Smelters in Utah, 1854 to Present
Index For This Page
This page was last updated on November 25, 2023.
by Wilbur H. Smith
The following is a review of all available data which I have compiled regarding the non-ferrous smelting industry in Utah. This historical study is the result of several years of research into public and private libraries and resulted in an accumulation of data which is large but incomplete, but adequate for this study. The study has been made without funds from any other source than my own, resulting from an entirely personal dedication and the results are all of my own doing, with assistance from many other interested persons.
This study of smelters in Utah is dedicated to Carlos E. Bardwell, a long time smelting expert and dearest friend of my family in Tooele, Utah. Mr. Bardwell was born in Aspen, Colorado, May 13, 1891. He graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering in 1913. He joined the staff of the Tooele plant of the International Smelting and Refining Co., a wholly owned affiliate of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. After graduation, he rose to the rank of plant superintendent. He retired in 1957.
He was a prestigious member of several engineering societies, as well as an active member of Tooele civic groups and the University Club in Salt Lake City.
Acknowledgments and Credits
My sincere thanks are due to several persons responsible for this accomplishment. They are to L. P. James and I. B. "Blackie" Owen, for expert and critical comment and suggestions; to Fred B. Kelsey for the donation of very valuable government publications; to I. C. Droubay for some unpublished and valuable information on the Stockton (Rush Valley) area; and to T. P. ("Tom", or "Josh") Billings, for otherwise unavailable information on the Bingham Mining District.
The list of references, following, is remarkable in that much has been written about individual, or small local groups of smelters in Utah, but nothing, to the writer's knowledge, of the state-wide industry.
I have received valuable data from many persons, data which have helped me to resolve some of the inconsistencies and errors in my original compilation and listing., this being the fourth in a series of listings.
The present refined and corrected listing is the result of so many hours of research that I long ago "lost count".
The results are here published, and I will rest on them. I cannot refine them any further. I have other projects demanding immediate attention if I am ever to complete them. I hope that the publication of this research, as amateurish as it is, will make other historians, better equipped, to perhaps improve on the fascinating story of Smelting in Utah.
Smelting came naturally to Utah, much the same as railroading came to Colorado. In Colorado, there were many "bonanza" type discoveries, very high-grade ores of gold and silver, and many mountain railroads, mostly narrow gauge, were built to transport rich ores and bullion to the mint and brokers in Denver. In Utah, the situation was somewhat different.
The "bonanza" deposits were few indeed, restricted mainly to some in the Alta-Park City and Silver Reef areas. Other deposits, while quite numerous, were silver bearing lead sulfide ores, gold bearing copper-sulfide ores, and usually hardscrabble placer gold deposits. The ore deposits in Utah were generally of lower grade, and hence required beneficiation, or reduction, to remove the high iron and sulfur content.
In the period from 1860 to 1890, the only method generally known was smelting. Since freighting costs were very high, even in the early decades of railroading, the shipment of ores was prohibitive. Producers installed smelters, so that the ores could be reduced to bullion, which was much less expensive to ship to markets. Many of the smelters were small, one furnace affairs, built by amateurs with imperfect refractory materials, operated without knowledge of all of the problems involved, and were costly failures. Fewer of the smelters were moderate in size to large, were erected and operated by expert metallurgists, and were in some cases, like the Mingo, the Horn Silver, the Hanauer, the Bingham, the Highland Boy, and the American smelters, in the Murray-Sandy area of Salt Lake County, were huge successes.
Where the mountain railroads of Colorado were large contributors to the economy and heritage of Colorado, the smelters of Utah made a similar contribution to the economy and heritage of this great State of Utah.
The List of Smelters
The original list of 1973 was made strictly on a chronological basis and did not include references. The omission of references resulted in some problems in later checking of some entries after critical comments had been received. Consequently, the present listing includes references, coded, to enable anyone to check the validity or questionability, of the entries. A complicated, but controlled, system of compilation was adopted, which includes a two-phase, cross indexed, numerically coded, system of entries and references.
Two card-index files were adapted, the first listed the smelters in chronological order, and the second listed the references for each entry. The first file also listed references in numerical order, while the second file listed smelters by numerical order. Both listings are included in this work. Anyone wishing to check the authenticity of any entry can do so. I can guarantee that the reference list is accurate, most of the references are from my own private library, which is one of the best. The present listing is submitted with the full knowledge that some conflicts may still exist, but that most of the conflicts existing earlier have been resolved.
(The maps referenced here were not included in the source documents.)
Froiseth's New Sectional and Mineral Map of Utah, published originally in 1878, and recently by the Utah Historical Society, provided an excellent base for the compilation.
