Copper Mining History of Kennecott, Alaska
During the summer of 1900, a prospecting party made its way into the Wrangell mountains. Two of these prospectors, Clarence Warner and “Tarantula” Jack Smith were making their way along the moraine of the Kennecott Glacier when they spotted a patch of brilliant green high up on the mountainside. Too high up to be a field of grass, the two men ascended the mountains and found a large outcropping of malachite, a copper ore, and made the first of multiple claims along the mountainside.
The Purest Copper Mine in the World
The Bonanza claim would soon turn out to be the purest copper found anywhere on earth! This led to the creation of the Kennecott Copper Corporation and massive infrastructure investments by the Guggenheim and Morgan families. As a result, they eventually extracted over $200 million (Over $2.5 Billion in current US dollars) in copper from the hillside until the mine’s permanent closure in 1938.
Kennecott and Kennecott – History Behind These Two Spelling Variations
Why are there two spelling variations for this Alaskan town? Kennecott is the name of the glacier and the valley, named after the naturalist Robert Kennecott. While the town took its name from the glacier, for a much-debated reason, the town was spelled differently. It is spelled Kennecott with an “e”, instead of with an “i”.
No one can agree if it was a clerical error, or a deliberate maneuver by the copper company to discern between the town and the surrounding area. Either way, the two spellings still hold today, Kennecott with an “i’” denoting all the natural features of the valley while Kennecott with an “e” denoting all aspects of the town and mining operation. In fact, both spellings seem to be used frequently for both the town and the natural assets.
Tours of Kennecott Historic Mill
In today’s Kennecott, visitors can tour the Kennecott Historic Mill and get privately operated shuttles from the town of McCarthy up to the Kennecott Mine site. Shuttles cost $5 one way and are subject to change without notice. The Mill is where the mined copper was transformed into transportable copper ore bound for ships on the Alaskan coast. It discontinued operations in 1938, and you can still see much of the exceptional mill machinery, and get a sense of the refining process. There is a lovely museum exhibit with photographs of Kennecott town, its townspeople, and their lifestyle back in the early 1900s.