The Mackay School of Mines set the architectural tone for building design on the University campus between 1908, when it was constructed, and 1941—a time when enrollment increased from fewer than 500 to over 3,000 students. It is named after, and is a memorial to, Comstock silver baron John Mackay, one of America's foremost 19th century mining entrepreneurs and capitalists.
At the time of his death in 1902, John Mackay's fortune was estimated at $30 million. Along with Mackay’s widow, Marie Louise, their son, Clarence Mackay, included the University of Nevada in his philanthropic ventures in honor of his father and his many contributions to Nevada’s mining industry. Clarence gave numerous gifts of money, land, and stocks to the school, and took a personal interest in its development, beginning with the School of Mines Building, its accompanying statue of John Mackay, and the landscaping of the Quadrangle in front.
The placement and architectural style of the Mines building set the pattern for over thirty years of campus development. The building was designed by W.S. Richardson, assistant to Stanford White of the prominent New York firm McKim, Mead, and White. The Classical style of the building was influenced by White’s association with a renovation of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia campus.
Located inside the Mackay School of Mines Building since 1908 is Nevada's second oldest museum, the W. M. Keck Earth Science & Mineral Engineering Museum. The museum houses an outstanding collection of minerals, ores, fossil specimens and photographs, in addition to mining-related relics. There is a special emphasis on early Nevada mining history with samples from famous mineral districts such as the Comstock Lode, Tonopah, and Goldfield. The museum is also home to numerous pieces of the spectacular Mackay Silver Collection, created by Tiffany & Co. for John Mackay and completed in 1878. The museum was renamed in honor of the W.M. Keck Foundation after their generous contribution towards the building's renovation in 1988.
The Mackay Mines Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering offices, DeLaMare Library, and the W.M. Keck Museum are the centerpieces of this restored building.