Kennecott: A History of Innovation

A trailblazer in mining innovation since 1903, Kennecott has consistently led technological advancements, from open-pit mining to modern processes and many more.

Kennecott: A History of Innovation

Kennecott is a company with innovation in its bones. Ever since open pit copper mining came to Bingham Canyon at the turn of the twentieth century the area has remained at the forefront of technological advancement.

In 1903, founder Daniel C. Jackling pioneered open pit copper mining in Bingham Canyon. Jackling's method involved stripping the overburden or waste, loading the low-grade ore from the open pit into railroad cars with large mechanical steam shovels, and transporting the ore to concentrating mills in the Oquirrh Mountains.

Jackling's actions set the tone for a relentless desire for technological improvement. The Utah Copper Company took advantage of the lull in copper demand after World War I to install a key mechanical advance in its concentrators, replacing outdated gravity separation methods with modern froth flotation. By 1926, the capacity of the mills reached 50,000 short tons per day of ore, and copper output reached new highs in the last half of the 1920s. This processing method is still widely used in the mining industry today.

In 1925, electricity arrived at Kennecott. The first electric shovels could grab 4 tons per scoop and in 1926 electric locomotives were placed on the hill, making it much easier to transport the ore up and down the steep mountain side. The Utah Copper Company purchased power from the Utah Power and Light company in such large quantities that it could resell power to many of its employees at a reduced rate, and it became the largest single power delivery point in the United States.

Much of Kennecott's innovation in the latter part of the twentieth century was driven by the need to comply with increasingly strict government environmental regulations. In 1974 the 1,215ft Garfield smokestack was completed to comply with the 1970 Clean Air Act. It was the tallest free-standing structure west of the Mississippi River and was almost as tall as the Empire State Building. And in 1995 a new smelter was completed, using cutting edge Finnish flash smelter technology to handle all the mine's output under strict environmental controls. It was officially named the cleanest smelter in the world.

And innovation continued into the twenty-first century. In July 2021, Rio Tinto selected Kennecott's Copperton Concentrator as one of the first sites to introduce and implement the business' new operating system, called the Rio Tinto Safe Production System. Significant improvements have been seen at the concentrator since its deployment versus the previous 12 months of performance.

Kennecott's management constantly looks out for new technologies to make its operations safer, more efficient and more sustainable. One example of that has been Mark, the company's “superhero robot,” which it uses to map underground tunnels, test oxygen levels and collect soil and water samples. He is the company's newest member of the remote operated vehicle team, designed specifically for the mine's needs – and created using just an over-the-counter rock crawler all-terrain vehicle, formidable engineering skills and a 3D printer.

Kennecott has also innovated rapidly to achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The site is trialing underground battery electric vehicles to improve employee health and safety, increase productivity, and reduce carbon emissions from future underground mining fleets. It also launched a renewable diesel trial in October 2022 which will compare acceleration, speed, cycle times, fuel usage, and engine inspection reports for two trucks running on renewable diesel versus two trucks running on conventional diesel. This allows the company to pick cost-effective, environmentally friendly solutions for the future based on real data.

Kennecott's history of innovation is a testament to the company's commitment to continuous improvement, and to embracing new technologies and processes to stay ahead of the competition and remain a leader in the mining industry.


Topham Guerin Ltd


Using History to Drive the Future. Donna Schmidt. February 2022.


Bingham and Mines Chronology: development of telegraph, telephone and electricity. Logan Simpson. 2023.