Each entry was ''flagged" with a pin and numbered plastic yellow flag, sometimes several numbers appearing on an individual flag. This method enabled visual inspection of the entries, as well as comments from persons engaged in other, but related pursuits, and providing additional valuable information for the present compilation. Reproduction of this map, with flags, is not possible, although it is on display in my home.
Other maps have been used to illustrate the smelter locations. One of the best is a map of Salt Lake City and vicinity, made in 1934 by the U. S. Geological Survey, and published for limited distribution in preliminary form, but never finally published. Locations of Salt Lake Valley smelters, from Warm Springs on the north, to Murray, on the south, are easily located from the abundant references available from my home, for copying. (It does not show the various smelter sites, excepting the ASARCo. plant at Murray but is an excellent topographic base map of the area before later modifications occurred). Photos of various historical operations are included herein.
A few requisite conditions must have existed before any smelter could have been operated. They were, (1) a dependable year-around supply of water, (2) relative nearness to the ores to be treated, or at least, readily accessible to the same, (3) availability of fuel and refractory materials critically necessary to such operations. In this context, and especially in regard to item (1), the location of possible smelter sites is relatively easy.
The practice of referring to smelters by name and/or approximate location only, was common, even in the best of references. This condition presents problems for researchers, who must make educated guesses, or do "detective work" to solve identification problems. One often used solution is to research the mining history of the area in question, but all too often the same condition is found in references to mining history as are found in smelting history. The researcher is often left with the alternative of "educated guesses" to solve his problems.
In this case, such guesses are designated with a (?) mark.
The name of a smelter is often a vexing problem. A name change could have followed an ownership or operator change, without any reference to the change. The result is confusion, which often must be resolved by "educated guesses", or by personal checking with authors of references. Some examples: (1) the Bruner furnaces in the Cottonwood Canyons area; the Sheridan, or Sheridan Hill, Old Telegraph, Old Jordan smelter(s) in West Jordan (Midvale); the Col. Buell, Buell & Bateman, Mather & Geist, or Flagstaff(?) at Granite, the Easton's, or Badger State, or Barbee & Walker(?) in Salt Lake County; to name a few. Such identifications still in question are appropriately labeled as "(?)". Others considered as "sure bets" are not labeled, but a few could still be found to be in error.
There is a wealth of information available to the researcher on the whole subject of smelting in Utah. Unfortunately, there is a lack of information in many areas that leaves the researcher with only one alternative, that is "detective work". There is the possibility that some information does exist in obscure documents yet to be found, but in the opinion of this writer, they could not alter the present results significantly.
The use of "open" numbers results from many corrections and combinations from the original listings, once a number was assigned the only change possible was to leave that number open. The numbering system, being chronological, was "frozen" at the start of phase one, and while the individual entries could be changed or combined, the numbers could not, thus avoiding a chaotic situation. There are several entries in the Cedar City - St. George area, where ore production was both ferrous and non-ferrous. This caused some confusion as to the proper classification of such operations. While much care has been taken to keep this distinction correct, some mistakes are still possible.
After the completion of the first listing in 1973 and the map board had been completed, where all entries and list were displayed together on a cork board 47 inches by 35 inches was hung on the wall. This display is very impressive and enabled me to spot several problems, including critical comments from viewers and reviewers. Comments regarding errors and omissions were quickly investigated and corrected. When the problems were located, I made many tours throughout the area of Salt Lake County and environs.
In addition, some of my interested colleagues contributed information regarding smelters in more remote areas in the desert to the west.
Salt Lake valley had the greatest concentration of smelter sites in all of Utah, and so the most problems occurred in this area. A few examples follow. The extensive list of smelters in the Bingham Junction, or Midvale, area caused a suspicion that one or more of these entries were duplications. The sites of the Old Jordan (No. 10), the Galena, or Hanover (No. 30), or the Sheridan Hill (No. 47) could have been one of a duplication, the location being south of the Bingham Branch of the Rio Grande Railroad and the Bingham highway. I found ample evidence that the big United States Co. concentrator was built atop a very large and very old slag dump, indicating that one or more of these smelters were located on this site. The mill tailings have apparently covered most of the slag dump.
Certain of the vague early accounts of smelters in Sandy prompted an investigation to the south along the Union Pacific (formerly the Utah Central) Railroad. The accounts by Croffut in the "Overland Tourist" (Ref. No. 17), and Kane's "Twelve Mormon Homes" (Ref. No. 70), suggest the possibility of smelters to the south of Sandy, but no evidence was observed, although much of the grade is inaccessible to all but hikers, and I didn't have time for that. In the Sandy area at 90th. South just east of State Street, the slag pile of the Mingo smelter was apparent, as well as one of the old smelter buildings occupied by a local sand and gravel operator mining the slag for road building purposes. Since that time in 1974 the slag has been totally mined away. Early references mention a smelter situated just north of the Mingo and across the railroad tracks, so I was trying to locate the old plant by finding the remains of the old Sandy station. I found the old concrete footings, in which older slag was used as aggregate, but no slag dump.
