University of Arizona

Company Town

Arizona’s Copper Mining Communities During 100 Years of Statehood

This exhibit, at the UA Science-Engineering Library, shared 100 years of stories, struggles and triumphs from Arizona’s copper mining communities. “Company Town: Arizona’s Copper Mining Communities During 100 Years of Statehood,” was one of several exhibits, lectures and events hosted by the University Libraries in celebration of the state’s Centennial.

The history of mining in Arizona is rich and colorful with silver, gold, and copper all having been discovered and mined in the state. The first mining company in Arizona was established in Ajo in the 1850s. The arrival of the railroad brought a booming industry to Clifton-Morenci, Bisbee and Jerome, all yielding vast quantities of rich copper ore.

Throughout the 20th century, while companies like the Phelps-Dodge Corporation made significant profits, the mining workers’ salary was often not a living wage. Conditions in the mines were dangerous and unhealthy; many miners developed a lung disease now referred to as “miner’s lung.” In this context, labor relations between workers and the mine owners throughout Arizona’s history have been volatile, and at times violent. And, as mining was the primary source of economic stability in these communities, when those companies left town so too did the stability and livelihood of entire communities.

“Company Town” featured a broad range of unique material selected from Special Collections extensive Southwest and Borderlands holdings, as well as Special Collections mining-related archives. An in-depth selection of photographs, pamphlets, original manuscripts, ephemera, federal and state reports and personal papers illustrated a century of experiences by depicting daily life, health issues, labor disputes and political struggles endemic in Arizona’s mining communities. Highlights included photographs from the turn of the century of mining operations in Bisbee, Morenci, and Ajo, as well as original documents, some as early as the 1880s.

The materials on display detailed the history of eight Arizona mining communities – Ajo, Bisbee, Clifton-Morenci, Globe-Miami, Jerome, Ray-Sonora, San Manuel and Superior – and showed that these communities were more than just a mine, and the people more than just mining workers.