Copper in 1867

From the 1867 American Journal of Mining

This is the publication that would later be known as the
Engineering and Mining Journal. In its fifth (?) year, the main feature of the journal were narrative accounts of the news from the major mining areas, organized by the mineral mined. The March 30 1867 edition, for example, contains nearly five columns describing Copper-mining events in Montana, Michigan, and Arizona. At the time, Michigan was the leader in production, and the Calumet mine already the leader in Michigan. Technology was a major focus, the Michigan column describing new machinery at the Isle Royale mill, says: “Never having seen the Chilian mills—on which this simply claims to an improvement—work, we have preferred to maks no speculations, pro. or con. on the subject.” Clearly, the state of Chilean technology and of Chile as a competitor in the copper market, was already well established in the minds of journal readers.

In at least a full page, every other issue, the journal reviews the various mineral markets. A note from San Francisco dated Feb. 23 1867 mentions the “high price of freight and the low price of ores in the markets of Swansea and Boston have had a very depressing effect on the California copper mining interest.” This is a reminder that the only way to move ore from the west coast to the east was still by ship, around South America. A huge advantage to Chilean miners.

March 8 1867: “Chili bars L73, buyers in Liverpool.” (“Dock Edwards” is at Birkenhead, in Liverpool)

April 5 1867: “Chili bars in Liverpool have been done at L71 10s. and L71 5s. the West India Mail which arrived on Wednesday, has brought advices of shipment of only about 800 tons copper from Chili, which may strengthen our market.” (Von Dadelszen and North, correspondents) (4 East India Avenue)

April 12 1867 “the panic in the Stock Exchange, and the complicated affairs of continental politics” blamed for stagnant market. “Chili bars in Liverpool, L71 10s. to L72.”

June 1 1867 edition quotes “The Lake Superior (Ontonagon)
Miner asks the question, ‘Shall we work or suspend?’…The stock of copper on hand April 1st, 1867, is about the same as in April, 1866, showing a consumption in 1866 of 24,000,000 in the United States, none exported.” (in fact, it shows 1,200,000 of “Foreign refined copper” imported). Goes on to claim, “the Chilian mines, it is said, are losing money at present prices, and are not likely to continue many months at this rate.” Is this true? The industry was lobbying heavily for tariffs at this point…

May 17 1867 London report: “An animated business was reported both in Foreign and English copper, the former taking the lead…Chili bars L72 10s. spot and L73 to arrive…Since the arrival of the Chili mail advising shipments of about 2,200 tons of pure copper in a fortnight, buyers have withdrawn, and prices fell 20s. per ton lower.”

May 31 1867: “The last mail from Chili having brought advice of smaller shipments (1,300 tons copper), the market is rather better…” (no Chile price quoted) (this probably from mid-June issue)

July 1 1867 “Copper Trade Circular” from Baltimore says “Copper mining has become extremely adventurous, and these mines that cannot produce native copper at less than 22 cents per lb. or ores less than $30 per ton delivered at navigable shore, cannot expect to live…Ingot Copper ranges at 23 ½ @ 24 ½, being 4 per cent. below the cost of production. Smelters have reduced operations very much and the overstock in the country is fast being redced by consumption. The Lake Superior companies are free sellers, and at the ruling prices large investments have been made on speculation. The Baltimore smelters intend holding their copper over until next Spring, when it is likely better prices will rule.”

July 20 1867 edition features a new “London Copper Trade” column by Vivian, Younger, and Bond. Installment dated June 21: The Chili advices referred to in our last have had their effect all through the week, and transactions have been very exceptional and difficult. Towards the close, however, there seems to be a little more disposition to make business both on the part of sellers and buyers, each showing some signs of giving way a little. The result of the continued low prices seems to have been to rid the market of the weak holders of English copper who went into the article during the Hispano-Chilian war, and also to bring down the price of the raw material to a more reasonable relative value, as compared with the prices of English copper. these two things should give a healthier tone to the article, for such demand as there is now goes to the smelters, and so more directly helps off the stocks. the want of demand, however, continues to be very much felt. We report sales of Chili bars at from L69 to L70 per ton, and of about 2,000 tons of ore and regulus at 14s. per unit. we have heard of no sales in fine foreign copper.”

