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Midvale Smelters

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This page was last updated on July 2, 2012.

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Overview

The United States smelter at Midvale processed copper from 1902 to 1907, and processed lead from 1905 to 1958. The plant continued milling and concentration of lead ore from 1958 until 1972 when the International lead smelter at Tooele was closed.

From EPA documents describing the history of Midvale smelter sites:

The history of ore processing activities at Midvale covers a period from 1871 to 1971. Five lead and copper smelters operated during that time. The earliest record of a lead smelter built on the sites was that of the Sheridan Hill Smelter, which was constructed by J. W. Kerr and Isadore Morris in 1871 to treat ores from the Nepline Mine at Bingham. The smelter was located just south of the Midvale site of the United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company (USSRM) smelter. When operations failed at the Sheridan Hill Smelter, the property was acquired by James Carson and Thomas Buzzo who enlarged the smelter and renamed it Galena Smelter. Carson and Buzzo also extended the Smith Stewart ditch by approximately 10 miles to transmit water used to generate power for the smelter. The ditch was renamed the Galena Canal. At the turn of the 20th century, these smelters became known as the Old Jordan Smelting Works, which were replaced by more modern facilities. The smelter site was later acquired by United States Mining Company for construction of their smelter. During that time, Midvale was known as Bingham Junction since it was located at the railroad junction of the line to Bingham Canyon Mining District.

In 1900 and 1901, Bingham Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company constructed a 250-tons per day semi-pyritic copper smelter at Midvale. The smelter treated ores from Bingham Canyon, and rapidly expanded until it was processing about 1,000 tons per day by 1907.

In 1902, United States Mining Company started operation of its 1,000-tons per day capacity copper smelter south of and contiguous to the Bingham Consolidated Smelter to treat copper ores from the company's Bingham and Tintic properties. The United States Mining Company smelter was located on the site of the Old Jordan Smelter Works. By May 1902, the United States Mining and Bingham Consolidated smelters were the second and third largest copper smelters in Utah, respectively.

The changing mineralogy of ore from the United States Mining Company mines warranted an addition of a lead section to the smelter at Midvale. Construction of the new addition was completed in January 1905. In 1906, USSRM acquired the United States Mining Company along with several other interests.

By the summer of 1906, four smelters of substantial capacity were operating in the Salt Lake Valley: two at Midvale and two at Murray. In 1907, the smelting volumes of the Bingham and the USSRM copper smelters were both 1,000 tons per day.

Prevailing north and south winds in the valley resulted in concentrations of sulfur oxides and arsenic fumes from the smelters that severely damaged crops in the Salt Lake Valley. After a series of unfruitful meetings between the farmers and smelter management, a suit was filed in the United States District Court of Utah. The subsequent trial resulted in a verdict against the four smelter companies. A decree was subsequently entered on November 13, 1906 perpetually enjoining the smelters from roasting or smelting sulfide ores containing over 10 percent sulfur. The Bingham Consolidated and Utah Consolidated Copper Smelter consequently ceased operations in 1907. The USSRM smelter discontinued its copper smelting at that time. USSRM continued operation of its Midvale lead smelter due to the lower sulfur content of the lead ore.

The USSRM lead smelter continued to operate over the next 50 years. It was expanded and modified as economics and technologies changed. A lead refinery was added in 1933. Arsenic, zinc, copper, silver, and cadmium were also recovered from the complex ores and concentrates obtained from across the western United States. During World War II, substantial tonnages of arsenic trioxide were produced for the United States government to be used as herbicides. Some of the arsenic was produced from the roasting of arsenopyrite from the Gold Hill District in western Utah. Finally in 1958, the Midvale lead smelter closed due to foreign competition and depressed metal prices.

Two Midvale copper smelters treated high-sulfur ores from Bingham Canyon. Both the United States Mining and Bingham Consolidated smelters used blast furnaces for copper ore smelting. High-sulfur ores were roasted, emitting sulfur oxides and fumes. The roasted and sintered calcines were then smelted in the blast furnaces, forming a copper-iron-sulfur matte and slag. The slag from the blast furnaces was disposed of on the slag piles, and the matte was treated, ultimately forming a blister copper. The blister copper would be shipped for further processing at a copper refinery eventually producing a useable copper product.

Ore from the USSRM mines, the Old Jordan, and Galena began to show elevated zinc concentrations, which interfered with the lead ore smelting. Consequently, the company developed a process to remove the zinc from the lead ore prior to smelting. Not only did these modifications enhance the lead recovery of zinc-rich lead ore, but also it resulted in the ultimate recovery of zinc as a byproduct. Later, froth flotation was used to separate lead-, zinc-, and iron-rich concentrates from the complex ores.

