Detroit Copper Mining Company of Arizona

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Detroit Copper Mining Company of Arizona
Industry Copper mining
Founded 1874
Founder E. B. Ward and William Church
Defunct 1917
Headquarters Morenci, Arizona
Area served
United States
Key people
William E. Dodge, Jr., Daniel Willis James, James Douglas
Products Copper
Parent Phelps Dodge (now Freeport-McMoRan) after 1881

The Detroit Copper Mining Company of Arizona was an American copper mining and smelting company based in Morenci, Arizona. Incorporated in 1874, it existed as an independent company until 1881 when a controlling interest in the company was purchased by the Phelps Dodge Corporation. It continued to exist as a subsidiary of Phelps Dodge until 1917, when all Phelps Dodge operations in the area were consolidated into the new Phelps Dodge, Morenci Branch.


Morenci copper mines, circa 1903.

The company was co-founded in 1874 by Captain E. B. Ward, a wealthy steamboat owner from Detroit, Michigan, and William Church, a mine speculator from Denver, Colorado.[1][2] Actual mining operations did not begin until 1875, however.[2] The company consisted of 145 mining claims near Morenci.[3] In time, the company owned a large store, a hotel, and considerable amounts of additional property in the town of Morenci.[3] It also established a water pumping plant on the San Francisco River seven miles away.[3] The quality of the "Detroit lode" yielded about 140 pounds of copper per ton of ore mined.[3] But traditional mechanical concentration methods could not be used to process the ore; a furnace had to be used, increasing the cost of the operation and limiting the company's profitability until such time as it could raise enough capital to expand its smelting operations.[3] Luckily, Detroit Copper Mining was the only company of any size to operate in the area until 1900.[3]

Church founded the town of Morenci to supply housing and services to workers employed by the new mine.[4] The company employed mostly Mexican miners, who were paid about half what Caucasian miners earned.[4] As mining operations expanded, the town of Clifton was settled to provide additional housing.[4]

The Phelps Dodge Corporation purchased a controlling interest in the company in 1881.[4]

In May 1882, the company agreed to co-develop the "Detroit lode" with the Longfellow Copper Mining Company (later purchased by the Arizona Copper Company). Although federal and state law provided that the company which accessed the lode at a shallower level had the right to develop the entire deposit, Detroit Copper lacked the capital to do so and agreed to permit Longfellow Copper to mine the lode as well.[5]

As with many mines in Arizona and New Mexico at the time, the Detroit Copper Mining Co. saw several waves of labor union organizing as well as strikes from 1900 onward.[6] Detroit Mining used labor spies to infiltrate nascent unions and stop organizing campaigns.[7]

Phelps Dodge Corporation bought out all remaining minority partners in 1897.[4][8]

After a 1917 reorganization, the company ceased to exist. The operation was known as "Phelps Dodge Corporation, Morenci Branch."[4]


  1. ^ Weed, Walter Harvey. The Mines Handbook: A Manual of the Mining Industry of North America. Houghton, Mich.: Stevens Copper Handbook Co., 1918.
  2. ^ a b Copper Manual: Copper Mines, Copper Statistics, Copper Shares and a Summary of Information on Copper, Etc. New York: D. Houston & Co., 1899.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Finlay, James Ralph. The Cost of Mining: A Discussion of the Production of Minerals With Remarks on the Geologic, Social and Economic Foundations Upon Which It Rests. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1920.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Garner, John S. The Company Town: Architecture and Society in the Early Industrial Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-507027-5.
  5. ^ Douglas, James. "A Remedy for the Law of the Apex." Report of Proceedings of the American Mining Congress. Tenth Annual Session. Denver, Colo.: 1907.
  6. ^ Kluger, James R. The Clifton-Morenci Strike: Labor Difficulty in Arizona, 1915–1916. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1970. ISBN 0-8165-0267-6; Jensen, Vernon H. Heritage of Conflict: Labor Relations in the Nonferrous Metals Industry Up to 1930. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1950; Byrkit, James. "The Bisbee Deportation." In American Labor in the Southwest. James C. Foster, ed. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1982. ISBN 0-8165-0741-4
  7. ^ Nugent, Walter T.K. and Ridge, Martin. The American West: The Reader. Purdue, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-253-21290-1
  8. ^ Kennedy, Bruce A. Surface Mining. Littleton, Colo.: Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, 1990. ISBN 0-87335-102-9

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