Von Dadelszen and North’s report (just below) has “Chili bars, L70 10s., sellers.”

VYB June 28 write “The business done in Chili bars and ingots early in the week has been very considerable, the total being about 1,600, principally for shipment to France. Prices have advanced about 10s. to 20s. per ton, the transactions we report having taken place at L68 10s. to L69 10s. for bars, and L78 to L78 10s. for ingots. Holders now ask L70 for the former, and L79 for the latter…The Chili mail, received yesterday, advised only 1,200 tons of fine copper, 700 tons in bars, and 500 tons in ores and regulus, from May 3 to 17, 1867, as against 1,780 tons the same time last year.”

July 12 1867 “Metal Report” says “Copper has again turned in buyers’ favor…Chili bars, L89, in Liverpool.”
Must be typo for L69.

August 3 1867 “Metal Report” says “Copper has been very sick. The last Chili mail advised charters for about 1,900 tons pure copper, of which two-thirds is in bars, which is a large quantity.”

Just below, VYB report “Transactions in all kinds have been extremely limited, and although importers of Chilian copper produce are somewhat higher in their views, this does not seem to be warranted by the course of events. the result [sic], indeed, has been an almost total absence of business. there are, in fact, no sales of the least importance in Chili produce to record. As to English tough cake, it has been sold at L74, the lowest price ever known in the copper trade, except in the year 1782. Sheet copper for India has been parted with at L77…a lower price than has ever been known before…It is very disheartening to such considerable shipments reported from the West Coast by each mail, at rates which must leave the importers serious losers; in fact, the sanguine feelings which still prevailed in Chili as tot eh future of copper is one of the worst features of the market, as tending to keep production up to its full average. With very limited consumption, and no aid from speculation, it seems clear that nothing but really short exports from the West can restore the market to a healthy tone.”

August 16 1867 Metal Report announ ces “A better feeling has come over the market, owing to warlike advices from Chili; holders are not pressing sellers, and in some instances an advance of one or two points has been established…Chili bars in Liverpool, L69 10s. to L70, buyers. Ore sold at 14s. 3d.; most holders ask 15s.”

VY&B (date Aug. 17 1867) say “There has been more business doing, and the advanced prices asked have been more readily paid. Some of the English smelters have shown themselves desirous of being provided with furnace material, rather than being found short of stock in the present unsettled state of the market. The principal transactions in Chili produce since our last have been about 1,000 tons of ores, at 13s. 10d. to 14s. per unit; 600 tons of regulus, at the latter figure, and 150 tons of bars, at L65 10s. and L69 per ton. For bars, L69 10s. is now asked, and for ores and regulus, 14s. 3d. per unit…The mail from Chli brings advices of about 1,700 tons of copper produce having been chartered for, half in bars and the remainder in ores and regulus, with a list of sales amounting to nearly the same quantity of fine copper, prices in Valparaiso having slightly improved, and freights being rather higher. The general feeling in the market here is better, and the tendency on the part of holders of copper (who can conveniently do so) is to keep it at present, in the hope of a future improvement being established.”

The September 3 1867 “Metal Circular” (marked New York – possibly written by the AJM editor?) says “Copper has been quiet, but with a steady demand for consumption, the price has gradually advanced from 26 3/8 @ 26 ½ c. for Detroit, 26c. for Portage Lake, and 25 ¾ @ 26 c. for Baltimore. For the end of September and October delivery ¼ and ½ c. more is paid. The arrivals from Lake Superior are small, and the companies have little to sell. The stocks are almost entirely in the hands of parties who bought for investment or on speculation, and who look for much higher prices in the face of such advices as have just been received from England. The low price and the cheap money have at last begun to tell, and the London market rose in the last fortnight of August from L67 10s. to L74 in Chili pig, with every prospect of a further advance when the position of the article is fully understood. The remarks made in my circular of 30
th July, in regard to our market, also apply to the European markets. A vague impression has prevailed that the production of Copper had increased wonderfully, bt that the consumption decreased. It was founded on the uninterrupted supply from Chili in 1865 and 1866, during and after the Chili-Spanish war, andn the dullness of business in the East Indies, Germany and France, the three largest consumers of British Copper. But now an improved demand for the East Indies has sprung up, and the shipments from Chili begin to fall off at the same time that the production in Cornwall, Australia, California and Lake Superior shows a marked decrease. The next twelve months are likely to see a great rise in the price of Copper and Tin. Both articles have been unreasonably depressed, far below the average of former years, and the reaction will be the more severe. There are no orders for export. 100,000 lbs. Minnesota will be cleared early in August for Hamburg. The total shipments this year amount to one million of pounds.”

