COPPER MINING


Ore cars in Bingham Canyon, 1892

The role of copper mining in the industrial, economic, and social life of Utah has been most significant, as has been its impact on Utah's geography. Prospecting began in earnest in Utah in the 1860s, but commercial mining awaited the joining of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869 to provide the needed inexpensive transportation to render mining a viable commercial venture. With the railroad came large-scale mining operations and outside capital investment. As demands for copper increased, Utah's role as a copper producer became more significant; and although it remains always susceptible to the upswings and downturns of the mineral industry, copper continues to play a vital part in the state's economic development.

Copper in Utah was noted in the 1860s in the Camp Floyd area and in Bingham Canyon. California Volunteers under Colonel Patrick E. Conner made discoveries of copper around the mountains of the Salt Lake Valley. The Walker brothers hauled the first wagonloads of copper from Bingham Canyon in 1868. The metal was also discovered in the Tintic Mining District (Juab County); the Lucin District (Box Elder County); the Beaver Lake, San Francisco, and Pruiss districts (Beaver County); along with other deposits in Millard and Washington counties. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s copper was basically a by-product of the lead and silver ores mined.

The copper market moved with the economy, hitting a bottom with the depression and panic of 1893 only to rebound after 1896. During the mid-1890s Thomas Weir and Samuel Newhouse emerged on the scene, primarily in the Bingham Canyon area, and brought copper mining and smelting into importance in Utah. These entrepreneurs attracted other investors, including William Rockefeller and the Standard Oil people, as well as the Guggenheim and international interests. This led to the establishment of the Salt Lake Valley smelters that would solidify the importance of Utah's copper industry.

The plants of the American Smelting and Refining Company (Murray), the United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company (Midvale), and the International Smelting and Refining Company (Tooele) exerted a controlling influence on the burgeoning copper industry. In 1903 the Utah Copper Company was organized by Daniel C. Jackling, a metallurgical engineer from Missouri, who ushered in a rich era of copper mining in Utah. Throughout the first decade of the twentieth century there was a consolidation of mining companies, and in 1910 the Guggenheims' Kennecott Copper Corporation merged with the Boston Consolidated Mining Company and the Utah Copper Company to form one large operation. Jackling's introduction of open-cut copper mining (mining deposits from the surface using first steam and later electric shovels to remove the surface rock and dig out the ore) had both statewide and worldwide significance. Jackling became known as the "father of Utah copper mining," and Kennecott became an important worldwide producer. Jackling demonstrated that the mining of low-grade ores, containing only two percent copper, could be economically feasible when mined and processed in mass production. Jackling also utilized new methods of metallurgical extraction, primarily those involving an improved flotation process for the concentrating of low-grade ores. ("Concentrating" is the process of separation of copper minerals from the waste material, "smelting" extracts copper from these minerals, and "refining" is the purification of the metal.)

Mining of copper in Bingham Canyon expanded so rapidly that most other operations in Utah disappeared. With the Magna mill and the Garfield smelter and refinery, Kennecott (with Utah Copper as a subsidiary) developed to become one of the leading copper producers in the United States. The town of Bingham grew to become an important center for the influx of southern and eastern Europeans, Japanese, and Mexicans who came to provide the unskilled labor necessary to mine copper.

During the 1870s Irish and English miners populated the Bingham area, and in the 1880s British and Scandinavians continued the northern European make-up of the camp. By the end of that decade and into the 1890s Chinese, Finnish, and Italian workers began moving in. The southern and eastern European presence in the canyon grew during the early 1900s as eastern Mediterranean and Balkan peoples came. Specific ethnic sections developed in the area--Copperfield (Greeks), Highland Boy (South Slavs), Japtown, Carr Fork (Finns and Swedes), and Frogtown (native-born "Americans"), among others. During the 1912 strike, Mexican laborers were introduced, with that group becoming a major ethnic force in the area.

