The Great War pushes the prices for base metals higher as radical labor movements hamstring operations>
By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief
A glimpse into the archives of Engineering & Mining Journal (E&MJ) as the title celebrates its 50th anniversary reveals a world on the edge of historic change. It’s 1916, the Great War or World War I is in its second year. The U.S. has not yet joined the fray and stories in E&MJ still refer to it as the European War. It is consuming natural resources and pushing prices for base metals and steel-making metals higher.
The automobile has replaced the horse-drawn carriage in urban centers. Trains and trolleys are consuming more steel and copper. A similar transition is occurring in the mines, where larger and larger electrically and diesel-powered equipment is starting to provide economies of scale. On the surface, steam shovels and draglines are moving ore and overburden, and mucking machines underground are loading ore cars pulled by locomotives rather than horses. The changes are also affecting the role of the miners in the pits. E&MJ routinely reports on labor disturbances created by the Wobblies or the International Workers of the World (IWW), whose radical, anarchical style will eventually be its undoing. A major labor movement is beginning to take shape worldwide.
The editors and readers still refer to E&MJ as a paper even though it is starting to look more like a magazine with black-and-white photography. The title is still a weekly, but it has grown to 100 pages or more with advertisements. Internally, the leadership at the magazine changes as does the ownership.
While E&MJ provides news from around the world, it still focuses primarily on U.S. mining, and business is booming for the American mines in 1916. The U.S. now produces more coal than England. Copper prices are at an all-time high. And, there is plenty of investment capital for the mines and mills.
A steam shovel exposes development drifts at the Utah Copper Co. pit in Bingham Canyon (September 7, 1907).
Editorial and Ownership Changes
At the turn of the 19th century, E&MJ was still published by The Scientific Publishing Co. Richard P. Rothwell was the editor and he served as co-editor with Rossiter W. Raymond from 1874 to 1889. He established E&MJ in its early reputation as a journal of mining economics and technology. He was also an active sponsor and founder of AIME, and was president in 1882. He died in 1901.
In January 1902, a semimonthly publication, Mining and Metallurgy, was merged with E&MJ and David T. Day was appointed as editor. “Day is supported by Raymond, Frederick Hobart and Walter R. Ingalls, who are serving as contributors. His brief one-year association with E&MJ has a nominal influence and he retires. His career of 28 years with the U.S. Geological Survey earned for him the sobriquet of ‘father of the Mineral Research Division.’”
During this period, W.J. Johnston, a well-known publisher at the time, acquired a large holding in The Scientific Publishing Co., and was elected its president. James H. McGraw, former president, continued to serve as a member of the board of directors. More branch offices were established for E&MJ in various mining districts, together with a more extensive system for collecting the news related to mining and metallurgical progress the world over.
In 1903, T.A. Rickard was appointed editor of E&MJ. Rickard was a famous mining engineer and mining writer. He wrote extensively about his travels, and those stories were published routinely in E&MJ, The Mining & Scientific Press in San Francisco, and the Mining Journal in London. He also wrote several books discussing mining, history and journalism, presented papers at AIME meetings and spoke at mining colleges. He had a rapport with Raymond and Rothwell and wrote kind words about Hobart and Ingalls in his memoir, Retrospect. Rickard gave financial and editorial control of E&MJ to a large group of mining engineers. He promoted lively discussion of technical topics, notably on ore deposits, mine sampling, and pyrite smelting.
|Richard P. Rothwell||David T. Day||T.A. Rickard||Walter Renton Ingalls|
Rickard and Johnston, however, did not see eye-to-eye. When Rickard accepted the position as editor, he arranged with Johnston for the issue of $200,000 ($5 million today) or 8% preferred stock, of which he took $50,000; the remaining $150,000 was purchased by fellow mining engineers. Johnston held $300,000 in common stock, which gave him control, but he could only sell his stake to someone who met the approval of the other shareholders. Rickard and the other shareholders forced Johnston out. He wanted to sell his stock to John A. Hill, but that proposal was vetoed and he sold his stock to H.M. Swetland, a publisher of automobile papers. After about nine months, Swetland sold his shares for a handsome profit to Hill.
“To work with [Hill] was impossible,” Rickard wrote. Before his resignation went into effect, he purchased The Mining & Scientific Press. Hill bought up the remaining stock and Rickard and his fellow mining engineers also made a handsome profit. Rickard and E&MJ would meet again. In 1922, the McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. would purchase The Mining & Scientific Press and merge it with E&MJ. Rickard would serve for a few more years as a contributor on retainer. In 1928, Rickard gave up journalism to focus on book publishing. In 1932, he wrote Man and Metals, which was prompted by the fact that H.G. Wells, in his Outline of History, had ignored the role the search for metals played in the history of mankind.