In an August 23 1867 Metal Report (printed after the Sept 3 note above), Von Dadelzen [sic] and North say “The market has been much firmer, and holders less willing to sell, pending further news from Chili…Chili bars, in Liverpool, have advanced to L70 and L75 10s. to arrive.”

VY&B (same date) agree: “The firmness evinced by holders, especially of Chili produce in Liverpool, has resulted in a further improvement in prices of that description, bringing the figure for spot bars, good brands, up to 70
l., whilst 14s. 6d. has been refused for a cargo of regulus to arrive. The actual business done has been only moderate—120 tons spot bars, 69l. 10s. to 70l.; 120 tons bars to arrive, 70l., 10s. to 70l. 15s; 20 tons Urmeneta ingots, 78l., cash; 600 tons of ore (half Canadian) sold at 14s. 3d. per unit, and 160 tons of argentiferous regulus at 14s. 2d. per unit. At the present moment there are no sellers of bars to arrive at 71l.

An additional section on the “French and German Metal Markets” says “Advices from Havre indicate more stability in the price of copper at that port, and also induce an impression of a revival of activity in the article. for 20 tons of disposable Chilian, in bars, 69
l. 10s. per ton has been paid (Paris conditions;) since then the tone of the article has been a little firmer.” Raises the interesting question of how much Chilean copper went (directly?) to European markets other than London…

September 6 1867 the Weekly Metal Report says “Copper is a shade easier, but holders are firm…Chili is in buyers’ favor, and quoted L72 10s. for bars, L92 for ingot. Ore and regulus, 14s. 9d. to 15s. per unit.”

By October 25 1867, “Chili bars sold at L69,” suggesting a “dull and slack” market.

November 15 1867: “Nothing new to report…Chili bars, in Liverpool, have advanced to L69.”

The “Metal Circular,” date December 2 1867, New York, says “Copper has improved a little in price in the beginning of November, and has since been steady at 22 and 22 ¼ c. for Baltimore; 22 7/8 and 23 c. for Portage Lake, and 23 and 23 ¼ for Detroit…The London market has declined to the lowest figure of last June, viz: L67 and L67 10s. for Chili Pig. the shipments from Chili, which for a short time showed a falling off, had again increased and this has depressed the European markets.”

A column in the November 9 1867 edition announces “Another Trans-Continental Railway” and describes a plan by Chile and Argentina to build a railroad “to cross the Andes upon the plain known as the Plancheon.” The company, formed in Buenos Aires, has applied for a “grant of land upon both sides of the track, upon which they propose to establish colonies.” The initial colonists proposed are Germans, and the engineer in charge is a German named Otto Von Armen.
This is interesting – did it ever get built? What about the colonization scheme?

Another column titled “Copper Mining,” in the December 14 1867 issue, says “A California paper discourses upon the condition and prospects of copper mining as follows: One of the chief demands of copper of late years has been for locomotives. There is, on average, one engine for every three miles of railroad, and two tons of copper are put into every large locomotive, so that three mles of railroad demand two tons of copper.”
How many locomotives are produced annually? What are the other big users of copper, year by year? and how do they change as technology develops? Until the BIG change – electricity. I need to do a demand-side review of copper fairly soon.

Chilean Copper in 1872

James Douglas Jr., “The Copper Mines of Chili,” Engineering and Mining Journal 1872.

James Douglas Jr. was the son of a Scottish-born Quebéc physician and member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Born in 1837, Douglas was drawn to study the metallurgy of copper after working at a mine his father owned a share in. In 1869, Douglas and Dr. Thomas Sterry Hunt published the “Hunt and Douglas” process of reducing copper using salt. This process was used successfully in North Carolina and Chile by the early 1870s. In 1871, Douglas apparently traveled to Chile; probably to help establish his extraction process. His account of Chilean copper mining appeared in the April edition of London’s Quarterly Journal of Science and in installments, with “revisions and corrections” in the 1872 E&MJ, beginning with the May 21 issue. In 1881, Douglas began his career at Phelps Dodge by going to Arizona to investigate what became the Copper Queen Mine.

