Bingham Canyon was, in 1863, the site of the first recorded mining claim in what is now the State of Utah. Underground mining of gold, silver, lead and other metals began on a small scale shortly afterwards but costs for materials and for shipping were so high in those early years that it was unprofitable. It was profitable, however, to mine placer gold from the creek beds; this activity mostly sustained the economy of Bingham Canyon from the mid-1860s until the mid-1870s and to some extent for another decade or more. The coming of the railroad to Utah in 1872 and shortly afterward to Bingham Canyon resulted in lower mining costs. There was an immediate revival of underground mining which quickly replaced placer gold mining as the mainstay of Bingham's economy. Small communities were built adjacent to many of these underground mines. The small "towns", which were usually referred to by the name of the nearby mine, generally had a boarding house for the workers along with a machine shop and a few other structures for maintaining the mining operation. Housing for the workers families was at first almost an afterthought. Over the years, however, many of these tiny company enclaves grew into real communities with all the facilities of other towns throughout the country. Copper had been of little importance to the underground mines until the 1890s when the demand and price for it rapidly increased. There was a huge mountain (the "Copper Hill") of very low-grade copper around which the early underground mines were located. The "Hill" was considered, from the 1860's through the 1890's, to be uneconomic to mine. In the early 1900's, however, with the increased interest in copper, several mining companies began to study and to test the viability of mining the "Copper Hill".
In 1906 the world's first large-scale open-cut copper mine was started in Bingham Canyon. It has been the largest in the world since its inception. The open-pit mine expanded over the years and mined away the entire Town of Bingham Canyon. The Bingham Copper Mine is still in operation today, more than a century after it was started up. The old town of Bingham, with its half dozen adjoining communities that once thrived in the canyon, lives on in the memories of those who lived in the confined canyon and who worked in the enormous open-pit mine.
This 2003 photo shows the World's First and Largest Open-Pit Copper Mine ninety-seven years after it was started in 1906. It is known as "The Bingham Copper Mine". The pit is so enormous that it can be seen from outer space. It is about two and a half miles across and almost three fourths of a mile from top to bottom. Mining of the orebody was started with steam shovels and steam engines which would be pitifully small compared to today's equipment. In 1906, however, they ushered in a truly amazing new era of mining. The steam shovels and steam engines increased in size every few years. Electric shovels began replacing steam shovels in 1925. Haul trucks began to replace electric locomotives in 1963. The trucks and electric shovels continued to be replaced by ever-larger ones. By mid-2011 the largest shovels had a 56 cubic yard dipper and a 72-yard shovel was being considered; the largest trucks being tested had a capacity of 360 tons. The use of conveyor belts to haul ore from the mine to the concentrator was started in 1987. All the communities that were once in Bingham Canyon have been mined away or covered by waste dumps. Thousands of people who once lived in Bingham Canyon will never be able to see their old home again.
This August 1906 photo shows the beginning of the Utah Copper open-pit copper mine in Bingham Canyon, Utah. It is now known as "The Bingham Copper Mine". Two steam shovels are starting to dig material from the bottom of "The Copper Hill". The two levels and the working and set-up areas for the shovels were dug from the raw hillside and railroad tracks were layed by other equipment and men before the shovels were assembled and began digging. The underground test mine provided samples of ore for metallurgical testing and to determine the tonnage and grade of the orbody prior to starting the open-pit mine. The Boston Con open-pit mine was near the top of the "The Copper Hill" above the Utah Copper's mine; it had started steam shovel operations five months earlier than the Utah Copper. The two companies (and their mines) merged in 1910 and, as the Utah Copper Company, went on to excavate the largest open-cut copper mine in the world.
This 1946 photo shows the Business District of Bingham Canyon and much of the Utah Copper open-pit mine. The Main Street-Carr Fork junction is the center of the Business District. Main Street extends from the bottom edge of the photo up to the 6190 Yards where it is abruptly cut off by the enormous Utah Copper open-pit copper mine. Until 1939 the Main Street road continued across the open pit all the way to Upper Bingham (Copperfield). A vehicular tunnel was constructed to replace the severed roadway; the lower portal of the tunnel is across the road from the telephone office. The road also extends from the Business District up Carr Fork for more than a mile. It passes beneath the Carr Fork bridge, the B&G-Apex trestle, and the G, H, I, J and L bridges over which waste rock from the open pit mine is hauled to the dumps. The community of Highland Boy is located in the upper reaches of Carr Fork. From the 6190-Yard the yawning open-pit mine falls away for 150 feet down to the bottom at the 6040-foot level. Most astounding are the levels that reach out in all directions and rise up, one above the other, to the top of "The Copper Hill". The uppermost level at the top-center of this photo is about 1800 feet higher than the bottom of the pit. Sunshine Peak overlooks the canyon, the town and the open-pit mine. In 1946 the Gemmell Club was the center of athletic and cultural activities in the town and the Princess Theater was the only remaining show house in the canyon (its last movie was shown on September 15, 1960). The Bingham Merc opened its doors at this location in 1904; it closed its doors in June of 1956. The City of Bingham Canyon ceased to exist in 1971. The entire town of Bingham Canyon has now been mined away by the open-pit copper mine.
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