Strikes in the copper industry became practically a way of life for most copper workers and company personnel. The first large-scale strike occurred in 1912, brought on to achieve recognition of the Western Federation of Miners union (later the International Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, and the United Steelworkers of America) and, more importantly, to bring about an end to the Greek padrone system. Up to that time, the importation of labor by a boss, or padrone, supplied much of the early labor for both the metal and coal mining industries. Leonidas G. Skliris extracted money from Greek men in return for finding them work, and pressured them to shop at his Pan Hellenic store. Although the 1912 strike was lost in terms of union recognition, Skliris was forced out. Because of this strike many suffered; it took five months to restore normal operations.

The Garfield and Magna areas developed as a direct result of copper mining. In 1906 Utah Copper had constructed the Magna Mill--a facility for the coarse crushing, fine crushing, concentrating, and dewatering of copper ores. The site was selected for its availability of water and because it was suitable for the adequate disposal of waste (tailings). Expansion of the tailings pond occurred from 1915 to 1918, culminating in over 5,000 acres used for disposal purposes. Also in 1906, a steam electric generating plant was begun below the Magna complex. As power requirements increased, Utah Power and Light Company supplied electricity to meet demands. Additional transforming stations were added above the mill, and a power plant was added in 1918.

By 1916 Magna was a well developed town with active business and residential sectors, and an ethnically diverse population. The land which would form Garfield was purchased in 1905 by Utah Copper and the area soon became a company town, where the workers rented housing. Services were also available there.

In the 1920s Kennecott (Utah Copper) launched the building of a unique company town--Copperton, east of the open-pit mine in Bingham Canyon. Planned for company supervisory and skilled personnel, the town was to be a show place for the use of copper and copper-related products. Copper was utilized for strip shingles (fastened with copper nails), copper valleys, hips, ridges, and downspouts, copper gutter straps, downspout stays, and chimney saddles, copper vents, bronze hardware and screens, and brass pipes, pipe fittings, and shower fixtures.

Utah's copper industry initially dealt with growing demands for unionization of employees by creating alternate programs of their own. In 1919 Kennecott developed a welfare department under which baseball leagues, ball parks, swimming pools, golf courses, etc., were constructed. In 1925 the Utah Copper Club building was erected at the Arthur Mill (Bingham had its R. C. Gemmel Club). Movies, entertainments, and Christmas parties were sponsored by the company. By 1939 most of Kennecott's labor force for its milling operations lived in either Garfield (14 percent), Magna (63 percent), or Salt Lake City (23 percent). These mills had gone from approximately 152 employees in 1906 to 1,336 in 1938. A peak employment of 3,298 was reached in 1917. In Garfield, records indicate that approximately 2,000 people lived in the town in 1940. In 1955 Kennecott sold both Garfield and Copperton to the real estate firm of John W. Galbreath and Company. Garfield was dismantled, with some of the homes moved to Magna. Copperton homes were sold to private individuals (the town remains today).

Copper production reached a high point during World War II, and Puerto Ricans were imported to help augment the labor shortage in Bingham Canyon. The Bingham mine is said to have produced one-third of the copper used by the Allies during the war. By the year 1963, Bingham had produced approximately 8 million tons of metal. In was at that time Kennecott decided upon an expansion project at the mine--the town of Bingham, as well as the town of Lark, was dismantled to make way for improvements.

The copper industry suffered into the 1970s; in 1987 the company was sold to BP Minerals America, a British-owned affiliate of the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Between 1987 and 1988 Kennecott invested $400 million to modernize facilities at the Utah Copper Division, making them highly efficient. From a total work force of some 7,000 in the 1960s, in 1989 the company had 2,240 employees. In July 1989, RTZ Corporation, also British owned, acquired BP's interests, renaming the company Kennecott Corporation. The company continues to be a major force and factor in Utah's economy.

See: Lynn R. Bailey, Old Reliable. A History of Bingham Canyon, Utah (1988); Gary B. Hansen, "Industry of Destiny: Copper in Utah," Utah Historical Quarterly 31 (1963); and Helen Z. Papanikolas, "Life and Labor Among the Immigrants of Bingham Canyon," Utah Historical Quarterly 33 (1965).

Philip F. Notarianni