William Boyce Thompson

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For other people named William Thompson, see William Thompson (disambiguation).
William Boyce Thompson

William Boyce Thompson, (May 13, 1869 – June 27, 1930), was an American mining engineer, financier, prominent in the Republican party, promoter of Western support for the revolutionary Alexander Kerensky and Bolshevik governments of Russia, philanthropist, and founder of Newmont Mining. Thompson was a rare combination of hardheaded realist and dreamer.


Born in Virginia City, Montana, and raised in Butte, he was schooled in the rough mining towns of southwest Montana - but also at Phillips Exeter Academy and the Columbia School of Mines. During the 1890s he joined his father, William, one-time mayor of Butte, in Montana mining and lumber ventures, before moving East to become a mine promoter and stock broker. His first success, the Shannon Copper Company, where he opened mines, built a smelter, and a railroad between them, is now part of the vast Morenci, Arizona open pit, largest in the United States. During the early 1900s he expanded his promotions: to Ely, Nevada where his Nevada Consolidated investments eventually became a part of the multinational Kennecott Copper Company, of which he was a director; Mason Valley where he opened old copper mines and built his smelter town which was named Thompson, Nevada after him (now a ghost town); and most fortuitously in the 1910s opened the Magma mine at Superior, Arizona which became a major copper producer; and the promotion of the incredibly rich Inspiration Copper Company at Miami, Arizona during the 1910s; all made him fabulously wealthy. He had built a large fortune purchasing low grade, large scale copper deposits.[1] He retired from the New York stock exchange in 1915, and later created his own holding company, Newmont Mining Corporation, to which he transferred his many mining interests.[2] By the time of his death, Newmont Mining was a major factor in world copper production. Today, Newmont is the largest gold producer in the United States but continues the legacy of Thompson to explore and bring into production new ore deposits.[3]

Thompson's promotions and holdings were scattered from Canada to Peru. They included Indian Motorcycle Co. He financed lead, zinc and coal mines, street railways, handled the sensational Midvale Steel financing during the War when the stock rose from 290 to 500. He promoted the great Nipissing silver deposit at Cobalt, Canada for the Guggenheims and reaped a quick million dollars return. He refinanced American Woolen Co. and Tobacco Products Co., launched Cuba Cane Sugar Co., got control of Pierce Arrow Motor Car Co., organized Submarine Boat Corp. and the Wright-Martin Aeroplane Co. He was a director of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. By the 1920s he was a director of Sinclair Oil and promoter of Gulf Sulphur, but all these were diversions from his main interest in mining.

In 1925, when planning to scout mining properties in South Africa, he became ill and returned home half way through the trip, his last, lingering illness. Rotund, good-natured, bald, a tireless worker, a devoted family man, Thompson chewed tobacco, underpaid his employees (though equivalent to pay given by his contemporaries) and, as one of the greatest gamblers of his time, discharged them for gambling. [1]

He was prominent behind the scenes in the Republican party, a presidential elector, party chair, as well as served on the the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1914 to 1919 and was twice (1916 and 1920) a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In 1921, he declined nomination for a cabinet post under president Harding. He was head of and principle supporter of the President Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association from 1919 until his death.

In 1912, he built the W. B. Thompson Mansion at Yonkers, New York.[4] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[5]


He visited Russia before the revolution and again in 1918 just after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the effects of crop failure and starvation were rampant. Thompson was a member of an American Red Cross relief mission that also hoped to encourage formation of a democratic government in Russia. He was awarded the honorary title of Colonel by the American Red Cross.

The mission saw firsthand the suffering of the people and the inability of the social democratic government headed by Alexander Kerensky to feed the hungry. Although Thompson added $1 million of his own to the relief funds provided by the U.S. government, he was unable to convince President Woodrow Wilson to do more. However, he was able to rally other financiers including the trust of J.P. Morgan to aid the effort. Soon after the Americans had returned home, the Kerensky government fell and the Bolsheviks came to power. Thompson’s hopes for a prosperous democracy in Russia were ended. The Russian experience convinced him that agriculture, food supply, and social justice are linked. World political stability in the future, he prophesied, would depend on the availability of adequate food. This conviction, along with his faith in science, helped to shape his next philanthropic project, the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. (CITATION??)

