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Douglas’ Sentinel of Progress

Calumet and Arizona smelter crew taking a break around 1900

Calumet and Arizona smelter crew taking a break around 1900

This is the construction crew on the Calumet and Arizona smelter taking a break for a photograph. The smelter was the first built in what is today Douglas, Ariz., in record time.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in January, 1902. Within ten months, the job was finished. The furnace was “blown in” on Nov. 15, 1902, according to director Charles Briggs in his report to shareholders from company headquarters in Calumet, Mich.

The Bisbee Daily Review covered the opening of the smelter in its Nov. 16 edition. In an article headlined “Eventful Day for Douglas,” a reporter wrote: “…Sunday morning the pale blue smoke was drifting from the 160-foot stack that will stand for years as a sentinel of progress and a monument of prosperity. The sulphur smoke rose up majestically and floated gently away in the direction of Bisbee. The smelter was blown in at 11 o’clock Saturday night.”

We are not sure exactly what “blown in” means. The term is not used today in firing smelters. However, it probably referred to efforts to get the stack to draw. The furnace would have been heated, and hot air naturally would have risen up the stack. In addition, it is possible that crews blew air into the furnace to encourage a strong draft and plenty of combustion.

At the time the smelter was built, Douglas was an uninhabited area. Officials of the Calumet and Arizona chose the site largely because of the abundance of underground water, which is crucial to the smelting process. Also, the site was close to the company mine in Bisbee.

At the same time, Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company (later Phelps Dodge and even later Freeport-McMoRan) officials also were planning a smelter in the area. That smelter, however, was not completed until 1904.

The superintendent of the Calumet and Arizona smelter was sturdy-looking, mustachioed man by the name of James Wood. He joined the company shortly after the smelter was completed and is credited with having been one of the ablest smelter men in the industry. Under Wood’s oversight, C & A was able to produce copper at about seven cents per pound – the cheapest in the United States.

Calumet and Arizona and Copper Queen were serious but friendly rivals in the area for many years. However, during the Great Depression, the industry fell on hard times. Phelps Dodge bought out C & A and consolidated smelting operations at the C & A plant.

In 1988, the smelter which had been heralded as a sentinel of progress when it opened, was closed. Pollution control requirements made further operation of the plant uneconomical. The entire facility was eventually demolished in 1991.

— Tom Vaughan. Photo courtesy of the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, Beebe Collection.

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