Fair, James Graham (1831–94), mining tycoon, was born 3 December 1831 near Clogher, Co. Tyrone (perhaps in the townland of Annagh), son of James Fair and Susanna Fair (née Graham). He had a sister and four brothers, and possibly other siblings. The family migrated to the United States when James was 12, and settled in Illinois. In 1851 the young man left home to join the gold-miners in California; his parents may later have returned to Clogher. He prospected for gold until 1860, when he settled in Virginia City (now in Nevada) and began to develop milling and other enterprises. He continued his involvement in mining: he was superintendent in 1867 of the Hale and Norcross mine, and found that it was not exhausted, as others believed. Fair and his partner, John W. MacKay (qv), in a concerted attack on the banking interests that controlled logging, transport, and mining investment in Nevada, secretly bought stocks in the mine, then declared a bonanza and paid out dividends. Using the resultant profits, they speculated in many enterprises, and in 1872 they bought the Consolidated Virginia mine, generally regarded as almost worthless because it lay outside the main Comstock lode. In that mine Fair's legendary mining skills led them in 1874 to one of the largest silver deposits ever found. In six years $100 million worth of silver bullion was sold by the partnership, and world money markets were destabilised by the flow of silver from the ‘Big Bonanza’; it was thought that silver, since it was becoming so common, would cease to be used as currency.
Fair and his associates, many of them Irish, established the Bank of Nevada and other ventures involved with all aspects of metal production in the state and beyond. In 1881 Fair spent an estimated $350,000 to defeat his lifelong rival, William Sharon, in an election in California for the US senate. He made little impression on political life in Washington, but (as one of the Democratic ‘Bonanza senators’) was noted for his vast wealth, his strength of personality, and his unconventional private life. He was defeated in the next senate election (1886) by a grouping that included his old partner, Mackay. He married (30 Dec. 1861) in Carson City, Nevada, Theresa Rooney, of Irish descent; they had two sons and two daughters, but the marriage ended in 1883 when Theresa divorced him for adultery. Thereafter Fair lived mostly alone in a hotel. His daughter Virginia married a Vanderbilt. His sons caused him much unhappiness; both had drink problems and one was estranged for marrying against his father's wishes. For years after his death on 28 December 1894, Fair's vast estate was involved in complex litigation.