to Alma, Fairplay, Red Cliff, and, finally, Leadville. He studied geology, ore deposits and mining techniques to become a better miner.


J.J. married Margaret "Molly" Tobin Brown on September 1, 1886. Maggie was later known as The Unsinkable Molly Brown when a Broadway fictionalized movie about her life titled, The Unsinkable Molly Brown was released in 1964. That was how Margaret's moniker Molly was acquired. Molly Brown was one of the survivors of the RMS Titanic sinking in 1912. At the time of their marriage, J.J. was 31 and Molly was 19. They first settled in Leadville, Colorado in a small, two-room log cabin. The Browns had two children. Their first child Lawrence Palmer Brown was born on August 30, 1887 in Hannibal, Missouri. Their second child, Catherine Ellen Brown, nicknamed Helen, was born on July 1, 1889 in Leadville, Colorado.


In 1909, after 23 years of marriage, J.J. and Molly signed a separation agreement and went their separate ways. The agreement gave Margaret a cash settlement and maintained possession of the house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver. She also received $700 a month allowance to continue her travels and philanthropic activities. Although they never reconciled, they remained connected and cared for each other throughout their lives. At the time of J.J.'s death in 1922, Margaret told newspapers, "I've never met a finer, bigger, more worthwhile man than J.J. Brown."


Although J.J. was not rich, he was ambitious, smart and charismatic. He quickly rose through the mining ranks to shift-boss and timberman. He was foreman of the Louisville Mine by the time he and Maggie met. By 1887 he was superintendent of the Louisville Mine, and in 1888 he was superintendent of the Henriette & Maid Consolidated Mining Company, at the time one of the most productive mines in the area.

The Brown family came into great wealth when J.J's engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial gold and copper seam at the Little Jonny mine of his employers, Ibex Mining Company.

Little Jonny mine[edit]

J.J. who was the superintendent of all the Ibex properties, devised a method of using baled hay and timbers to stop the cave-ins. His invention paid off. When the Little Jonny mine opened, vast quantities of high-grade copper and gold were found. The grade of gold was so pure and the vein so wide that it was heralded as the then world's richest gold strike. By October 29, 1893, the Little Jonny was shipping 135 tons[citation needed] of gold ore per day. J.J. was awarded 12,500 shares or 12.5% of stock and a seat on the board. The Ibex Company and its owners, including the Browns became extraordinarily wealthy. In 1894, the Browns moved to Denver buying a $30,000 mansion in Denver's wealthy Capitol Hill neighborhood.


On September 5, 1922, Brown died after suffering a series of heart attacks at a hospital in Nassau County, New York, with his daughter, Helen (Mrs. George Benziger), by his side. He died without a will, and it took 5 years of fighting between Molly and her two children to settle the estate. Due to their lavish spending, J.J. left an estate valued at only $238,000. Molly was to receive $20,000 in cash and securities, and the interest on a $100,000 trust fund set up in her name. Her children, Lawrence and Helen, received the rest. From that time through her death in 1932, Molly had no contact with her children. Brown is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.