‘Copper Kings’ were a very rare
occurrence; possibly less than one per generation. They are typified by
love of hard work combined with excellent technical abilities and successful
business flair. Besides close involvement with the copper industry, they
had a wide variety of other interests that demonstrated a broad spread of
abilities and an understanding of how events outside the industry might
affect the future. They were set above others by popular acclaim based both
on their entrepreneurial business record and their successful spread of
other interests. Each had a dominant personality though not necessarily an
aggressive one. For comparison with Wilkinson’s activities, brief details
of some of the acknowledged ‘Kings’ are needed. The list starts with the
♀ Born Chile, 1907 into a
family with interests in nitrates.
♀ Came to Britain and began his
career with metal merchants in London, showing great promise.
♀ He was head hunted by Chester
Beatty of the Rhodesian Selection Trust Group and was soon appointed to the
boards of their principal companies. ♀ He became Group Chief
Executive in 1943 and in 1950 succeeded Sir Alfred Chester Beatty as
chairman, a position that he held for 22 years until 1972. At the same time
he retained a broad spread of other business and social interests.
♀ He was also a director of the
International Nickel Company.
♀ He broke colour bars in
Northern Rhodesian copper mines.
♀ Seeing that the copper could
not last forever and that indigenous fuel was short, he promoted the growing
of agricultural cash crops to diversify the economy of Northern Rhodesia,
♀ He had great foresight and
wrote many papers on the economics of the copper industry world-wide,
forecasting growth trends.
♀ For many years he was in
demand to give the keynote paper at the start of any major copper
conference, summarising the present status and future of the copper
♀ For some years he was
Chairman of Copper Development Association and then became honorary
President until 1990.
♀ His enthusiastic membership
of the Institute of Metals was commemorated by the establishment of the
‘Prain Medal’ annually to recognise work within the copper industry.
♀ He was elected ‘Man of the
Year’ by the prestigious Copper Club of USA in 1964 as one of their very
early obvious choices.
♀ Born in New York, he
graduated as a mining engineer. Having started his career at Bingham Canyon
copper mine and developed a technique for extracting copper from low grade
ores. He was seconded to Katanga to open up Belgian copper mines.
♀ After his first wife died, he
emigrated to Britain in 1910, becoming a British citizen in 1930.
Encouraged the development of Roan
Antelope copper mine in 1925 leading to the foundation of the Rhodesian
♀ Raised more finance by
setting up individual companies for each mine and became the acknowledged
‘Architect of the Rhodesian Copper Belt’.
♀ “His wide engineering
knowledge gained from long experience, coupled with his ability in financing
and his keen insight and judgement, has been exercised to the full. It was
due to his outstanding ability and enterprise that this has become one of
the major copper fields of the world.”
♀ Chairman Rhodesian Selection
♀ He did important work in the
provision of strategic raw materials 1939-1945.
♀ He encouraged talent, for
example by taking on young Ronald Prain.
♀ Like John Wilkinson, he was
an enthusiastic member of the Royal Society of Arts and endowed the annual
Chester Beatty Memorial Lectures.
♀ He collected art and
manuscripts assiduously, set up a library in Dublin and donated it all to
Ireland in his will.
Three ‘Copper Kings’ were involved in
the establishment of copper mining at Butte, Montana, that lead to the
incorporation of Anaconda American Copper Co and the American Brass Co. The
story starts with disputes over territorial claims on and under the surface
and proceeds through all the rough and tumble of a classic Western. There
were arguments over ore processing sites, transport routes and every other
service needed for the industry.
Eventually law and order prevailed and
the wealth of Butte that had initially needed Wall Street finance became a
strong force in the heart of American finance. The main protagonists were
William Andrews Clark, Marcus Daly and F Augustus Heinze of whom two
eventually rose to become senators in the US Congress.
There are at least three books on this
subject with evocative titles such as ‘War of the Copper Kings’ ‘Builders of
Butte and Wolves of Wall Street, 1876 – 1905’ and ‘Anaconda’.
They still inspire the ambitions of young Americans.
An American citizen of French Huguenot
descent, he was born 1734 in Boston.
He served an apprenticeship with a
silversmith in Boston and subsequently made a number of very fine pieces.
Many of these still survive and command very high prices.
