Rail lines in pit at Kennecott, 1961
The history of Kennecott Copper Corporation is inseparable from the
story of the development of copper mining in Utah. Important in the formation
of the copper industry in the late nineteenth century were Enos A. Wall,
Samuel Newhouse, Daniel C. Jackling, and the Guggenheim family. Wall appreciated
the potential of low-grade porphyry copper deposits and acquired important
claims in Bingham Canyon in 1887. By 1890 underground copper mining had
begun in the area. Daniel C. Jackling, a metallurgical engineer, and Robert
C. Gemmell, a mining engineer, examined Wall's properties for Captain Joseph
R. DeLamar's mining interests. They proposed mining these low-grade ores
from the surface, a practice today called open-pit mining. They believed
that the mass mining and production of low-grade copper ores was not only
possible but also could be profitable. In 1898 Samuel Newhouse and Thomas
Weir formed the Boston Consolidated Mining Company.
In 1903 Jackling and Wall established the Utah Copper Company. The company
immediately constructed a 300-tons-per-day (TPD) gravity pilot mill at Copperton.
By 1905 Jackling had persuaded Guggenheim Exploration to underwrite a $3,000,000
bond and purchase $500,000 of Utah Copper stock. This helped to set the
stage for the first open-pit mining in Bingham. In 1906 steam-shovel operations
began, with steam locomotive trains removing material from the canyon. Also
that year, Kennecott Mines Company, named (although with altered spelling)
for explorer and naturalist Robert Kennicott, was organized in Alaska by
Stephen Birch, and the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) started
the Garfield Smelter to process Bingham ores.
Construction of the Bingham and Garfield Railroad commenced in 1907 to transport
ores from Bingham to the Magna and Arthur mills at the northern base of
the Oquirrh Mountains. Utah Copper's Magna mill, a 6,000-tpd operation,
started in 1907, while Boston Consolidated's 3,000-tpd Arthur mill opened
in 1909. In 1910 Boston Consolidated merged into Utah Copper Company.
Beginning at the turn of the century, a large influx of immigrants from
southern and eastern Europe and from Japan arrived in Utah to provide needed
labor for the mining industry. In 1912 the Western Federation of Miners
sought union recognition and, supported by a large contingent of immigrant
laborers, struck Utah Copper Company. The strike did not win union recognition
but did oust Leonidas Skliris, the dominant Greek labor agent, from power.
In 1915 Kennecott Copper Corporation acquired twenty-five percent interest
in Utah Copper Company. Also in 1915, ASARCO and Utah Copper jointly constructed
the first acid treatment plant to control sulfur dioxide emissions at the
Garfield smelter. During the years 1918 to 1922, froth flotation gradually
replaced gravity separation at the Magna and Arthur mills. Electric-shovel
operations began at Bingham in 1923, and by 1928 mining operations became
increasingly electrical with the introduction of electric locomotive trains.
As the worldwide Great Depression hit in 1929, Utah Copper constructed a
precipitate plant at the mouth of Bingham Canyon. In 1936 Kennecott acquired
all the property and assets of the Utah Copper Company. That same year molybdenum
(a metal used to strengthen steel) separation facilities were established
at the Magna and Arthur mills. Construction of the central yard for expansion
of rail operations began in 1937. Union recognition came in 1938 as Kennecott
viewed unions as official employee bargaining representatives.
Wartime copper production pushed Kennecott into the national spotlight.
In fact, the Bingham Canyon mine established new world records for copper
mining and produced about 30 percent of the copper used by the Allies during
World War II. During the war years many women worked in the mine, mills,
and smelter. In 1944 the construction of its own power plant rendered Kennecott
independent of outside sources for electrical power. That year also produced
the first collective bargaining agreement of wages and working conditions.
Construction of the first mine rail haulage tunnel began in 1946. The main
rail line was completed in 1948 and replaced the Bingham and Garfield line.
This new line had a central traffic-control system to provide safer and
faster movement of longer trains. Electric locomotives replaced steam locomotives
for ore haulage to the mills in 1948.
The decade of the 1950s began with the opening of electrolytic refining
at the Garfield refinery. This process produced copper cathodes, gold bars,
silver bars, and commercial-grade selenium (used in electronic devices).
By 1958 construction began on a third mine rail haulage tunnel. For decades
the Utah Copper railroad held the record for the highest traffic density
and greatest tonnage hauled of any industrial railroad in the world. Kennecott
purchased ASARCO's Garfield smelter in 1959.
Kennecott expanded its power plant in 1960 to a 175,000-kilowatt capacity.
By 1961 Kennecott's copper mines included four large open pits in the western
United States and one underground mine in Chile. In addition to those in
Utah, operations existed in New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. In 1963 the
company began a four-year, $100,000,000 expansion of operations. Parts of
this program led to the 1965 opening of a cone precipitate plant at Bingham,
and the Bonneville concentrator and a molybdenum oxide production plant
at the Garfield smelter in 1966.
Further expansion led to the demise of the town of Bingham, which ceased
to exist in 1971. Later in that decade, the town of Lark also succumbed
to mine expansion. In 1977 construction began at the Garfield smelter to
comply with the Clean Air Act. By 1978 the 1,215-foot smokestack at the
smelter was completed. The smelter ultimately captured 94 percent of the
sulfur contained in the copper concentrates.
The year 1980 marked the beginning of a worldwide copper recession which
initiated significant changes for Kennecott. Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO)
in 1981 acquired Kennecott, including the company's Utah Copper operations
which had over 7,500 employees. In 1985 operations ceased at the Bingham
Canyon mine. New labor agreements were negotiated in 1986, and resumption
of all Kennecott Utah Copper operations occurred in 1987. British Petroleum
acquired total control of SOHIO in 1987, with Kennecott becoming part of
BP Minerals America. In 1988 Kennecott announced a $400,000,000 modernization
program under president Frank Joklik.
A revitalized Kennecott Utah Copper began 1988 with the completion of a
peripheral tailing discharge system at the tailings pond near Magna, and
the start-up of modernized facilities at Bingham and Copperton. These included
an in-pit crusher, conveying system, and three grinding lines in the Copperton
concentrator, which processed about 85,000 tpd. Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) Corporation
purchased Kennecott in 1989 and continued the company's expansion. In 1990
a fourth grinding line at a cost of $220,000,000 was begun at the Copperton
Concentrator, and it was completed in 1992. This increased the concentrator's
production to 125,000 tpd.
Kennecott's overall modernization has vaulted the company to being one of
the most efficient copper producers in the world. During the first years
of the 1990s, Kennecott Utah Copper, employing 2,400 people, produced approximately
300,000 tons of copper annually plus significant quantities of molybdenum,
silver, and gold. In 1993 Kennecott started construction of a new smelter
and modernized refinery at the company's Utah Copper operations at a projected
cost of $880,000,000--the largest private investment ever undertaken in
Utah. The project was projected for completion in 1995, making the new smelter
the largest and cleanest copper smelter in the world, capturing 99.8 percent
of the sulfur contained in the copper concentrates. Kennecott, under RTZ,
continued to expand in various mining ventures in the United States and
throughout the world.
See: T.A. Rickard, The Utah Copper Enterprise (1919); Kennecott Copper
Corporation, All About Kennecott: The Story of Kennecott Copper Corporation
(1961); Leonard J. Arrington and Gary B. Hansen, The Richest Hole on
Earth: A History of the Bingham Copper Mine (1963).
Louis J. Cononelos and Philip F. Notarianni