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The Copper King

Daniel Jackling, 1869-1956

Daniel Jackling

In short:

Daniel Jackling's invention of open-pit copper mining helped produce the copper essential to all kinds of technologies, including electricity. It also has affected the environment on a monumental scale. For sure, Daniel Jackling's inventions in the field of low-grade ore processing have changed mining and the world -- which is a pretty powerful legacy for an orphan from Missouri who was shuttled back and forth between his relatives as a child.

More of the story:

Daniel Jackling

Daniel Jackling as a young man.

An orphan works hard.
How would it be to lose your parents at age two? That’s what happened to Daniel Jackling, who was born in Missouri. Fortunately, as an orphan he had different relatives who cared for him. But he must have surely missed having parents. 

He didn’t feel so sorry for himself that he couldn’t move forward. Instead, he worked hard in school and eventually graduated from the Missouri School of Mines as a mining engineer.

After getting some good experience in mining, he came west to Utah. In 1903 he and some partners formed the Utah Copper Company, hoping to mine copper around Bingham Canyon (a canyon west of Salt Lake Valley in the Oquirrh Mountains).

Jackling’s Folly? 
Everyone thought they were out of their minds! Surveyors had already examined the Oquirrh Mountains, and they thought the ore was worthless. The rocks contained only a small amount of copper and gold. So it looked way too hard and expensive to get the metals out. Folks laughed and called this mining venture “Jackling’s Folly.”

Aerial photo of open-pit copper mine

The Kennecott Copper Mine in 1963 - seen from the air.

We’ll see!
But Jackling was a mining revolutionary in many ways.  He came up with the idea to dig the ore out in a pit, rather than tunnel underground like miners do for coal or gemstones.  (Naturally, this was called open-pit mining.)

To get the ore out efficiently, Jackling used steam-powered shovels to load railroad cars. 

And to get the copper and other metals out of the ore? He used acid leaching to dissolve the gold out of the ore.  For the copper they used a smelter.

These were new ideas in copper mining. And they enabled the Utah Copper Company (later, Kennecott Utah Copper) to dig a huge hole in the Oquirrh Mountains and process untold dollars worth of copper, gold, and other metals.

His legacy.

Aerial photo of open-pit copper mine

Bingham, the town that Kennecott Mine swallowed.

During World War I, Daniel Jackling managed government explosive plants, and President Woodrow Wilson rewarded him with a Distinguished Service Medal.  It was just one of the many, many awards he received for his contributions to mining, science, and industry in general.  Utah certainly wouldn’t look the same without his contributions.

Jackling’s innovations led to the biggest, deepest manmade hole on the earth (it is 2 3/4 miles wide and 3/4 mile deep). Over the years, the mine attracted thousands of immigrants and workers and has provided jobs for many decades. It made a huge profits for investors and provided copper for electric wiring nationwide. The Kennecott Copper Mine has produced more copper than any other mine in the world--18.1 million tons.

The mine also swallowed a canyon and community (Bingham), continues to eat into the mountains, and has created a large plume of polluted groundwater beneath Salt Lake Valley.  This pollution is a problem that has not been solved.