In 1756 he enlisted in the
British Colonial Service and was commissioned a second lieutenant of
artillery. Widowed at the age of 38 with six children, he remarried and had
By 1760 he was America’s best
silversmith. Many items still survive and command very high prices.
In 1765 he was persuaded to join
the ‘Sons of Liberty’ and lead protests against the British Parliament’s
1765 Stamp Act that imposed taxes on the unrepresented Colonists. He may
have been present at the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
Famously, in 1775 he made the
long, dangerous, night ride from Boston to Lexington Concord to give the
warning: ‘The British are Coming!’ This inspired Longfellow to write the
poem that begins: ‘Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight
ride of Paul Revere.’
In 1775 he set up mint to produce
currency for the independent States of America.
By 1776 he was set up to make
cannon, set up to make gunpowder. Became further involved helping in public
In 1792 he started casting church
bells, making nearly 400 in all including at least one of a ton weight that
is still in use.
A new copper foundry was established in
1800 together with rolling mills to make boiler plate and sheet for
cladding naval ships. He was able to refine 1800 lb. of copper at one time
using only wood for fuel.
He was accredited head of the copper
industry in the US in 1804.
By 1812 he was making three tons
of copper per week. Nearly 3½ tons was supplied to roof the State House in
Boston, lasting over 100 years.
He died in 1818. but his business
did not then decline.
The Revere Copper Company was
incorporated in 1828. For many years they also made copper domestic
cookware and decorative ware in their factory in Rome, N.Y. The company is
still in business.
To obtain expertise in its early years,
the New England brass industry relied on signing up British brass workers
clandestinely. They had to be smuggled aboard ship from England by being
rolled up the gangplank hidden in barrels! Once near the American coast
they re-entered the barrels and were floated ashore!
Unlike some of his friends in New England, Paul Revere denied being
Born 1750 - d.1826
Born in Cornwall, he was a mine owner and metal dealer
at a time when the ‘Ticket’ system of buying copper gave a great advantage
to the smelters in Swansea. Sales of copper under this system are similar
to those currently used on fish docks.
He set up a smelter in Swansea in competition with the
existing refiners with the stated objective of stabilising copper prices for
the benefit of the Cornish miners.
He joined the Cornish Copper Company cartel that was
set up to keep copper prices up to benefit the Cornish miners and became
and effectively the real manager of the company.
He was responsible for marketing the copper, had
little success and has had much criticism, even as far as ‘gross
Since the company had large stocks bought at high prices, he was presumably
not in a good position to compete with the Anglesey mines and others selling
at a lower price straight from the mines.
For several good reasons, he then took more interest
in smelting, refining and manufacture which resulted in payments to miners
He opened a warehouse for copper in Birmingham and set
up separate manufacturing enterprises in Birmingham to make tokens and
buttons, in competition with Boulton and Watt.
His name became unpopular therefore with many people
in Cornwall, Swansea, Anglesey and Birmingham. Eventually he took over
Parys Mine in 1811 in order to revive fortunes somewhat by introducing the
Cornish system of deep mining to recover otherwise inaccessible ore. He did
make the mines viable again, albeit at a lower tonnage output per year and
is now celebrated locally in the Paris Mines port of Amlwch as a hero.
John Henry Vivian (1785-1855) his second son, born in
Wales, later ran Vivian & Sons organisation in Swansea and Birmingham. He
was not rated as a Copper King in his time but he did found a dynasty.
The copper mines at Parys Mountain in Anglesey were
first worked during the Bronze Age but had been unused since Roman times.
They were rediscovered in 1761 by Alexander Fraser and were being worked by
Charles Roe of the Macclesfield Copper Company.
In 1769 Thomas Williams, a solicitor, was retained to
act for one of the landowners, the Lewis family, in a dispute over the
mining rights. By the end of
the litigation in 1778, Williams, the solicitor, had gained control of the
Lewis holdings. He set up the Parys Mine Company with
himself in control.
In 1780 he erected rolling mills and works at Greenfield, just East of
Holywell in Flintshire, North Wales. A partnership was formed with John
Westwood of Birmingham who had patented a good cold-rolling method that
would help provide copper sheet and copper nails for Naval sheathing. Williams
set up the Stanley Smelting Company with refineries at St Helens and
Swansea. He also set up the Greenfield Company with the Cheadle Company’s
refinery at Warrington and the brass works at Holywell. John Wilkinson had
a one sixteenth share in this enterprise.