Copper mining in Arizona

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Copper mining in Arizona
Map of USA AZ.svg
Position of Arizona
State Arizona
Country United States
Regulatory authority
AuthorityArizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources
Commodity Copper
ProductionIncrease2.svg 750,000 metric tons
ValueDecrease2.svg US $5.54 billion
EmployeesIncrease2.svg 10,300 [1]

Copper mining in Arizona, a state of the United States, has been a major industry since the 19th century. In 2007 Arizona was the leading copper-producing state in the US, producing 750 thousand metric tons of copper, worth a record $5.54 billion. Arizona's copper production was 60% of the total for the United States. Copper mining also produces gold and silver as byproducts. [2] Byproduct molybdenum from copper mining makes Arizona the nation's second-largest producer of that metal. Although copper mineralization was found by the earliest Spanish explorers of Arizona, the territory was remote, and copper could seldom be profitably mined and shipped. Early Spanish, Mexican, and American prospectors searched for gold and silver (see Silver mining in Arizona ), and ignored copper. It was not until the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1876 that copper became broadly economic to mine and ship to market.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Arizona U.S. state in the United States

Arizona is a state in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the sixth largest and the 14th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is Phoenix. Arizona shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico; its other neighboring states are Nevada and California to the west and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the south and southwest.

Copper Chemical element with atomic number 29

Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed surface of pure copper has a pinkish-orange color. Copper is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, as a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys, such as sterling silver used in jewelry, cupronickel used to make marine hardware and coins, and constantan used in strain gauges and thermocouples for temperature measurement.


All copper mining was done by underground methods until the early 20th century. After the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah successfully mined a large low-grade copper deposit from a large open pit, the same technique was applied to Arizona's porphyry copper deposits. Arizona's first open pit copper mine opened at Ajo in 1917.

Utah U.S. state in the United States

Utah is a state in the western United States. It became the 45th state admitted to the U.S. on January 4, 1896. Utah is the 13th-largest by area, 30th-most-populous, and 11th-least-densely populated of the 50 United States. Utah has a population of more than 3 million according to the Census estimate for July 1, 2016. Urban development is mostly concentrated in two areas: the Wasatch Front in the north-central part of the state, which contains approximately 2.5 million people; and Washington County in Southern Utah, with over 160,000 residents. Utah is bordered by Colorado to the east, Wyoming to the northeast, Idaho to the north, Arizona to the south, and Nevada to the west. It also touches a corner of New Mexico in the southeast.

Ajo, Arizona CDP in Arizona, United States

Ajo is a census-designated place (CDP) in Pima County, Arizona, United States. The population was 3,304 at the 2010 census. Ajo is located on State Route 85 just 43 miles (69 km) from the Mexican border. It is the closest community to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

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Ray mine
Copper-mining centers in Arizona

Copper mining districts

Azurite from Bisbee, Arizona WLA hmns Azurite botryoidal.jpg
Azurite from Bisbee, Arizona


American Indians used copper minerals of the Verde district at modern-day Jerome as pigment to decorate skin and textiles. The first European to visit the area is thought to be Spanish explorer Antonio de Espejo, who found silver at a location in central Arizona in 1583. No mining resulted, and Juan de Oñate led another expedition searching for Espejo's silver location in 1598; many claims were staked, but the expeditioners returned to Santa Fe without mining any silver, and the deposits remained unexploited. [3]

Jerome, Arizona Town in Arizona, United States

Jerome is a town in the Black Hills of Yavapai County in the U.S. state of Arizona. Founded in the late 19th century on Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley, it is more than 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above sea level. It is about 100 miles (160 km) north of Phoenix along State Route 89A between Sedona and Prescott. Supported in its heyday by rich copper mines, it was home to more than 10,000 people in the 1920s. As of the 2010 census, its population was 444.

Antonio de Espejo (1540–1585) was a Spanish explorer who led an expedition into New Mexico and Arizona in 1582–83. The expedition created interest in establishing a Spanish colony among the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande valley.

