Copper Queen Mine

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Copper Queen Mine Tour, Sept 2008
Classic Bisbee Azurite and Malachite specimen from the Copper Queen mine. This specimen was in the personal collection of Dr. James Douglas, and was later donated to the Smithsonian by his son.[1]

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.[2] It was acquired by Phelps Dodge in 1885.

In the early 1900s, this was the most productive copper mine in Arizona.[3] While copper mining declined in the area in the 1930s and 1940s, the Copper Queen continued to be mined by the open-pit process during the years following World War II. With decreasing returns, Phelps Dodge closed it in 1985.


The original claim to the mine was staked in 1877 by a prospector named George Warren, who was attracted by outcrops with the lead mineral cerussite, which often carried silver.[4] An option on the mine was acquired in 1880 by entrepreneur Ed Reilly, who raised $80,000 capital from Dewitt Bisbee to begin production.[5]

The surface pockets of cerussite were soon exhausted, but the owners found that the orebody ran 23% copper, with silver and gold as byproducts. Most mines of that era could profitably mine ore containing 3% or 4% copper, so the Copper Queen orebody was considered extraordinarily high grade. The surface oxide ore was exhausted after three or four years, but miners explored deeper and eventually found even larger orebodies.[2]

In 1884-5 the mine was offered for sale to London investors for £350,000, but the offer was not taken up.[6] The mine was acquired by Phelps Dodge.

In the early 20th century, the Copper Queen ranked as the most productive copper mine in Arizona.[3] Deposits of gold and silver were also discovered in the mine.[7]

As mining was extremely hazardous, workers tried to organize to gain better conditions and wages. In 1917 the mine was the site of an Industrial Workers of the World miners' strike.[8] Phelps Dodge resisted union organizing and used private police to arrest more than 1000 miners; they were expelled from the town and area in what became known as the Bisbee Deportation.[9]

In the 1950s, Phelps Dodge developed open-pit mining at the Copper Queen; this enabled mining operations to continue. Underground work was also done. By the middle 1960s, the grade of ore from the Copper Queen had declined to 4%.[10] The mine ceased production in 1975.

As proposed by the mayor and volunteers seeking an alternative economic base, the company agreed to allow part of the mine to be open for tours. This area was renovated by paid and volunteer workers to create a heritage tourism site. More than one million visitors have seen the mine since it reopened in 1976.[11] Phelps Dodge's former headquarters building in Bisbee has been adapted as a mining museum, which offers interpretation of the mining era and its effects in the region.

The company was acquired by Freeport McMoRan, which in the early 21st century was investigating new means of mining in this area.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For a photo of the Smithsonian display case of Dr. Douglas' specimens, see File:Minerals from Bisbee at the Smithsonian.jpg
  2. ^ a b Stevens (1909), The Copper Handbook, p. 586
  3. ^ a b Horace J. Stevens (1909), The Copper Handbook, v.8, Houghton, Mich.: Horace Stevens, p.1457.
  4. ^ R.W. Graeme (1987), "Bisbee, Arizona's dowager queen of mining camps, a look at her first 50 years", in History of Mining in Arizona, Tucson: Mining Club of the Southwest, p.51.
  5. ^ Nicholl, Boyd; Coggin, Janice (2003). Bisbee, Arizona, Then and Now. Cowboy Miner Productions. pp. p. 55. ISBN 1-931725-10-1. 
  6. ^ Casson, Mark (2000). The Evolution of International Business, 1800-1945. Taylor & Francis. pp. p. 89. ISBN 0-415-19009-6. 
  7. ^ Kingsolver, Barbara (1996). Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983. Cornell University Press. pp. p. 11. ISBN 0-8014-8389-1. 
  8. ^ Foner, Philip Sheldon (1947). History of the Labor Movement in the United States. International Publishers Co. pp. v. 2, p.269. ISBN 0-7178-0627-8. 
  9. ^ "The Bisbee Deportation 1917". Web exhibits. University of Arizona. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  10. ^ Leonard P. Larson and William C. Henkes, The Mineral Industry of Arizona, US Bureau of Mines, 1966 Minerals Yearbook, v.3, p. 93.
  11. ^ Fields, Terri (2003). Counting Arizona's Treasures. Kiva Publishing. pp. p. 33. ISBN 1-885772-03-3. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 31°26′25″N 109°54′48″W / 31.44033°N 109.91335°W / 31.44033; -109.91335