The Foundations of a Legacy
The foundation of copper mining in Utah can be traced to the establishment of the Utah Copper Company in 1903. Indeed, the foundation of this company, one hundred twenty years ago, marks an important time for Bingham Canyon which is in the Oquirrh Mountains, just south of the Great Salt Lake. The legacy that was born in 1903 in Utah would lead to the growth of the Alaskan copper company, Kennecott. The foundation of Kennecott includes multiple smaller mines, mergers, and acquisitions occurring over the next century.
Robert A. Kennicott was born in 1835 in New Orleans. He suffered ill health throughout his life, which most likely led to his untimely death in his early thirties. During his life, however, Kennicott spent large amounts of his time traveling and exploring the far reaches of the North American continent. A naturalist and explorer, he was given charge of the Smithsonian Institute’s collections program in 1864. Of this appointment Kennicott wrote “I have been appointed curator in share of the museum, so that henceforth I shall be in charge of a sort of ‘young Smithsonian’” (Foster 1870; Smithsonian Institution Archives n.d.). In 1865, he was funded by the Smithsonian and the Hudson’s Bay Company to take part in an expedition into the Alaskan wilderness to collect animal specimens. Kennicott fell ill during the expedition, in part due to the self-administered drug, strychnine, he was slowly poisoning himself with, and partially due to the physical exhaustion of the expedition. Kennicott died in late spring of 1866 of cardiac arrest and was found along the bank of the Yukon River (Washington Post n.d). Geologist Oscar Rohn later named a glacier in the Wrangell Mountains in Alaska after Kennicott. The Kennecott Mine, located in the same mountain range, also bears Robert Kennicott’s name, although with a small spelling error (Hawley 2019).
Half a century before 1903, Bingham Canyon was a place of opportunity. Used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for timber and grazing, the Oquirrh Mountains were home to the Goshute (Whitley 2006). Called the “Shining Mountains” by the Paiute and the “Wooded Mountains” by the Goshute, the Oquirrhs quickly caught the eye of Colonel Patrick E. Connor once valuable ore was discovered in Bingham Canyon in 1863 (Crump 1994, Goodman 1959, and Whitley 2006). Connor enthusiastically promoted mining in the Utah territory and encouraged prospectors to search the hills for more gold and silver (Strack 2008). While the West Mountain Mining District was formed just months later, it took nearly a decade for mining to pick up in Bingham due to high costs and logistical challenges. However, once the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was completed in 1873, ore could more easily be transferred from the mines to the nearby mills allowing silver to be successfully mined in the area (Hawley 2019). The low-grade copper in the canyon, however, would remain almost ignored completely.
As the demand for copper grew, investors emptied their wallets seeking new ways to develop the market. In 1887, Enos A. Wall bought several claims in Bingham Canyon due to potential he saw in the low-grade porphyry copper. The Guggenheims, operating in Alaska, were keenly interested in investing in copper exploration and mining, and they established the Guggenheim Exploration Company (Guggenex) in 1899. According to mining historian Charles Hawley, the Guggenheims and J.P. Morgan invested over thirty million dollars in Alaska copper mining alone between 1906 and 1911 (Hawley 2019). The Guggenheims also invested twenty-five million dollars in both the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah, and a copper mine in Chile (Hawley 2019).
Daniel Cowan Jackling was a mining engineer who played a crucial role in the development of the Utah copper mining industry by developing a profitable method of exploiting low-grade porphyry copper ore, a method that revolutionized the copper industry. Jackling epitomized the “rags to riches” story. Born in Missouri in 1869, he worked in the fields as a boy. Orphaned at the age of two, his mother’s sister raised him until her family was too large. Moving from family to family, Jackling was eventually able to save enough money to go to the Normal School in Warrensburg, Missouri. In 1889, Jackling enrolled in the Missouri School of Mines where he earned a degree in mining and metallurgy. Following graduation, Jackling worked as a millman and metallurgist at Cripple Creek, Colorado where he met Captain Joseph De Lamar (Hawley 2019).
Born in Amsterdam, De Lamar turned to investing in mines throughout the American West. In 1895, he sent Hartwig A. Cohen, his chief of staff, to analyze Enos A. Wall’s copper mining claims at Bingham. Cohen returned with a positive assessment of Wall’s prospects. In response, De Lamar invested $375,000 on the property and pushed for further testing of the ore. After drilling at the Mackintosh tunnel, the 2 percent ore yielded twenty-eight to thirty-three percent copper concentrate. The results were discouraging. De Lamar determined that the ore was not commercially valuable, and he dropped his option on the Wall property (Arrington 1963).
De Lamar and Jackling moved to Mercur, Utah in 1896 where they built one of the “largest gold mills in the world,” the Golden Gate Company Mill (Hawley 2019: 37). It was during Jackling’s time at Mercur that he met Enos Wall, who at the time was the owner of nearly two hundred acres of mining claims rich with low-grade copper. By 1898, the price of copper had risen back to pre-Panic of 1893 levels, but De Lamar was still cautious about investing.
On February 28, 1899, De Lamar wrote to his new chief of staff, Victor Clement:
I have read all you said in regard to the property, and have again read over Cohen’s report, but will frankly say I do not feel inclined to tackle it. With copper at its old normal price where it has been since the French copper corner (the Secretan Syndicate), this property is too near the danger line, and would be one of the first to shut down and remain shut down for years; perhaps until production fell off and prices went up again (Arrington 1963:31).
Clement sent metallurgical engineer, Robert C. Gemmel, out to the Bingham property to assess the ore. On May 9, 1899, Clement reported that they could make an average profit of $2.70 per ton of ore. Following this report, De Lamar ordered more tests. Jackling and Gemmell reported that mining “Wall rock,” as skeptics referred to the low-grade copper ores, on a large scale would yield profitable results and in 1903, they were finally able to convince investors to take a risk.
On June 4, 1903, the Utah Copper Company was incorporated in Colorado with Jackling as the general manager (Hawley 2019). A mill was built in Copperton, just below the copper deposit. The mill at Copperton turned out to be a huge success, prompting Guggenex to invest five million dollars in a larger mill at Magna and to develop an open pit mine at Bingham (Hawley 2019).
Jackling would continue to be a formidable force in the copper mining industry. He envisioned using economies of scale to yield profits from mining the low-grade copper ore. Fewer skilled miners were needed and they were replaced by large numbers of unskilled labor. Jackling’s plan also called for the use of steam shovels and rail lines. Later called the “Father of Utah Copper Mining,” Jackling is credited with changing the underground mine to an open-cut mine with the use of these steam shovels (Hawley 2019).
Trends in economics at this time included the merging of large investment firms, the growth of “big business,” and expanding monopolies. It was not until 1936 that Kennecott fully acquired Utah Copper. The legacy of Kennecott, then, is not of a mining company born in Bingham Canyon, Utah, but rather that of a large investment conglomerate, several copper mines thousands of miles apart, and countless numbers of hands transforming a mountain into the largest open pit mine in the world.