The slag presumably became scattered all over the area as road fill and building material, so I gave up.
In 1975 Roxie N. Rich published "The History and People of Early Sandy'', the book is a remarkable achievement, and I visited her for clarification of my confusion. Roxie gave me some answers to a list of questions which I had with me.
In the Murray area the slag dump of the old Utah Consolidated Mining Co's Highland Boy smelter located on Bullion Street and on the bluff overlooking the Jordan River. (Ref. No. 77) This slag was being mined at a rapid rate as road fill material for freeway construction. This smelter and the Bingham Smelter of the Bingham Consolidated Co. (Ref. No. 80) were torn down in 1908, after an injunction stopping copper smelting in the south valley was issued, after a massive lawsuit brought about by angry farmers claiming that smelter emissions were ruining crops in the area. The damages allegedly due to sulfur and arsenic emissions, was successful and resulted in an adjudication forcing the closures. Accompanying photos of the Bingham smelter, the slag pile still visible in Midvale, the Midvale copper smelter, and the Highland Boy smelter being torn down were taken by Harry Shipler. Evidence of the smoke problem was recorded in photos by George E. Anderson in 1906, during construction of the D. & R. G. W. RR Co. "Bingham Highline" spur, in which certain photos overlooked the valley and clearly showed the smoke clouds in the distance. The photographs mentioned were carried into the field on most of the sites mentioned, using the photos for visual verification, wherever possible. Attempts were made to find remains of slag piles in the Cottonwood Canyons, with little success, other than the small dump at the mouth of Silver Fork in Big Cottonwood. Trips to various remote locations by myself and various of my interested colleagues, George Lanier, John D. Moore and Jerry North. I have enjoyed every minute of my time spent on this, and other related investigations, burned up much gasoline, and rendered obsolete a Jeep 4-1/2 and a sedan, and have spent hundreds of dollars on photographic supplies and processing. The result is a remarkable collection of photos and data relative to smelting, mining, and railroading in Utah. This collection includes copies and transcripts of the Utah Mining Gazette, the Salt Lake Mining Review, rare government publications and specialty books, plus my own photo collection in color of steam powered engines for both smelting and mining subjects. The time spent on the investigations ranges from 1954 to the present.
(The photographs referenced here were not included in the source documents.)
The photographs displayed here include several Harry Shipler photos mentioned earlier, and some of George E. Anderson, also earlier. Except for a few photos taken by Howard M. Smith, my father, around 1920, and by myself in the 1930s, all others are from Kennecott or Rudy A. Lund. Aerial photos of the Tooele smelter were taken anonymously around 1925, and later by my geological department personnel, R. H. Vodopich and M. K. McCarter, on an unrelated aerial mapping project in 1972. One stunning view looking south resulted and is presented here.
Fate of the Slag Dumps
All of the readily available slag dumps in Salt Lake valley either have been or are in the process of being mined, because of the excellent properties of the slag in many construction projects. The larger dumps like the Mingo and Highland Boy are all but gone. The combined dumps of the Germania and Murray smelters is huge and should last for many decades. Some mining has been in progress for years in the northwestern portion, but the greater portion has been rendered inaccessible due to the construction of industrial buildings atop the dump, which impedes mining operations. The old Murray smelter stack has been used for years as an advertisement billboard by Harman's Kentucky Fried Chicken, and as an incinerator for nearby industries.
Occasionally a plume of smoke from the top of the stack can be seen, shaking up observers who know the smelter is long gone.
The combined dumps of the Bingham and Midvale smelters is similar, with extensive mining and industrial plants atop the dumps, but this could change as the slag becomes more valuable due to the exhaustion of gravel pits in the valley. The possibly large dump south of Center Street in Midvale has an unknown volume of slag, which is situated under the United States Co. concentrator, and elsewhere covered by the tailings dump piled against it to the west. I predict that the old concentrator will be torn down and that slag pile also mined. The huge slag dump of Kennecott's Utah, or Garfield, smelter is and has been mined for slag from the inside out. There is an unusual situation in that at both ends of the Kennecott operations there are open pits. The massive slag dump at the site of the old Tooele smelter is an untapped resource, but as the Salt Lake valley sources are removed, the Tooele dump may become attractive.
An interesting observation is made regarding the International Co. dump at Tooele and the ASARCo Murray dump. The International Co. built a zinc fuming plant, using pulverized slag from portions of these dumps which were built prior to the advent of selective flotation, when lead-silver ores were treated by direct smelting processes where the zinc was lost into the slag. The Tooele smelter had a large reserve of zinc-rich slag when the fuming plant was started in 1942. This plant was successful and prompted the purchase of a portion of the Murray smelter slag dump which was built in the same era, and this slag was to be the future ore reserve for the plant. The closure of the Tooele, Lark, and Midvale operations in 1972 left huge resources of zinc-rich slag untreated, and probably represents the largest zinc resource still available in Utah.