Another argument as detailed in Anthony C Sutton's 'Wall Street & The Bolshevik Revolution', and as claimed by Thomspson himself in the Washington Post (Feb 2nd 1918) - Thompson gave money to the Bolsheviks, and not to the Provisional Government run by Kerensky.

The mausoleum of William Boyce Thompson

Thompson died from pneumonia in 1930 and was buried at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A 1935 biography of Boyce-Thompson, The Magnate, by Herman Hagedorn, the presidential biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, profiles his life.

His portrait was painted by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862-1947) about 1920-5, and was donated to the New York Chamber of Commerce around 1948/9 by the artist's friend, the soprano Jessica Dragonette (died 1980) who had acquired it from the artist's estate; she claimed in her autobiography 'Faith is a Song' (1951) that she offered it to Thompson's daughter who set a fee for the privilege of destroying the portrait. The portrait is now in the New York State Museum at Albany.


Plant research[edit]

He was not only a shrewd man of business but also had great intellectual curiosity, particularly about science. He wished to be a force for good in the world and supported various philanthropies. During the 1920s, near Superior, Arizona he built his winter mansion, Picket Post House, overlooking the beautiful desertscape and gardens he created at what is now the magnificent William Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum State Park. [6]

In 1920, he decided to establish the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, and endowed it with $10 million, a veritable fortune in the 1920s. He hoped that this "seed" money would enable the institute to acquire the very best scientists, equipment, and supplies and then to develop relationships with industry and the government to help finance research.

The yacht Alder after being converted to USS Jamestown (PG-55) in 1941. Photo c. 1943.

Other causes[edit]

He donated money for parks and libraries at many of his mining camps, including the Thompson-Hickman Memorial Library in his birthplace, Virginia City; his wife Gertrude Hickman Thompson officially transferred the building to the city in 1918. He donated $50,000 for a park in Butte.

Boyce-Thompson also willed $1 million to Phillips Exeter Academy upon his death and a significant gem and mineral collection to New York's American Museum of Natural History[2].

His daughter, Margaret Thompson, and wife, Gertrude Hickman, inherited the balance of his wealth. In 1941, The Alder, Boyce-Thompson's 265 ft. motor-yacht, was given the U.S. Navy to aid the war effort.

To the Phillips Exeter Academy, Thompson donated $2 million during his lifetime. His donations created the Boyce-Thompson science building, a new gymnasium in 1923, squash courts, a baseball field, sports cage, and other facilities.

Boyce-Thompson family[edit]

The Boyce-Thompson family listed by ancestry/generation:

  • William Boyce Thompson (1869–1930) (m. Gertrude Hickman)
    • Margaret Thompson Biddle (1897–1956) (1st m. 1916 Theodore Schulze II div. unk.) (2nd m. 1931 Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr. div. 1936)
      • Theodore Schulze III (1920–1962) (m. Joyce Ward)
        • Joyce Schulze
        • Charles Schulze
        • Peter Schulze
      • Margaret "Peggy" Boyce Schulze (1921—1964) (1st m. 1939 Prince Alexander zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst) (2nd m. Morton Downey)
        • Catherine Hohenlohe (1942)
        • Christian-Conrad Hohenlohe (1945)



  1. ^ Hagedorn, Hermann (1935). The Magnate, William Boyce Thompson and His Time. New York: John Day. LCCN 77-020633. 
  2. ^ Ramsey, Robert H. (1973). Men and Mines of Newmont, a Fifty-year History. New York: Octagon Books. ISBN 0-374-96710-5. 
  3. ^ Morris, Jack H. (2010). Going for Gold, the History of Newmont Mining Corporation. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-1677-8. 
  4. ^ Austin N. O'Brien (September 1982). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: W. B. Thompson Mansion". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  5. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  6. ^ http://azstateparks.com/Parks/BOTH/.  Missing or empty |title= (help);

External links[edit]