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New Cornelia mine and town of Ajo, Arizona. Photo: NASA

The New Cornelia mine, is a currently inactive open-pit copper mine in Pima County, Arizona, United States. It was the only productive mine in the Ajo mining district, and is located just outside the town of Ajo, which was built as a company town to serve the New Cornelia miners.



Native Americans had long mined surface exposures of copper veins near the New Cornelia for pigments: red copper oxide and green copper carbonate. Spanish miners are known to have at least excavated test shafts in the area by 1750, but the amount of copper produced is not known. Americans claimed the location in 1854, and shipped a few loads of selected ore to Swansea, Wales, but high transportation charges left little or no profit, and the mine was abandoned.[1]

Development of the property was delayed because of its remote desert location. The low-grade copper ore could not be economically shipped to a smelter, and had to be concentrated at the site. The Cornelia Copper Company was organized by St. Louis businessmen in 1900 to develop the property. However, early owners fumbled in their search for a suitable treatment process, and fell victim to “process men.” In 1906 they contracted with “Professor” Fred McGahan to build his unique “vacuum smelter” to treat the ore. The following year the company had McGahan indicted for obtaining money under false pretenses. They then arranged with another inventor to build facilities to treat the ore by the unproven “Anderson Process,” which proved just as useless as McGahan’s process. A US Geological Survey author later described these processes as "... among the most bizarre ever to have been floated in American mining."[2] Mining commentator Horace Stevens wrote:

”The officers of the Cornelia are residents of St. Louis and vicinity, of excellent local standing, and perfectly sincere in their operations, but are totally lacking in practical knowledge of the copper business, and prone to overmuch experimentation with new processes.”[3]

The company reorganized as the New Cornelia Mining Compnay. In 1911, the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company, which already had a major operation in Bisbee, took an option to buy 70 percent of New Cornelia stock. Calumet and Arizona confirmed the existence of a large copper carbonate orebody, and exercised the option. They then found a practical way to treat the ore, and located a sufficient source of water several miles north. A pilot plant began operation in 1915, and a railroad connection via Gila Bend was completed in 1916.

Full-scale mining using steam shovels was started in 1917, making the New Cornelia the first large open pit mine in Arizona.[4] Mining and treatment of the underlying but lower-grade copper sulfide orebody began in 1924.

New Cornelia came under the ownership of Phelps Dodge in 1931 when Calumet and Arizona merged with Phelps Dodge.

The mine was shut down in 1983 due to low copper prices. Copper production from the mine totaled 6.304 billion pounds of copper.[5]


The mine is at 32°21′20″N 112°51′57″W / 32.35556°N 112.86583°W / 32.35556; -112.86583, at an altitude of 899 feet (274 m) above mean sea level.

See also


  1. ^ James Gilluly (1946) The Ajo mining district, Arizona, US Geological Survey, Professional Paper 209, p.98
  2. ^ James Gilluly (1946) The Ajo mining district, Arizona, US Geological Survey, Professional Paper 209, p.99
  3. ^ Horace J. Stevens, The Copper Handbook, v.8 (Houghton, Mich.: Horace Stevens, 1908) 600-601.
  4. ^ C. A. Anderson, (1969) Copper, in Mineral and Water Resources of Arizona, Arizona Bureau of Mines, Bulletin 180, p.128.
  5. ^ Arizona Dept. of Mines and Mineral Resources, 2008, Arizona's Metallic Resources Trends and Opportunities - 2008 PDF file, retrieved 9 January 2009.


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