Juan de Oñate Spanish Conquistador, explorer, and colonial governor

Juan de Oñate y Salazar was a Spanish conquistador from New Spain, explorer, and colonial governor of the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México in the viceroyalty of New Spain. He led early Spanish expeditions to the Great Plains and Lower Colorado River Valley, encountering numerous indigenous tribes in their homelands there. Oñate founded settlements in the province, now in the Southwestern United States.

The United Verde mine exhausted the rich oxidized ores in 1884, and the mine closed. William A. Clark of Montana visited the district in 1888, bought it, and reopened the mine. The smelter at Clarkdale was built in 1915. [4]

William A. Clark American mining magnate and politician (1839-1925)

William Andrews Clark Sr. was an American politician and entrepreneur, involved with mining, banking, and railroads.

Clarkdale, Arizona Town in Arizona, United States

Clarkdale is a town in Yavapai County, Arizona, United States. The Verde River flows through the town as does Bitter Creek, an intermittent tributary of the river. According to the 2010 census, the population of the town was 4,097.


New Cornelia mine and the town of Ajo NewCorneliaMine.jpg
New Cornelia mine and the town of Ajo

Spaniards mined on a small scale at Ajo as early as 1750. After the Gadsden Purchase brought the southern Arizona into the United States in 1853, the mine was reopened in 1855, and shipped high-grade ore to Swansea in Wales. However, the remote desert location made mining generally uneconomic without onsite treatment. The area was mostly idle until the New Cornelia mine opened in 1917 as the first large open-pit mine in Arizona. Mining continued in the district until 1983. The district produced 6.304 billion pounds of copper.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a European country located in Southwestern Europe with some pockets of Spanish territory across the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Gadsden Purchase A land purchase from Mexico by the United States.

The Gadsden Purchase, known in Mexico as Spanish: Venta de La Mesilla, is a 29,670-square-mile (76,800 km2) region of present-day southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico that the United States acquired from Mexico by the Treaty of Mesilla, which took effect on June 8, 1854. The purchase included lands south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande where the U.S. wanted to build a transcontinental railroad along a deep southern route, which the Southern Pacific Railroad later completed in 1881–1883. The purchase also aimed to resolve other border issues.

Swansea City & County in Wales

Swansea is a coastal city and county, officially known as the City and County of Swansea in Wales. Swansea lies within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan and the ancient Welsh commote of Gŵyr on the southwest coast. The county area includes Swansea Bay and the Gower Peninsula. Swansea is the second largest city in Wales and the twenty-fifth largest city in the United Kingdom. According to its local council, the City and County of Swansea had a population of 241,300 in 2014, the second most populous local authority area in Wales after Cardiff. Together with Neath and Port Talbot, Swansea formed a wider Urban Area of 300,352 in 2011.

Clifton-Morenci district

Prospectors from Silver City, New Mexico discovered copper mineralization at Morenci, also known as the Greenlee district in 1872. Mining began the following year, and miners extracted and smelted high-grade copper ore until a railroad reached the district in 1884 and a concentrator made mining and processing of low-grade ore economical. [4]

Silver City, New Mexico Town in New Mexico, United States

Silver City is a town in Grant County, New Mexico, United States. It is the county seat and the home of Western New Mexico University. As of the 2010 census the population was 10,315. In 2018 the population was estimated to be 9,529.

Morenci, Arizona Census-designated place in Arizona, United States

Morenci is a census-designated place (CDP) and company town in Greenlee County, Arizona, United States, and was founded by the Detroit Copper Mining Company of Arizona. The population was 1,879 at the 2000 census and 1,489 at the 2010 census. The biggest employer in Morenci and the owner of the town is Freeport-McMoRan, the owner of the Morenci Mine, the largest copper mining operation in North America, and one of the largest copper mines in the world. The town was a site of the Arizona Copper Mine Strike of 1983. The large open-pit mine is north of the town.

Greenlee County, Arizona U.S. county in Arizona

Greenlee County is a county located in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Arizona. As of the 2010 census its population was 8,437, making it the least populous county in Arizona. The county seat is Clifton.

