Montana Mosaic 10: The Rise and Fall of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company

Montana Mosaic 10: The Rise and Fall of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company


[Music] Butte has gone down. It’s, like, a city full of history, but, like, a lot of people don’t, like, think of it as that; just a big place on a hill with a big hole in the ground. It was Butte, America. It wasn’t even
part of Montana, really, I guess. Butte’s a mining city. It’s kinda gross. Butte is a mining town. It started with — is it the Berkeley Pit? That pit of water. I don’t know what it’s called, but I know there’s a lot of mining there. And
I think there’s a lot of Irish people there too. They are the “Fighting Irish.” I heard it was really, like, Democratic ’cause they had a lot of laborers
and a lot of diversity and stuff. Now they just have that big pit in the middle of the city. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company. It was part of a large monopoly on copper back at the beginning of the 20th century. Back then, America had just gone
through the Industrial Revolution and we really had a high demand
for copper, for electricity in general. Anaconda. It’s not really a big town anymore,
and it’s changed a lot since its heyday. [Music] Anaconda built the state, you
know, right, wrong or indifferent. Economically, the state has never recovered from the loss of the Anaconda Company. Well, I mean, it’s most of the history of Montana in the first 100, 125 years or so of our existence. The Anaconda Company essentially
paid the bills of this state from 1890 -’95, when it was incorporated, until its demise in 1977. It was a economic behemoth. It was huge. It was the monster corporation. It employed, it was directly responsible for maintaining, I would say, half of the people who lived in this state. They created Montana power.
They created the timber industry. They had the political drive for the railroads. They had built the roads. They built the
superstructure. They built the government. Essentially they walked in with
absolutely nothing and created the West, and with that they created Montana. [Music] [Narrator] Marcus Daly, an immigrant
born in County Cavan, Ireland was witty and charming, and had mining
experience in three western states. [Robert Swartout] Daly was sent to this,
rather, sleepy gold and silver camp called Butte in the early 1880s by a company
called Walker brothers out of Salt Lake City. He came up to Butte expecting to find gold and silver; discoved there wasn’t that much
gold and silver in the Butte area, not of any dramatic amount. But to his surprise, found tremendously
rich deposits of copper. [Narrator] Soon, copper was needed
for roofing and telegraph wires. This gave Marcus Daly a reason to gamble. He sold his stock in Butte’s Alice Silver Mine, and for $30,000 bought a copper
mine called “The Anaconda.” As mining gained momentum in Butte, copper producers worldwide competed in price wars. Companies dropped their prices in an
effort to drive others out of the market. For Anaconda, the greatest competition
was with Calumet and Hecla, a prominent copper producer
from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Daly dropped his prices so low that
no other producer could make money. He outlasted the competition
including Calumet and Hecla. Daly won the copper war and became a mining mogul. His Anaconda Mining Company became
known simply as “The Company.” [Robert Swartout] In 1923, the
Anaconda Copper Mining Company purchased the Guggenheim-Carver
holdings in Chile for $75 million. I mean, that was a tremendous
amount of money in those days. And over the next several decades, Anaconda
would make a tremendous amount of money off of Chilean, Mexican, and other copper mines. So much so, that by the time
you get to the ’50s and ’60s, those foreign copper profits represent
roughly 75% of the company’s profits. [Narrator] At its zenith, the company employed over 10,000 miners in Butte, but tunnels got too deep. [Robert Swartout] By the 1950s, the quality of ore being mined in Butte is beginning to decline. The richest ore had already
been taken out of the ground. After all, by that point in time, copper
mining had been going on for 70 years. [Narrator] In 1955, Anaconda opened the Berkley Pit. Ore was harvested from the face of the earth, and soon rings, called terraces,
spiraled deeper into the ground. Ethnic communities were destroyed
as the Berkeley pit grew larger. Finn Town, Dublin Gulch, and the
Italian neighborhood of Meaderville were sacrificed for the rich copper veins under them. And eventually, even the famed Columbia Gardens was torn down to make room for more mining. The Berkeley pit became a physical
example of corporate determination. Anaconda’s influence reached far beyond
unions, legislature, and mineral production. It’s control of the press was also significant. The Anaconda Company owned
“The Standard” in Butte, “The Missoulian,” “The Billings Gazette” and
“The Helena Independent Record.” [Dave Walter] It’s important for students to understand the Anaconda story because
Anaconda was so dominant. It was into everything. I mean,
it dictated Montana economy; its ties to the lumber industry, to the railroads, to any kind of manufacturing. [Robert Swartout] Because Montana’s
economy in the 20th century was often tied so strongly to natural resources, that created a situation where Montanans were often not in control of their own economic destiny. As those national international
markets would move up and down, they could have a dramatic impact on
the economic well-being of Montana. In a method, in many cases, Montanans
didn’t have direct control over their personal or their state’s economic destiny; so what we sometimes refer