E&MJ not only survived, but thrived during this turbulent period. In 1905, Walter Renton Ingalls was appointed editor of E&MJ and he remained at the post until 1919. He inherited from Rothwell the statistical and economic traditions of E&MJ and developed a method of metal market reporting that gained worldwide acceptance. During his tenure, the technical scope of E&MJ was broadened to such an extent that it eventually abandoned coal mining, which led to the creation of Coal Age to serve that branch of the industry.
U.S. Mining Highlights From 100 Years Ago
The U.S. mining industry experienced unparalleled prosperity in 1916. Due to high metal prices, E&MJ reported record outputs in nearly every branch of the industry, both in tonnage and in the value of the production. This was especially true of copper, zinc, lead and iron; gold and silver did not experience a boom per se, but owing to the great prosperity of the country, plenty of investment capital was available for precious-metal mining. A restriction on imports led to the development of many new mineral properties in this country.
Labor participated in the prosperity in the form of bonuses, straight wage advances and increases based on the price of the metals. “Labor was hard to get, as a result of the extraordinary activity, and was also inefficient,” E&MJ reported. Considering conditions, serious labor disturbances were not numerous and were confined to the ending of the Clifton-Morenci strike in January; the IWW disturbance on the Mesabi Range, where a number of the underground mines were closed, though total iron-ore shipments were not curtailed; and the closing of most of the Mother Lode mines in Amador County, California, for seven weeks, the miners returning to work on the old basis at the end of that period.
Being primarily a copper-producing state, Arizona prospered enormously in 1916. Plant extensions were made at nearly all the established properties and at the El Paso Smelting Works, which treated a considerable amount of Arizona ore and concentrates. E&MJ noted the important plans of the Inspiration Consolidated Copper Co., the practical completion of the New Cornelia Copper Co.’s 5,000-ton leaching plant, the grading for Ray Hercules’ new mill and the extraordinary boom in the Jerome district. The Tucson, Gila Bend & Ajo Railrod was completed and stimulated further development in the Ajo district. The International Gas and Electric Co. of Nogales extended its electric-power line to the Santa Cruz County mines.
The reopening of old mines was the most striking feature of the gold-mining industry in California in 1916. “The successful opening several years ago of the old Plymouth mine by
W.J. Loring, for Bewick, Moreing & Co., was followed by the exploration of more of the old mines at depth,” E&MJ reported. In Nevada County, the established mines, such as the North Star and Empire and Pennsylvania operated steadily. The North Star Mines Co. consolidated its two 40-stamp mills and cyanide plants into one.
In Colorado, the lead and zinc mines of Lake and Summit counties were extremely active, as was also the San Juan country in the southwest. New discoveries of ore at depth in the Cripple Creek mines kept that famous gold district active without the added incentive of increased price for its products.
The muckers shovel into the lower end of a portable loading machine, which elevates the rock and dumps it into 3-ton saddle-back cars at Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co.’s Morris-Lloyd mine (September 15, 1915).
In Michigan, the copper companies of the Lake Superior district achieved record production in 1916. “Nearly every company increased its output and some companies that had not produced profitably for years were able to operate with a balance on the right side of the ledger,” E&MJ reported. Free from IWW disturbances that took place on the Mesabi Range in Minnesota, Michigan, took part in a rally in iron ore production. Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. at Ishpeming practically completed its preparations for placing the Holmes mine in the shipping list; the mine has the highest headframe of any Michigan iron mine.
The IWW strike in the summer of 2016 closed many of the Mesabi underground mines, but shipments were more than maintained out of stockpiles. Common labor at the end of 1916 was being paid $3/day ($75/day today) at nearly all mines. Electrification of mining equipment was marked in 1916, and there was a tendency toward heavier machinery. At the Mace open-pit mine, Butler Bros. began using a 375-ton Bucyrus revolving shovel with an 87-ft boom. A dragline was used for stripping at the Warren mine by the Winston Dear Co.
The lead district in southeast Missouri was very active throughout 2016. The most important developments in this district were the building of a 3,000-ton mill by the Federal Lead Co. at Flat River, the sinking by the same company of its No. 9 Shaft, a new shaft near Elkins by the Baker Lead Co., the acquisition of the Pim tract by the St. Louis Smelting and Refining Co., and the use of steam shovels at the open-cut operations at the Mine La Motte.
A photo of a Dorr thickener at the Arizona Copper Co. shows the trusses, which carry the rakes (July 24, 1915).
Copper and zinc production in Butte, Montana, reached a surpassing figure, E&MJ reported, and many old mines in outside districts were reopened as a result of the high metal prices. Anaconda started its 100-million-lb electrolytic zinc refinery and completed its construction campaign at Great Falls.
The Black Hills district in 1916 produced about $7.5 million in gold, of which Homestake furnished approximately $6 million. The other production was mainly from the Golden Reward, Trojan, Mogul and Wasp No. 2. At the time, gold was valued at $20.67/oz.
