The Bingham Canyon Mine, located in Bingham, Utah, is commonly known as the “Biggest Pit in the World.” Rivaling the size and, arguably, beauty of the Grand Canyon, this title has made the Bingham Canyon Mine quite the tourist attraction.
How did this pit come to be? Through one century of mining and digging for minerals, this once mountain now has become a hole one-half mile deep and 2.5 miles wide. It has been said that, if the Bingham Canyon Mines were a stadium, the mine could seat over nine million people. That is quite the crowd.
The Discovery of Copper at Bingham Canyon
Copper ore was first discovered in Bingham Canyon in 1848 by two brothers, Sanford and Thomas Bingham. The Bingham brothers, who were sons of a Mormon pioneer, discovered the minerals while grazing their cattle in the canyon. They immediately reported their discovery to their group’s leader, the well-known Brigham Young. He told them to not pursue the mining operations and focus on survival and establishment of settlements. The brothers followed his directive, and they went on to settle what is now Weber County. However, the canyon continues to be known today by their name.
Official mining took off in the fall of 1863. It was at this time that the extraction of ore began and the world-wide recognition behind the Bingham mines was created.
Development of the Mine
Operations in the canyon were slow to get going in the 19th Century. Towards the end of the 1800s, operations began to explode with the development of open-pit mining. At first, mining operations were solely focused on gold, lead-silver, and copper-gold. Porphyry copper required extra processing and transportation via railroad, which was not a part of the area until 1873.
In 1896, prospectors, Samuel Newhouse and Thomas Weir acquired the Highland Boy Mine, a mine that was rich in all three precious metals: copper, silver and gold. Together, Newhouse and Weir formed the Utah Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd., company and later formed Boston Consolidated Gold and Copper co., Ltd. The two companies, Utah Copper and Boston, consolidated eventually and merged in 1960. Another mining operation, Kennecott Copper Corporation purchased an interest in Utah Copper in 1915, increasing the percentage to 75 percent ownership of the company in 1923.
By 1873, over two million dollars’ worth of gold were discovered in the mines. However, by the turn of the century, gold and silver were old news, and copper was king. It was at that time that the Kennecott Copper Corporation took over and its success began to skyrocket.
New Technologies help to Increase Production
The Bingham mines were also known for the scientific innovation used to extract the minerals from the land. Another prospector, Enos Andrew Wall started working the mines in 1887 by digging tunnels and constructing test pits on the 200 acres he owned. He discovered that the ore in those mines contained two percent copper. He joined forces with Daniel C. Jackling and created the Utah Copper Company.
They both began constructing a pilot mill at Copperton, and the company began official mining operations in 1906. Jackling’s decision to use open-pit mining, steam shovels, and the railroad was the reason for the mine’s success and his method soon was used in other mining operations throughout the country. The Utah mine in Bingham Canyon soon became a model for “railroad-pit operations” and the mine soon became known as the largest mining complex in the world by 1912.
The Bingham area was known for its diversity in population. Prospectors and settlers from all walks of life were drawn to the area, in search of wealth. By the late 1920’s, the population reached 15,000 people.
Sixty-five percent of that population was foreign born, representing more than 25 nationalities.
Mining Slows during World War II
The Bingham area mines survived difficult times faced by most other western mines during World War II. Most mines were brought down by the war efforts, which focused on extraction of alternative metals. Unlike others, however, the Bingham mines continued to operate throughout and even past the end of the war.
By 1970, the 21 separate mining operations working in the area consolidated to just two mines: The Kennecott Mining Company and the Anaconda Minerals Company. The mine is now owned and operated by the Rio Tinto Group, an international mining and excavating company headquartered in the United Kingdom.
The Kennecott Copper Mine Today
The Kennecott Copper Mine, located in Bingham Canyon southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Oquirrh Mountains is the largest man-made excavation in the world. The mine is an open-pit mining operation extracting porphyry copper.
Unlike most mining towns founded during the great gold rush, the Kennecott Mine remains open and still operates 365 days a year, seven days a week and 24 hours per day. Kennecott is widely-known to be the second largest copper producer in the country and provides 25 percent of the country’s copper to this day.
Although it is primarily a copper mine, this is also the largest producer of gold in Utah as well. Although the ore is not particularly rich in gold, considerable amounts have been recovered simply due to the scale of the mining operation and the immense quantity of ore that has been processed.