Timeline

1872:
Because of the growing production of the Bingham mines, along with other mines throughout the territory, and with the construction of the Bingham Canyon & Camp Floyd, the Galena Silver Mining Company began construction, in late 1872, of a smelter near the Bingham Canyon & Camp Floyd's crossing of the Jordan River. (Reeder, p. 152)

1872:
"The Jordan mine is the oldest in the canyon and was purchased by J. W. Kerr & Company, who, in 1872, erected the Galena Smelter. Later the property was bought by Carson and Buzzo who constructed a 12-mile-long wooden flume, at a cost of $120,000, to furnish water power. After the Galena Silver Mining Company became the owners they built the Galena Smelter on the Jordan River and, in 1877, sold the property to the Jordan Mining and Milling Company." (Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 7, p.88)

December 1872:
In December 1872, work started on the smelting works of the Galena Silver Mining Company, located where the Bingham Canyon & Camp Floyd Railroad was to cross the Jordan River on its way between a connection with Utah Southern at Sandy, and the mines in Bingham Canyon. Surveying work for the railroad had begun one month previously in November 1872. (Reeder, Chapter 5)

This was the first smelter in Midvale, before the town even existed. The point where the north-south line of D&RGW crossed the east-west line of BC&CF in 1881 became known as Bingham Junction, and later as Midvale.

October 1899:
Bingham Copper & Gold Mining Company started construction on its Midvale smelter in October 1899. Construction was completed in January 1901, with test runs begun on January 15th. Full production began on January 31st. The new railroad was not yet complete, so the mining company was shipping ore from the mine to the smelter in what was called "a steady stream of wagons". To get the smelter into full production, in addition to their own ore, the mining company used custom ores from the Grand Central and the Tesora mines in Tintic, along with reprocessing the slag dumps from the old smelters at Stockton. Pending completion of the company's Copper Belt rail line, the mine began shipping its sulfide copper ore to the smelter by wagon and team. (USGS Professional Paper 38, p. 254) The new smelter was adjacent to the Rio Grande Western mainline at Midvale.

May 1902:
The expansion of operations for Bingham Consolidated brought other changes. In May 1902, a year after the Copper Belt railroad in Bingham Canyon was brought under the mining company's control, the smelter was expanded to allow the production of lead. (Hansen, p. 273) In 1903, Bingham Consolidated began shipping copper sulfide ores from its former Brooklyn property. (USGS Professional Paper 38, p. 381)

November 1902:
In his History of Bingham Mining District, Thomas Billings wrote:

The Bingham Copper and Gold Company was organized in December 1898 to work the carbonate and oxidized ores of the Commercial Mine which under the ownership of the Bingham Gold Mining Company was exploited for oxidized gold ore and treated by the cyanide process without success. Under the new ownership extensive exploration at depth was carried on and the results led to the construction of a semipyritic smelter in 1901 at Bingham Junction, now Midvale, Utah. This smelter went into commission in November 1902, originally built with a capacity of 1,000 tons for treating copper ore and in 1905 a plant of 400 tons capacity for treating silver-lead ores was added on a tract of land adjoining on the north the United States Company smelter. The Brooklyn and Dalton Lark properties acquired by this company in 1901 were unwatered by the driving of the Mascotte tunnel and shipments from these holdings commenced in 1903. These with increased productions from the Commercial mine and contracts for the treatment of the Boston Consolidated Stewart mine production and the copper concentrates from the Utah Copper porphyry operation necessitated additional furnaces and converters. Also, with the development of silver-lead ores in the Dalton Lark group, a lead furnace was added.

November 1902:
United States Mining Company completed its smelter in Midvale in November 1902. (Hansen, p. 274)

March 7, 1903
The United States Smelting Company was incorporated in Maine on March 7, 1903. The corporation was "revoked" in Utah on January 30, 1920 after the assets of the smelting company were absorbed into USSR&M in January 1918. (Utah corporation, index number 4172)

March 9, 1906
United States Smelting Refining and Mining Company, incorporated in maine, was filed as a corporation in Utah on March 9, 1906. (Salt Lake Tribune, February 23, 1907; Deseret News March 9, 1906, "today")

1907
At Salt Lake City the company owns a plant of eight furnaces for the reduction of copper ores and six furnaces for the reduction of lead ores. At Bingham, the company owns all the extensive holdings usually designated as the United States Mining properties. At Tintic is the Centennial-Eureka mine, the ores of which are about equal parts gold, silver and copper, and in which it is estimated there are blocked out ores of a net value of $10,000,000. (Salt Lake Tribune, February 23, 1907)

1907:
After the settlement of the smelter suit in 1907, in which several area farmers sued the smelters at Midvale and Murray over crop damage from sulfuric acid emissions, the smelters either closed  or changed their operations. United States Mining Company closed the copper portion of its Midvale smelter and Bingham Consolidated closed its Midvale smelter completely due to smoke litigation (sulfur fumes from smelting of copper sulfide ores). (Hansen, p. 274; Kennecott Historical Index)

