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Copper Queen Mine

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The Copper Queen Mine is one of the most important in the history of copper mining in America. Located in Bisbee in Cochise County, Arizona, the copper mine was discovered in the late 1800s and was mined for almost 100 years before production ceased. The copper mine, which has since been awarded as a National Registered Landmark and is visited every year by thousands, is one of the few mines that have seen the fruition of modern mining methods as they evolved over the years.

Also notable is that the mine produced 50 percent of the state’s copper from the time it opened to the day it closed in 1975, accounting for eight billion pounds (3.6 billion kg) of copper. In addition to copper, silver and gold deposits were also mined, but on a much smaller scale.[1]


[edit] Construction History

[edit] Early Beginnings

The story of the Copper Queen Mine began when copper stains were discovered by a slew of U.S. Army troops who were on the lookout for hostile Appache Indians in 1877. Under the direction of Lt. Anthony Rucker, the copper stains in the Mule Mountains surrounding the town of Bisbee were further investigated and chunks of copper were located. Rucker and his scout Jack Dunn subsequently filed claims for the copper found in the mountains. Sure of the potential of the newly discovered copper, they sought the help of a prospector by the name of George Warren. Warren did indeed file more claims but, in a drunken error, forgot to include the names of Rucker and Dunn. In the next year, more than two hundred claims were filed in the mountains.

The mine did not, in fact, attract the attention of major investors until several years later, when mining entrepreneur Ed Reilly was sent to San Francisco to spark interest and gather financial backing from the Bisbee and Williams Development Co. Dewitt Bisbee put up $80,000 to help jumpstart the mine’s operations, which quickly got underway. The investment also contributed to the mine’s very own smelter.

The investment did not disappoint and high-grade ore was produced almost immediately, catching the attention of others who wanted to develop successful mining operations. In 1881, James Douglas was employed by Phelps Dodge Mercantile Co. to look for potential mining property in the area. What he saw was well received by Phelps Dodge, who purchased the mine in 1885 and became Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Co., one of the largest at the time.[2]

The mine, which was known as “The Queen of the Copper Camps,” became famous all over the world for its diverse range of copper and other minerals, as many as 5,000 workers were employed at any given time to work at the mine.

[edit] Early Mining Methods

When construction began, hard-rock miners engaged in primitive methods of mining in order to construct the tunnels and mine shafts for this mine. This involved drilling, blasting, and mucking through more than 2,000 miles (3,219 km) worth of tunnel in the mountains. The length of the tunnels they drilled and blasted is equivalent to the distance between Portland to Chicago. Unlike many mines, the Copper Queen was constructed with a series of timber shafts that ascended rather than descending. The timber provided a strong support system for the shaft in which ore and waste were raised and lowered by a hoisting system.

Before mechanization, the mine was operated mostly by hand. Miners used hand-held drills to bore twenty or so holes into the rock. Once the holes were drilled, sticks of dynamite were placed inside them in a formation that would break the rocks in a particular patter that would facilitate the construction of tunnels and shafts underground. Miners also loaded the ore and rock waste into carts and pushed it all the way out of the mine; a dangerous and arduous task. Later, mules were used to haul the ore out, reducing the time of the task considerably. They were able to drag four carts at once, but were expensive animals to purchase. The mules played an important role in the early mining industry.

[edit] Mechanization

The birth of electricity changed the mining methods considerably. Now the miners relied on a steam engine nicknamed Geronimo to haul out the ore carts, although the use of mules was also employed. Drilling holes into the rock gradually evolved with the use of rotary drills that could quickly complete the task. Electricity brought about electrical motors that powered trollies and trams that could transport ore and equipment in and out of the mine quickly.

The onslaught of the Industrial Revolution meant every industry was gifted with the benefits of mechanization. Equipment used within the mine was developed by manufacturers who saw a demand for the improvement of once strenuous tasks associated with the mining industry. Copper Queen survived long enough to benefit from equipment such as shovels, excavators, rotary drills, modern blasting techniques, motorized trams, and light bulbs.

Production within the mine came to a halt in 1975 following more than a decade of declining ore grade. Ore production had reached as low as four percent.

Today, the mine is a hot tourist location and a National Registered Landmark.[3]

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Unique Facts

  • The mine is now a tourist attraction and is visited by thousands every year.
  • The site of the mine houses a nearby museum dedicated to the tools, methods, and stories of the miners who worked there.[4]

[edit] References

  1. Hart, John Mason. Border Crossings. Rowman & Littlefield: 1998.
  2. Nicholl, Boyd and Coggin, Janice and Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. Bisbee, Arizona, Then and Now. Cowboy Miner Productions: 2003.
  3. Bisbee Queen Mine Tour. Bisbee Museum. 2008-09-09.
  4. Fields, Terri and Marinella, Tony. Counting Arizona’s Tresures. Kiva Publishing: 2003.