Douglas begins his first installment of the article with a review of Chilean copper mining, acknowledging the fact that “As the produce of the Chili mines now regulates the price of copper all over the world, and all speculation as to its future price must depend on the probable future yield of these mines, their condition is a subject of prime importance to all interested in the copper trade.”

Nearly “all the copper comes,” Douglas says, “from the coast range, and from within 30 miles of the sea; and nearly two-thirds of it from the three great mineral districts of Tomaya, Carrizal, and Chañaral.” A little copper comes from the “Cajon de Maipu,” and the “Condes Mines” in the cordillera “produce 200 tons or so of 23 per cent. ore annually.” Othe cordillera mines are the “Cerro Blanco…a little south of the Copiopó…and the Esploradora mines of Mr. Sievert, in the Atacama Desert, 120 miles inland.” Generally, transportation difficulties and the lack of high-yield deposits prevent mining inland.

Starting in the south, Douglas lists the Chilean mines. South of Santiago, he says, “a number of small mines are worked both in the Cordillera and the coast range; but their total yield falls short of 1,000 tons of fine copper annually.”
Is the site of Braden’s find (El Teniente) being worked by small-scale miners?

“Crossing the line of 33 deg. S. latitude,” Douglas mentions “mines on both sides of the Melon Valley and the Catemo and San Felipe mines.” He describes the ores (“The San Felipe ores are of grey sulphides; but as a rule the lodes are narrow.”), indicating that he’s studied them first-hand in some detail. The “Paral mine on one of the Coimas group of lodes, where a lode of a yard wide yields on an average a 30 per cent. ore,” is an exception, but “the mine is very badly worked…twice as many men are employed in pumping as in breaking the ore.” About 3,000 tons a year from this district “is made into regulus and bars at smelting establishments in the Melon and at Catemo. In the San Felipe Valley, Urmeneta and Errasuriz [sic] have attempted to use the peat—which is here abundant—for smelting, but as yet without advantage.”
There’s an article in an earlier number of the E&MJ about using peat for fuel in Britain and the US – apparently U&E are up to date on the latest doings.

In Aconcagua and southern Coquimbo provinces, Douglas sees evidence of long and extensive mining. “The hills are so saturated with copper that a
desmontes or refuse heap enters as a conspicuous object into almost every bit of mountain scenery, and innumerable slag heaps in many a nook and corner mark the spots where furnaces smelted the ore from neighboring mines till the hill sides, to the serious detriment of agriculture, had been denuded of timber.” Suggests that not only mining but smelting is an old and widely distributed practice. Note it was done with wood, until the local timber was exhausted. And the degree to which it impacted agriculture might shed light on the development of ag policy & adversarial tone of farmers.

“When we reach the river Limari, near Ovalle, we come in sight of the Hill of Tomaya, the most southerly of the great Chili
minerales. It is an isolated mountain, some 3 to 4 miles long, whose summit is 3,000 feet above the level of the plain, and 4,200 above the sea.” From a distance, Douglas can see “long white streaks reaching far towards its base, the enormous piles of desmontes, whose total amount probably exceeds 200,000 tons.” Douglas proceeds to give a detailed account of the mountain and its mines. He notes that “There is not a spring of water on the hill, and the mnes are so dry that they do not supply the needs of the establishments.” “A railroad 36 miles long, connects the mines with the coast at Tongoy.”

On the western slope is the lode from which “Mr. Urmeneta commenced amassing the fortune which the Piké mine has helped to swell.”
A matter-of-fact reference to the fact – forgotten in later generations—that Urmeneta was a successful miner before the Pique find. Not “el loco del burro.”

Douglas notes that “It is…from this isolated hill that a great proportion of all the Chili copper came from the years 1860 to 1865.” The most productive mine on the hill has always been Pique, “owned by Don José Tomás de Urmeneta, whose perseverance in prosecuting the work upon it during years of heavy expenditure and disappointment has been rewarded by raising him to the highest rank among successful miners, and by enabling him to confer vast benefits on his country; for Urmeneta was the first man to introduce into Chili first-rate hauling and mining machinery.”