March 7, 1907
For the United States company, the changes were so extensive that they organized a new company to fund the changes in its Midvale smelter. The new company, named United States Smelting Company, was organized on March 7, 1907 as a new subsidiary of the larger United States Smelting, Refining & Mining Company. (Utah corporation files, index 4172)

January 28, 1908
The copper smelter of the United States Smeling Refining and Mining Company at Midvale ceased operation on January 28, 1908. It was the last of three smelters affected by smoke litigation in Salt Lake Valley. Ore for the smelter was being furnished by the Centennial-Eureka mine at Tintic at the rate of 250 tons per day. With the closure of the copper smelter at Midvale, 200 tons per day would be sent to the United States smelter at Kennett, California, and 50 tons per day would be sent to the Yampa smelter in Bingham Canyon. (Deseret News, January 28, 1908, "tonight")

March 23, 1916
USSR&M was listed on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time "Today." USSR&M was the second largest smelting company in the United States, and was organized in 1906. (New York Times, March 23, 1916)

1946:
Utah's three big smelters at Murray, Midvale, and Garfield were closed by a 150-day strike that was settled on June 30, 1946. (Murray Eagle, June 20, 1946)

June 25, 1952:
United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Midvale smelter:

Built originally as a copper smelter, the Midvale plant began operating in 1902, smelting copper ores from United States Mining company at Eureka and Bingham Canyon, Utah. two years later development of lead ore bodies in the company's mines at Bingham Canyon led to the construction of lead smelting facilities at the same plant site. This construction was started in 1904 and lead smelting began in 1905. Operations have been practically continuous since that time. Copper smelting was discontinued in 1908 and that section of the plant was subsequently dismantled. (Murray Eagle, June 27, 1952)

June 1958
U. S. Smelting closed its lead smelter at Midvale and contracted all of its lead smelting operations to Anaconda's International Smelting Company at Tooele. At the same time, International stopped milling and concentrating lead-zinc ore at its Tooele plant. The United States company continued the milling and concentrating of lead-zinc ores at Midavle along with those of the International company. (Deseret News, June 17, 1958; December 10, 1958; November 5, 1971)

October 1958
By late 1958 there were only three lead-zinc-silver (known as galena) mines active in Utah: the United States mine at Lark, and the United Park City and New Park City mines at Park City. There was no mention of Anaconda's Carr Fork mine which shipped the ore from its underground mine in Bingham Canyon, to the International smelter at Tooele by way of the Elton Tunnel. (New York Times, October 12, 1958)

November 1971
USSR&M closed its Lark mine, and its Midvale mill and concentrator. The concentrate was being shipped to the International smelter near Tooele. (Deseret News, November 12, 1971)

(click here for a separate page about the end of lead, zinc, and silver smelting in Utah)

May 2, 1972
United States Smelting, Refining & Mining Company announced that it would change its name to UV Industries, Inc., its symbol on the New York Stock Exchange. The company was becoming more diversified and the name no longer reflected its "principle interests and direction." (New York Times, May 3, 1972, "yesterday")

November 1979
The United States smelter site at Midvale, along with the United States Fuel mine at Hiawatha, and the Utah Railway, along with other assets, were sold by UV Industries to Sharon Steel Company. UV Industries had been holding talks earlier with Reliance Group, but those talks broke down. A group of railroad employees had hoped to be able to buy the railroad. The announced sale brought those hopes to an end. (Deseret News, November 27, 1979)

June 1986
EPA proposed adding the Midvale smelter site to its National Priorities List (Superfund).

April 1987
United States brought suit against Sharon Steel for it to clean up the site. Opening arguments were heard on April 10, 1987. A week later, Sharon Steel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (United States v. Sharon Steel)

April 17, 1987
Sharon Steel declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (Mueller Industries, SEC Form 10K, 1993; Wall Street Journal, July 19, 1988, p. 10)

The bankruptcy of Sharon Steel was intended to shield the company's assets from the liability of the Midvale smelter site being designated as an EPA Superfund (National Priorities List) site.

1990
The Midvale smelter site was completely fenced as a restricted zone, to prevent public access due to health concerns.

February 14, 1991
EPA added the Midvale smelter site to its National Priorities List (Superfund).

October 1991
Work began to clean up the Midvale smelter site, and adjacent slag disposal areas.

January 1999
Clean up work was completed.

June 2001
Midvale City annexed a portion of the smelter site as part of redevelopment efforts. Over the following years, other annexations took place as developers presented their plans for successful redevelopment.

April 2012
The former Midvale smelter site is former EPA Superfund site that has been successfully cleaned up, and is in the midst of extensive development as an important residentual and commercial center, right in the center of Salt Lake Valley. (April 2012 EPA Report)

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