The Future of Smelting in Utah
Utah has experienced an unprecedented legacy from mining and smelting. This industry has made Utah the leader in mineral wealth, but Utah is now about to surrender its supremacy to nearby states.
Many of the past great mining districts are now ghosts, the lone survivor being Kennecott's Utah Copper. Utah Copper is in a life-or-death struggle for survival, under extreme pressure from ever escalating labor and materials costs and federal governmental regulations which have cost millions of dollars in the building of the most modern smelter in the country. This achievement has been made without government subsidies, a very remarkable achievement which has received minimal plaudits from the public, the media, and the environmentalists, despite the fact that Utah Copper is the largest employer in the state.
The one burning question is this, is Utah's great mining and industry able to survive, and what future developments can be expected. There remain huge unmined resources in copper, lead, zinc, silver and a dazzling variety of rare minerals. Only a viable mining and smelting industry, unfettered by excessive regulations, can make these resources become productive. Shortages of all the materials mentioned are being predicted for the future when consumer demands should finally exceed the demands of other agencies. It is clear that some semblance of sanity must be restored soon, otherwise all will be lost, and the taxpayers will have to shoulder the burden of ever increasing governmental expense.
Some Historical Perspectives
An interesting sidelight was revealed during investigations in the Stockton area, and regarding the origin of the name "Camp Relief" at Stockton, as presented by Wm. Fox in a B.Y.U. master's thesis, on the subject of Patrick Edward Connor, "Father of Mining in Utah", in August, 1966, and quoting a reference by T. B. Stenhouse, 1904, that the camp was established by Connor around 1865. However, the overwhelming evidence proves that the camp was established in 1855 by Col. E. J. Steptoe on the shore of Lake Shambip (Rush Lake). The inference is that Camp Relief had nothing to do with either mining or smelting in Rush Valley, although there is the strong possibility that soldiers turned loose in the area engaged in prospecting, since many could have been recruited from ranks of men who came from the gold rush in California, 1849. The subject of Steptoe in Utah is one of the most neglected in all of Utah history, deserving of major historical research, since it is so important and fascinating.
The arrays herein presented illustrate the great lack of historical data regarding Utah mining and smelting. Other nearby states have ample historical writings, and especially Colorado, where a plethora of works has been produced in connection with centennials of the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado statehood, and the United States Bicentennial. There are available in bookstores and libraries many books on early day mining, smelting, and railroading in Colorado, Arizona, Montana, and Nevada-California, but very little on Utah.
Most of the information regarding smelting and railroading comes from books on Denver and Rio Grande and related railroads, too numerous to mention, but other than the book on the Uintah R.R. (the "Gilsonite route") there are none on specific subjects on Utah as a state. Some individual mining districts in Utah, Bingham, Tintic, and Park City, where individual subjects have been well treated, but for the entire state, nothing. This condition hopefully will be partly corrected by this tome on smelting in Utah.
Perhaps others interested in early-day railroading and mining will take the opportunity to do this type of research, for which there is an almost total lack of published material. There is great challenge for researchers of industrial history in Utah, by bringing together the multitude of individual subjects into an orderly series of comprehensive publications of specific subjects. To quote an old saw, "it could choke a hoss". These comments are not meant to cast dispersions on the magnificent Utah Historical Society, which is rated one of the best in the nation, and far ahead of the Colorado Historical Society. The Utah Historical Society is engaged in the collection of data, especially people oriented, and the publication of such regarding individual and group subjects. Despite the preponderance of L. D. S. church related subjects, many articles and other special publications have been made regarding industrial subjects and the Society has achieved a very high rating in this regard. However, a comprehensive history of Utah in railroading, mining, and smelting still has not been written. It is true that some very fine governmental publications, including those of the United States Geological Survey, give detailed historical compilations which are excellent.
Smelters In Utah, Chronological List -- Wilbur Smith's chronological list of smelters in Utah, with notations by Steve Richardson and Don Strack.
(Wilbur Smith also produced an alphabetical list of smelters in Utah. That list is not included here because of the digital nature of the above chronological list, which can easily be searched for a particular smelter by name.)
Smelters In Utah, References -- Wilbur Smith's references for smelters in Utah, with notations by Steve Richardson and Don Strack.
Wilbur H. Smith Papers
Wilbur H. Smith Papers -- The Wilbur H. Smith Papers are part of the University of Utah Special Collections at the Marriott Library in Salt Lake City. Includes biographical notes and a description of the collection.