to as a colonial economy. [Narrator] In 1973, Chile nationalized
the company’s vast mining operations in that country, and the worldwide
price of copper fell dramatically. The longtime corporate giant was near bankruptcy. [Dave Emmons] It was estimated that the company lost about $800 million in assets. The nationalization of those properties destroyed the company. The Anaconda
Company simply could not survive. [Narrator] The economic crunch hit
Anaconda and Great Falls as well, and the Great Falls smelter was demolished. [Demolition sounds and crowd reaction] The stack in Anaconda remains
a towering testament to the past. [Paul Polzin] We lost probably 2 to 3
thousand very well paying jobs. What happened, then, is that as a
result of losing those high wage jobs, the overall average for the state of Montana
declined or didn’t grow quite as rapidly. [Narrator] From a peak of 80,000 residents in 1920, Butte’s population declined to 32,000 by 1988. [Unknown Speaker] That’s 68 years of population loss. As the mining industry changed, and you need less people and more
machinery, like you do in a lot of industries, you saw thousands and thousands
of people laid off over time, including the final closures.
And what do they do? Not everybody can open up a macrame shop. [Narrator] In 1985, local business
leaders, labor leaders, and politicians formed a task force to try and resurrect the economy. [Music] One story that lead papers began
covering and continued to follow, is the environmental legacy mining leaves behind. In 1980, the same year ARCO announced it would end its mining and smeltering
operations in Montana, the US Congress enacted the Superfund Law. Under Superfund, the responsible party is required to remove hazardous
wastes from industrial sites. ARCO found itself responsible
for cleaning up Butte, Anaconda, and 120 miles of the Clark Fork River
Basin between Butte and Missoula. It is the largest Superfund site in the country. The Berkeley Pit is perhaps the most
recognizable Superfund landmark. When mining stopped, pumps that controlled
the water and underground mines were turned off, allowing the water
level in the Berkeley Pit to rise. The pit became a lake filled with heavy metals. It received national coverage when a flock
of snow geese died in the acidic water. [Unknown Speaker] And we’ve exposed rock walls containing copper and other minerals. And in the process of exposing that, we’ve allowed air and water to come in contact with that rock wall. [Narrator] In 1902, farmers began complaining that smeltering operations were ruining their livelihood. They said airborne smelter dust
hurt their crops and livestock. The company paid them $330,000 in compensation. Newer smelters and a taller
stack were intended to prevent a recurrence of the problems — it only delayed them. And now, as in Butte, ARCO finds itself cleaning up a century of environmental damage to both
the land and the surrounding communities. The EPA separated to clean up into four units: the Old Works, which was the original smelter, tailings in the nearby town of Opportunity, Smelter Hill, which includes the new smelter, and the Warm Springs Pond, which had been used as a settling area for water
from the smeltering process. Regardless of how or when the cleanup
from the Old Anaconda happens, the environmental history of the company will certainly remain its most lasting legacy. [Sandy Stash] Montana had a pretty good
life for a lot of years for a remote state. We have wonderful colleges, institutions. We have an infrastructure that isn’t
paralleled in North Dakota or Wyoming. And I think people sometimes forget that
we owe that all to the mining industry, and I’ll say the other extract
of the timber, the agriculture. [Narrator] It is the legacy of
a company that for a century was criticized and commended, ridiculed and relied on. The legacy is in Montana’s forests, in the capital, in business districts in newsrooms, in rivers and in hills. It is a legacy that cannot and should not be forgotten. [Jim Carden] Well I have 35 years and two months when I retired with them. Matter of fact, I’m still actually on the payroll. And in all those years, I’ve never had a bad check. They paid and they paid well. And for my end of it, I thought
they were a real good company. Matter of fact you look at a lot
of the houses around Butte and they were built by the Anaconda Company. [John Talbot] I would say that the average
Montanan would never want to go back to an era when a corporation controlled as much of their destiny as the Anaconda company did. I mean this was close to being a corporate state at the end of the 19th century
and the early 20th century. The Anaconda Company had
unbelievable power in this state; in the legislature, in the courts, in the economy. And I guess that, to the extent that modern day Montanans know what happened, I’m sure they would not want to go back. [Evan Barrett] And the lesson
about the Anaconda Company is that big is not necessarily beautiful, that dependency on one company, one industry, is not necessarily good. And we have to look as a state
into the 21st century economy; the information age economy, the digitization economy, if you will, the communication age economy. So we have to be able to figure out how
we can find our place in that economy. [Dave Emmons] There was a
time when Montana was home to the fourth largest corporation in the world. There was a time when Montana
and its economy and its resources were absolutely vital to the
industrialization of this country, to the ability to prosecute wars in an effective and, finally, victorious way. Montana was once a very important place. [Music]

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