The Morenci mine, owned jointly by Freeport-McMoran and Sumitomo, is the largest copper producer in the state, and regularly contributes about half of Arizona's copper production.

Bisbee (Warren district)

The Lavender Pit, Bisbee, Arizona The Lavender Pit, Bisbee, AZ.jpg
The Lavender Pit, Bisbee, Arizona

An army scout noted copper mineralization in the Warren district at present-day Bisbee in 1877. Production began in 1880 after a rich discovery of copper oxide on the Copper Queen claim. The success of the Copper Queen mine convinced Phelps Dodge to buy the adjacent Atlantic claim in 1881. Phelps Dodge later bought control of the Copper Queen and adjacent claims.

Although Phelps Dodge was the largest mining company in Bisbee, it was not the only one. The Calumet and Arizona Mining Company organized in March, 1901 and operated several large and profitable mines adjacent to the Copper Queen. By 1907, the C&A was the fourth-most productive copper mine in Arizona, and ran its own smelter in Douglas, Arizona. [5]

Phelps Dodge started mining the Lavender open pit in the early 1950s. [4] The Lavender pit closed in 1974.

The Copper Queen mine, Bisbee's first working mine, was also its last. Mining stopped in 1975, although the Copper Queen still offers tours.

The Warren district is credited with having produced 7.92 billion pounds (3.59 million mt) of copper. [6] In addition, the district recovered 324 million pounds (147,000 t) of lead, 355 million pounds (161,000 t) of zinc, 28 million pounds (13,000 t) of manganese, 2.79 million ounces (86.8 t) of gold and 102 million ounces (3177 t) of silver. [7]

Globe-Miami district

Panorama of Inspiration (FMCG) & Miami (BHP) operations, Miami-Inspiration Mining District, 2007 Miami-Inspir.jpg
Panorama of Inspiration (FMCG) & Miami (BHP) operations, Miami-Inspiration Mining District, 2007

Silver mining started at Globe in 1874. The silver mines shut down in 1877, but the following year copper mining took over. [8]

White Mesa district

The White Mesa copper-mining district is in the western part of the Navajo reservation, 112 miles (180 km) northeast of Flagstaff, in Coconino County. The copper deposits consist of malachite and chrysocolla as grain coatings in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone. They were first mined on a small scale by Mormon settlers in the 19th century, then briefly in 1917, and again 1939-1941. The district produced about 550,000 pounds of copper and a small amount of silver. [9]

Copper mining today

Significant active Arizona copper mines in 2012, by order of output:

RankMineCountyOperatorSource of copper2012 Cu Production (million lbs)Reference
1 Morenci Greenlee Freeport-McMoRan Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated and leached632 [10]
2 Ray Pinal ASARCO Copper ore, concentrated and leached213 [11]
3 Bagdad Yavapai Freeport-McMoRan Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated and leached197 [10]
4 Safford Graham Freeport-McMoRan Copper ore, leached175 [10]
5 Sierrita Pima Freeport-McMoRan Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated and leached157 [10]
6 Mission Complex Pima ASARCO Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated134 [12]
7 Miami Gila Freeport-McMoRan Copper ore, leached66 [10]
8 Silver Bell Pima ASARCO Copper ore, leached45.9 [13]
9 Mineral Park Mohave Mercator Minerals Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated40.9 [14]
10 Carlota Mine Gila KGHM Copper ore, leached23.3 [15]

Leading copper-producing mines in 2015

Leading copper-producing mines in the Arizona in 2015, in order of output: [16]

RankMineCountyOperatorSource of copperCapacity (thousands of metric tons)
1 Morenci Greenlee Freeport-McMoRan Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated and leached480
2 Ray Pinal ASARCO Copper ore, concentrated and leached150
3 Mission Complex Pima ASARCO Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated150
4 Safford Graham Freeport-McMoRan Copper ore, leached110
5 Bagdad Yavapai Freeport-McMoRan Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated and leached100
6 Miami Gila Freeport-McMoRan Copper ore, leached90
7 Sierrita Pima Freeport-McMoRan Copper-molybdenum ore, concentrated and leached80
8 Pinto Valley Gila Capstone MiningCopper-molybdenum ore, concentrated and leached60
9 Silver Bell Pima ASARCO Copper ore, leached25
10Carlota Gila KGHM International, Ltd. Copper ore, leached10
Open-pit copper mines south of Tucson. Note north is to the left. 2010 NASA astronaut photo. Pima Co. Copper mines.jpg
Open-pit copper mines south of Tucson. Note north is to the left. 2010 NASA astronaut photo.