Being chiefly a producer of base metals, Utah prospered enormously in 1916. All properties were operated under high-pressure conditions, the output of the mines at times exceeding the smelting capacity. Utah Copper Co., which produced about 85 million lb of copper in the first six months, was at the end of the year turning out more than 20 million lb/month and planning even more increases. More than 40,000 tons per day were frequently mined by the company in 1916.
In 1916, Alaskan mines generated more than $50 million in revenue, compared to $33 million in 1915. It was the copper mines that so greatly swelled the figures. As many as 18 copper mines were operating in Alaska, compared with 13 in 1915. Seven were in the Ketchikan district, eight in the Prince William Sound district, and three in the Chitina district. The great output from the Kennecott mines in the Chitina district overshadowed all other operations. Roughly 640 placer gold mines employed 4,600 men. The Alaskan camps of the Yukon basin are believed to have produced $7.1 million worth of gold in 1916.
The Use of Flotation and Leaching Evolves
The unprecedented market for copper during 2016 gave a tremendous stimulus not only to the production of the metal and consequent expansion of the reduction plants, but also to the further development of the metallurgy of lean ores. In meeting the great demand, many properties have been resurrected, which, while dubious at $0.15/lb, are bonanzas at $0.25/lb ($5/lb today).
Advances in copper metallurgy at the time were taking place in three areas: flotation, leaching and the manufacture of sulphuric acid.
Recovery through the use of flotation was improving to 96% from 82%. “The revolutionary effects of flotation continue to be felt in both ore dressing and smelting, as shown by the development of fine-grinding machinery and of methods of drying and smelting concentrates of excessive fineness,” E&MJ reported. The whole flotation question appears to be clarifying. On the theoretical side, the controversy as to its modus operandi has led to a general investigation of the application of colloid chemistry, which is yielding many data of value in other lines.”
The photo shows square set timbering at the Homestake mine in Lead, South Dakota. The lithograph above also demonstrates the immense size of the square set timbering.
On December 11, 1916, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a decision in the suit of Minerals Separation Ltd. vs. Hyde, involving the basic patent for the flotation process of concentrating ores. The invention was held to be new and patentable in so far as the practice at the Butte & Superior mill is concerned, and the operations of the defendant Hyde at the Butte & Superior mill in Montana were held to be an infringement. A decision of the British House of Lords was referred to as having recognized the novelty of the invention. “But that the basic patent owned by Minerals Separation Ltd., upon which the froth-flotation process rests, is valid there is no longer any doubt,” E&MJ reported.
However, the gray area that separates flotation and leaching was a hotly discussed topic. “On mixed sulphides and oxides the feeling is not that the latter can be better handled by a separate hydrometallurgical treatment. When acids and soluble sulphides are added as flotative reagents with the object of coating oxidized material, flotation is really sailing more or less under false colors, as most of the additional recovery seems to be due to the dissolving of the copper in the acid and subsequent precipitation as sulphide, which is straight leaching; and as these reagents tend to react rather unfavorably on the legitimate recovery of the sulphide minerals present, it appears that the leaching operation should be conducted separately.”
This discussion led to a renewed interest in leaching, which for a time “had suffered from arrested development,” according to E&MJ. At the time, all of the major copper mines in the Southwest producing concentrates with some oxidized values were experimenting with leaching to improve recovery. One scheme that seemed to have possibilities was that of dissolving these values in dilute sulphuric acid and then precipitating them upon iron. The electrolysis of copper sulphate gained momentum.
Flotation processes were also being applied to both gold and silver metallurgy. “Although this was not considered possible a short time ago, a few recent installations have shown that highly successful results have followed the adoption of the process into this, for it, new field,” E&MJ reported. “The Goldfield Consolidated mill installed a large number of Callow cells designed to replace eventually the cyanide treatment. At this mill it is considered that flotation equipment treating a thousand tons daily may save up to $400,000 annually, without taking into account the higher extraction that may be secured.”
In another instance, Ralph W. Smith described at length in E&MJ (July 1, 1916) the treatment of an ore containing gold in addition to lead, silver and zinc, using the flotation process and extracting the gold by it successfully. “One of the first things noted in the operation of the flotation machine was the fact that the free gold floated,” Smith said. “Assays showed that much cleaner gold tailings were being made than by any other machine in the mill. The percentage saving of gold reached about 85%.” While many cyanide plants continue to operate, E&MJ reported that some of them have been partly, and a few wholly, changed over into flotation plants.
While most of the mills making use of flotation have been those in which base metals are treated, in a number of cases precious metals have been recovered as a sort of byproduct, such as the silver recovered in the concentrates of the mills in the Coeur d’Alene district of Idaho, and the gold in the copper recovered in some of the Montana mines. It seems, however, that now flotation is likely to be used on purely precious-metal ores.