Dedicated June 10, 1908, the statue of John Mackay, which stands at the north end of the University of Nevada Quad in front of the Mackay School of Mines, honors the only Comstock mining baron to give back to the state of Nevada. In 1873, while exploring a vein of low-grade ore in the Consolidated Virginia and California mine at Virginia City, Nevada, John Mackay and his partner James Flood discovered the Big Bonanza ore body, the most valuable discovery of the Comstock Lode. Mackay’s statue stands, holding a pick in one hand and a piece of ore in the other, facing the mountains of Virginia City, which gifted him with wealth.
With the support of John’s son, Clarence Mackay, the statue was created by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculpted the four presidents' heads on Mount Rushmore. Originally intended for the state capitol, the statue was rejected by state officials who felt it would be inappropriate to single out one specific individual for commemoration, and thus it was gifted to the university to accompany the building of the School of Mines. The dedication ceremony was attended by an estimated 10,000 people and coincided with commencement day at the university. In his dedication address for the statue and school, Clarence Mackay expressed his dedication to bettering mining education in Nevada in gratitude for all the state had given to his family.
The statue was the first of many gifts to the University of Nevada campus from the Mackays. Between 1907 and 1936, Clarence directed a large portion of his inheritance toward the university, donating approximately $2,000,000 for the building of the Mackay School of Mines, Mackay Athletic Field, and Mackay Science Hall.
The statue has appeared in classic Hollywood films including "Mother Is a Freshman" and "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College." It is a popular setting for fraternity and sports team photos, and is at the center of traditional campus events such as "Mackay Week." First celebrated in 1913 as Mackay Day, the week serves as a time for students to clean and improve the campus and participate in a variety of spirited activities.
The statue was rededicated on April 25, 1996, in a Mackay Week ceremony hosted by the School of Mines and attended by John Mackay's descendants and school alumni. The ceremony included a tribute to John Mackay, an open house at the School of Mines, a reception at the home of university benefactors Richard and Ann Marie Harris, and a gala event at the Silver Legacy Grande Exposition Hall.