The Pique lode is “yellow sulphuret, mixed with quartz, carbonate of lime, and specular iron. The yeld of the lode from wall to wall is from 8 to 10 per cent, and its average size varies from 3 to 6 feet…The greatest riches of the Piké were derived from some enormous stopes at about the 60-fathom level, where the lode expanded to over 20 feet in width, and yielded a purple ore, which, as it came from the mine, averaged 30 to 35 per cent. It is supposed Urmeneta netted in one year at that time from this mine alone $1,100,000.”

Douglas describes Pique in detail, mapping out the underground sections and explaining which levels “have been abandoned to
piqueneros or tributers,” and how ore is raised “by means of a Corliss engine and admirable machinery fitted with friction gearing, through three inclined shafts, which attain a depth of 80 fathoms below the end of the adit,” but that the mine’s bottom is 60 fathoms lower, and ore from here “is raised this last 60 fathoms on the backs of apires (or carriers) and by hand winches.”

In 1864, Urmeneta bought an adit on the south flank of the hill, “commenced as far back as 1840 by Don Ramon Lecaros…It was driven but slowly and irregularly until 1864, when Urmeneta bought the work already done, and continued it more vigorously.” Douglas explains how the adit runs beneath a neighboring mine, the Chalaca, also owned by Urmeneta. Pique employs 50 miners, “but a larger number of tributers find employment in the upper workings.” The tributers are productive: of the 1,250 tons taken from the hill daily, “about half comes from the Piké, and of this half may be said to be extracted from the regular workings below the adit level, and half by tributers from the abandoned stopes or by pickers from the refuse heaps.”

Douglas is particularly interested in the machinery used by Urmeneta and others. Pique’s “concentrator” uses “a pair of Huot and Guyler’s beautiful piston hutches [and] twenty English hutches to be worked by hand and twenty by steam.” Most of the mines use a
Blake breaker, an the older Pique “establishment” uses Petherick hutches, “but they do not give satisfaction.” “At the Rosario, Mr. Lipkin collects the concentrated stuff on the sieve,” which is a variation on the standard process. Douglas speculates that a Rittinger Pumpseize might work well, and remarks on the Krupps steel jackets used on all the rollers, which “remain in perfect working order after a twelvemonth, neither pitting nor wearing inequally.”

desmontes are enormous,” says Douglas. “Those of the Piké are the largest and probably the poorest. They originally yielded from 6 to 7 per cent., but having been picked over four times probably do not now contain over four per cent.” So even then, it was already taken for granted that fortunes could be made from the slag of earlier, less efficient operations. But then, Lambert did this a generation earlier…the point is, it was known by North Americans.

Finally, Douglas addresses the labor issue. “The hands employed in this
mineral,” he says, “in every capacity number about 4000. As all ages and sexes work, this represents a population of about 8000. Urmeneta employs about 600, and as many more work on his property as tributers. So, Urmeneta doesn’t own the entire mountain – although he may process all the ore that comes from it… “The rate of wages is for common labor 12 dols. a month and rations, worth 15 cents a day. For miners (native) 18 dols. a month, and rations of 15 cents a day. The same high rates approximately rule throughout all the mining regions of Chili. Cornishmen alone can be trusted with the timbering, and they are even better paid; so that it is evidently a mistake to suppose Chili owes her mining importance to cheapness of labor.” This was the basis of protectionist claims, leading to the tariff act, 1869 (see also)…I’ll need to look into this soon…

Part 2 (May 28 1872):

The next site Douglas describes is the “monster lode of Panulcillo…The Tomaya people say that Providence placed these great deposits almost side by side , that the ores of the one might serve to flux those of the other, but human perversity and English stupidity interfered to frustrate the kind intention.” The old smelter at the mouth of the mine was replaced in 1870 by a new establishment at “the railroad terminus in the valley…[and] consists of ten large reverberatories, and four blast furnaces, erected last year by Charles Lambert, jun.” The mine “is the only property in Chili worked by an English Joint Stock Company with an office in England…with Mr. Heatley in Valparaiso, and Mr. Wier at the mine, and a good price for copper, the enterprise ought to take a new lease on life.”

