Kennecott Copper Corporation
By Jim Harrawood, October 24, 2001
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).
A special thanks to Louis J. Cononelos and Philip F. Notarianni.