Through this building and deep inside the mountain behind it, thick concrete vaults entomb business records of companies around the globe. Located in Germantown, NY, this five-acre subterranean bunker has been both an iron ore mine and mushroom farm. It gave its name to our company and helped popularize offsite records storage. This is the story of the original Iron Mountain.
It's unclear when mining began at this 700-foot hill, but it reached its peak in 1875, when as part of the Hudson River Ore & Iron Company, it produced 1,200 tons of ore daily for the production of steel. The overlying hill appears on old maps as Mt. Thomas.
Locals knew the mountain as the Burden Mine, in reference to its Scottish-immigrant owner Henry Burden. Burden ran one of the country's largest iron works up the Hudson River in Troy, NY, where he once made horseshoes for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Five hundred and fifty men worked and lived on the 1,000 acres surrounding the mine throughout the 1890s. Their village comprised 60 or so homes, a red-brick machine shop and a store.
A railroad connected the mine to the nearby Hudson River, carrying ore to tall brick silos for storage before it was eventually loaded onto barges for hauling to Troy, NY. The Burden Mine ceased production in 1898 after Andrew Carnegie developed mines near Lake Superior.
In 1936, a 40-year-old mushroom farmer named Herman K. Knaust bought the mine and the overlying hill he renamed "Iron Mountain" for $9,000. The mine provided Herman and his brother Henry cheap farming space for their growing mushroom business, which was already underground in several former cement mines.
Son of a German immigrant, Herman Knaust began his mushroom empire inside huge wooden icehouses that dotted the banks of the Hudson River before modern-day refrigeration. Herman and his then 21-year-old brother Henry rented their first icehouse for $100 a month. Later, when these structures started to decay, they moved underground to abandoned cement mines.
In the fall of 1950, Knaust began thinking about converting Iron Mountain into a bunker for business records. The Cold War era had begun, and many companies sought to hide vital records in the event of an atomic blast. Construction crews entered the mine the day after Christmas in 1950, hung lights in the main tunnel and began walling-off storage vaults using eight-inch-thick cinder blocks.
Iron Mountain Atomic Storage Corporation opened eight months later in August 1951. Knaust had spent roughly $500,000 to build a fully enclosed concrete and steel building within the mine. At the time, it contained 90 vaults with a combined 130,000 cubic feet of storage space.
A 28-ton, triple-time lock vault door seals off the entrance to the records facility. Knaust paid $1 to obtain the door from a bankrupted Ohio bank, but paid more than $20,000 to have it shipped. The door is larger than the one protecting the country's gold at Fort Knox.
A dozen ex-policeman and state troopers with .45 Colt handguns hanging from their belts stood watch around the clock when the facility opened. Iron Mountain maintains this 24-hour security to this day.
Some early customers sought protection for themselves, not just their records. Top executives from companies like Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil and Manufacturers Hanover commissioned living quarters and were prepared to live underground for as long as three months. They even hired locals to cook and care for them, and their commercial-grade kitchens featured walk-in freezers.
East River Savings Bank was the first to store their vital records at Iron Mountain Atomic Storage. On Aug. 24, 1951, a clear 75-degree day, an armored Wells Fargo truck delivered microfilms of bank ledgers, duplicate signature cards and the balances of 200,000 depositors.
More than just vital documents, the facility once held priceless treasures, including Claude Monet's Boating on the River Epte (seen here), which now hangs in the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Sixty years after it first opened, the facility is still in operation, home to vital records belonging to 500 customers around the world. It is now one of six underground facilities and 1,100 total the company maintains in more than 35 countries. The company that started as a blast-proof shelter for vital records has grown into a $3 billion information management company serving more than 150,000 customers. But this is the facility that started it all. Employees today refer to it simply as "The Mountain."