“A branch of the Coquimbo and Ovalle Railroad terminates near the smelting works.” It used to carry large cargoes from “Las Cardas, Cerillos, Tambillos, Andacolla,” but they have all dried up. The next large mine is “the Brillador, belonging to Charles Lambert.” Only three miles from the “northern sweep of the Bay of Coquimbo…[it was] more extensively worked than any other mine in the Indian and Spanish periods…Stone and copper hammers are still turned up in the refuse heaps…identical…with those from the Indian workings in the Lake Superior mines.” The vein was still productive in modern times. “Mr. Lambert, in 1847, is reported to have made $1,000,000 profit” at Brillador.

Part 3 (June 4 1872):

“The Panteon Mine, at about a mle distant, once yielded handsomely…the old
desmontes of the Panteon supply the furnaces of the Compañia (Mr. Lambert’s Works, near Serena)…[and] the old Spanish slag heaps are still overhauled. Mr. Lambert built the first reverberatory furnace in Chili, and first smelted sulphuretted ores, which previously had been thrown aside as unserviceable.”

Further “north of Serena is the
mineral of Higuera…smelted at the mines on the coast at the port of Totoralillos.” Crossing into Atacama, Douglas describes “the mineral of San Juan…now worked by Messrs. Harker and Dickson, at Lebrar.” The next mineral, Carrizal, “about six leagues in a straight line from the coast, has always been known to exist, but has been worked vigorously only within the last fifteen years…[it] now sends almost as much ore to market as the hill of Tomaya.” The six main mines, “Mondaca, Remolinos, Portazela or Banzanillo Alto, Tora, Cantado, and Santa Rita” yield “monthly about 4000 tons of 13 per cent. ore.” Partly because they’re newer, these mines are “admirably worked…thanks to the wisdom of the principal owner, Don Ramon Ovalle, and to the skill of the manager, Mr. McAuliff.”

Part 4 (June 18 1872):

Douglas describes the “Portazuela and Bazanillo Alto, owned by Messrs. Gonzales and Templeman.” He mentions that “the loss in picking, when the ore is broken by a Blake, exceeds that incurred when hand labor is employed; hence the tributers refuse to use it.” The mines along the Copiapó River, similarly, suffer from a lack of water for processing the ore.
Labor, technology, transportation, and local resources like water and food are all variables in determining whether a mine can be successful at any given time and place.

Douglas mentions Caleta de las Animas, the port from which “the first shipment of copper from Chili is said by Dr. Philippi to have been made to Europe, in a whaler, in the year 1820. It came from the mines of Las Animas, shortly before discovered by Don Diego de Almeida.” The northern mines send their ore partly to “Mr. Sievert’s establishment at Pan de Azucar, and partly…south” to Lota. Most of the mines are small and remote, in soms cases sending their ore “on mule-back 70 leagues to Tagna, and thence by rail to Arica.”

Douglas sums up the production of these various regions, and discusses their prospects of continuing their current annual output of 48,000 tons of copper. He notes that many of the smaller mines and tributers in large mines will be affected by rising wages. “The Chili
peon can get one dollar a day on the Peruvian railroads, and will therefore no longer work at home for 25 cents…Though the yield from each may be insignificant, their total production is by no means trifling. A great deal of copper smelted at Guayacan and the Copiapó establishments is bought in small parcels of a few cwts. each.” The loss of small producers might be partly offset by new technology for extracting low-grade ores, including the Hunt and Douglas method, being attempted “near Tiltil…nder the management of Mr. Waring, one of the best mechanical and mining engineers in Chili.” The Carlos Riesco mine?

Part 5 (June 25 1872):

All the great
minerales are likely to diminish, Douglas concludes. “Tomaya will doubtless produce less…Panulcillo sails so close to the wind that if copper falls it will inevitably fail…No doubt Brillador could yield more…Carrizal…has seen its best days.” A few mines, like “Chañaral, now that it has a railroad, may be expected to increase its yield.” But discoveries of new lodes are unlikely. “A copper lode in a desert country cannot escape detection, more especially in Chili, where all the inhabitants are directly or indirectly interested in mines…All the great lodes now worked, except, perhaps, those of the Salado and others in the Atacama desert, have been known and worked from time immemorial.”