Five of the mines are owned and operated by Freeport-McMoRan, three by ASARCO, and one each by Capstone Mining and KGHM International, Ltd..

New operations

Mining of the Resolution Copper deposit in Pinal County, potentially the largest copper mine in Arizona, is stalled pending a proposed land swap with the federal government. [17] Resolution Copper has proposed to give the federal government 4,500 acres (18 km2) of environmentally sensitive land in Arizona in exchange for the 3,000-acre (12 km2) proposed mine site. In May 2009 Arizona Democratic congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick introduced legislation in Washington to complete the land swap. The swap already has the support of Arizona's two Republican senators. [18] As of July 2017, the project was still under review by the US Government. [19]

The Sunnyside mine project is in development in Santa Cruz County.

See also

Related Research Articles

Mule Mountains place

The Mule Mountains are a north/south running mountain range located in the south-central area of Cochise County, Arizona. The highest peak, Mount Ballard, rises to 7,500 ft (2,300 m). Prior to mining operations commencing there, the mountains were heavily forested with large Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir and other conifers, but these were all cut down for housing needs and to feed the ore smelting furnaces in Douglas, Arizona, approximately 20 miles due east. Now, the primary vegetation of the Mules consists of manzanita brush, juniper, lowland oaks and pines, and various grasses. To the east of the mountain range lies Sulphur Springs Valley, and the San Pedro River and Valley to the west.

Lavender Pit

The Lavender Pit is a former open pit copper mine near Bisbee in Cochise County, Arizona, United States. It is located near the famous Copper Queen Mine. The Lavender Pit was named in honor of Harrison M. Lavender (1890–1952), who as Vice-President and General Manager of Phelps Dodge Corporation, conceived and carried out this plan for making the previously unprofitable low-grade copper bearing rock of the area into commercial copper ore.

Phelps Dodge company

Phelps Dodge Corporation was an American mining company founded in 1834 as an import-export firm by Anson Greene Phelps and his two sons-in-law William Earle Dodge, Sr. and Daniel James. The latter two ran Phelps, James & Co., the part of the organization based in Liverpool, England. The import-export firm at first exported United States cotton from the Deep South to England, and imported various metals to the US needed for industrialization. With the expansion of the western frontier in North America, the corporation acquired mines and mining companies, including the Copper Queen Mine in Arizona and the Dawson, New Mexico coal mines. It operated its own mines and acquired railroads to carry its products. By the late 19th century, it was known as a mining company.

James Douglas (businessman) businessman, born 1837

James Walter Douglas was a Canadian born mining engineer and businessman who introduced a number of metallurgical innovations in copper mining and amassed a fortune through the copper mining industry of Arizona and Sonora.

The Arizona copper mine strike of 1983 began as a bargaining dispute between the Phelps Dodge Corporation and a group of union copper miners and mill workers, led by the United Steelworkers. The subsequent strike lasted nearly three years, and resulted in replacement of most of the striking workers and decertification of the unions. It is regarded as an important event in the history of the United States labor movement

James Stuart Douglas (1867–1949), popularly known as Rawhide Jimmy, was a Canadian-American businessman and mining executive.

Louis S. Cates was born in Massachusetts and attended MIT. He led the Phelps Dodge Company from 1930 - 1947. During that time the company acquired the Nichols Copper Company, the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company, and the United Verde Copper Company. Under Cates' leadership Phelps-Dodge became an integrated copper industry operation. During his tenure the capital stock of Phelps-Dodge more than quadrupled in value, despite the Great Depression. Cates died in 1959

Louis Davidson Ricketts was an American economic geologist, metallurgist, mining engineer and banker who pioneered development of copper mines in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora.