But Chili will make up for some of the coming decline by processing its own ore. “Twenty-five years ago,” Douglas says, “very little copper was smelted in Chili; whereas, in 1870, only 3.16 per cent. was exported as ore, while 55.35 per cent. was exported as bars and ingots, and 41.48 per cent. as regulus.”

“Mr. Lambert…erected the first reverberatory furnace in Chili about the year 1837…[and] “the Mexican and South American Smelting Company…run from 1848 to 1857…benefited Chili by introducing Napier’s method…There are throughout Chili about ninety furnaces making regulus, and about sixty calciners and furnaces making bars and ingots.” The two largest establishments are at Lotan and Guayacan. “The former is owned by a company, which likewise owns and works some coal beds in the neighborhood
(Mattias Cousino, Concepción)…The Guayacan works, on the Bay of Herradura are owned by Messrs. Urmeneta and Errasuriz [sic], and are among the largest in the world, running ordinarily seventeen triple hearth calcining furnaces, thirteen smelting reverberatories, and two refining furnaces…The same proprietors have furnaces at Cerillos, at the foot of the Tomaya hill…and other works at Tongoi, the port of Tomaya.” Across the Bay in Coquimbo are “the abandoned smelting works of Charles Lambert and of Don Ramon Ovalle and Co., and the active works of Edwards and Co., where such care is taken in the selection and smelting that their bars and ingots bring a better price in the English market than those of either Lota or Guayacan.”

Michigan Copper

Apparently the story-telling pretty much begins with Angus Murdoch’s 1943 epic, Boom Copper. Later retellings, even if they only deal with a narrow topic like Calumet and Hecla, refer to Murdoch as the source of much of the color and legend associated with the region. The book is divided between the historical narrative of the copper industry in the region, and the stories of the communities and personalities of the region.

Interesting that the UP was the scene of North America’s first mineral “rush,” complete with Deadwood-esque boomtowns and characters. Pure metal deposits were unknown to science, and scientists had trouble believing that commercial quantities of copper could be brought up that would require no smelting to remove impurities. What were the implications for the overall US copper industry? Compared to foreign competitors who had to smelt their ore (until Coro Coro, Bolivia)?

“Three quarters of all the metal taken from the Cliff came out in the form of masses weighing anywhere from a ton to a hundred tons…Nowhere in the world had so much copper ever been taken from so small an area of mineral land.” (54, 56) Sam Knapp’s “Minesota” mine holds the record for the size of a single chunk: either 420 or 564 tons, depending on 1856 reports. Murdoch says the Minesota is also distinguished as the most productive copper mine in history, “in proportion to the amount of labor and capital expended.” From 1852-1856 (after four years of development beginning in 1848), “the stockholders’ investment in the mine had doubled itself, and by 1876 they had received thirty dollars in dividends for every dollar invested. At one time in the fifties, more than 2,000,000 pounds of mass copper was in sight, much of it all ready for cutting up...Probably nowhere else on earth has there been a mine whose skips ran up and down through a solid copper shaft.” (92-3)

Murdoch’s economic analysis of Michigan copper is a little sketchier than his setting and character descriptions. He notes that 1870 was the first time in history copper went below twenty cents per pound (95), and that “fissure mining” was only successful three times (the Central, the Cliff, and the Minesota), but spurred a generation of mining ventures. “Of the 112 discoverable mining corporations which have operated in Ontonagon County,” he says, “only the Minesota has paid more in dividends than it collected in assessments” (97). The story of silver (especially on Silver Islet in Thunder Bay) provides an interesting contrast between the economics of precious metals and copper.

Several of the characters like Sam Hill, Alexander Agassiz, and Sam Knapp would probably make interesting subjects. Murdoch’s treatment of the Secrétan scandal, the paternalism of C & H, and the relationship between organized labor and the mining companies, is suggestive but short on detail. He mentions that copper demand is relatively inelastic, but follows economic trends due to its use in infrastructure. This is probably more true since the maturity of the electronics industry than it was during most of the Michigan heyday. But it’s interesting that he distinguishes between copper and other minerals from a demand perspective.