Copper mining in the United States

Copper mining in the United States has been a major industry since the rise of the northern Michigan copper district in the 1840s. In 2017 the United States produced 1.27 million metric tonnes of copper, worth $8 billion, making it the world's fourth largest copper producer, after Chile, China, and Peru. Copper was produced from 23 mines in the US. Top copper producing states in 2014 were Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana. Minor production also came from Idaho, and Missouri. As of 2014, the US had 45 million tonnes of known remaining reserves of copper, the fifth largest known copper reserves in the world, after Chile, Australia, Peru, and Mexico.

Silver mining in Arizona

Silver mining in Arizona was a powerful stimulus for exploration and prospecting in early Arizona. Cumulative silver production through 1981 totaled 490 million troy ounces. However, only about 10% of Arizona's silver production came from silver mining. More than 80% of the state's silver was a byproduct of copper mining; other silver came as a byproduct of lead, zinc, and gold mining.

Copper Queen Mine

The Copper Queen Mine was a copper mine in Cochise County, Arizona, United States. Its development led to the growth of the surrounding town of Bisbee in the 1880s. Its orebody ran 23% copper, an extraordinarily high grade. It was acquired by Phelps Dodge in 1885.

Lists of copper mines in the United States

The following lists of copper mines in the United States:

The Safford Mine is an open-pit copper mine located in Graham County, Arizona, eight miles (13 km) north of the city of Safford. The mine is owned and operated by Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold.

New Cornelia mine Ajo, Pima Co.

The New Cornelia mine is a currently inactive open-pit copper mine in Pima County, Arizona, United States. It was the only productive mine in the Ajo mining district, and is located just outside the town of Ajo, which was built as a company town to serve the New Cornelia mines. The roughly circular pit is one and a half miles across at its widest point, and 1,100 feet deep at the center.

The El Paso and Southwestern Railroad was a short-line American railway company which operated in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, with line extensions across the international border into Mexico. The railroad was known as the Arizona and South Eastern Railroad from 1888 to 1902.

The Detroit Copper Mining Company was an American copper mining and smelting operation based in Morenci, Arizona. Incorporated in July 1872, it existed as an independent company until 1897, when a controlling interest in the company was purchased by the predecessor of the Phelps Dodge Corporation. It continued to exist as a subsidiary of Phelps Dodge & Co until 1917, when all Phelps Dodge operations in the area were consolidated into the new Phelps Dodge Corporation, Morenci Branch.

Toquepala mine mine in Peru

The Toquepala mine is a large porphyry copper mine in the Tacna Province, Tacna Department, Peru. The mine is an open-pit mine producing copper, molybdenum, rhenium and silver with minor gold and zinc.

Ira Joralemon

Ira Beaman Joralemon was an American mining engineer, economic geologist, and mining company executive, who specialized in exploration and mining of copper ore deposits. Over a career spanning more than six decades, Joralemon was involved in the discovery and development of numerous major copper and gold deposits, many of which went on to become operational mines. In addition to his professional career within the minerals industry, he was also a popular science author and historian of the mining industry.


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  2. Niemuth, Nyal J., "Arizona," Mining Engineering, May 2008, p.69.
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  4. 1 2 3 Anderson C. A., (1969). "Copper", Mineral and Water Resources of Arizona, Arizona Bureau of Mines, Bulletin 180, pp.117-156.
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  6. Arizona's Metallic Resources, Trends and Opportunities - 2008. - Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources. - February 2008. - (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document)
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  9. Read, Charles B., R. D. Sample, and H. H. Sullwold Jr. (1943) Copper Deposits of the White Mesa Mining District, Coconino County, Arizona, US Geological Survey, Open-File Report 43-24.
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  18. Erin Kelly and Dan Nowicki, Arizona Republic (21 May 2009): Bill revives land swap for Arizona copper mine, accessed 29 May 2009.
  19. Emily Flitter, Reuters (13 July 2017): Massive copper mine tests Trump's push to slash regulation