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The History of Butte

Like many mining camps, Butte came into existence because of gold. Yet by 1870 placer mining, the easiest method of gold extraction, was petering out. While most miners drifted away to other promising mineral strikes, a few far-sighted individuals labored on in Butte, trying to solve the puzzle of freeing

gold, silver, copper, manganese, zinc and lead from a tightly locked matrix of quartz. Through the 1870s, silver mining kept Butte alive. At the end of the decade three critical elements came together: Butte miners struck the richest deposit of copper ever found; advanced smelting technology made it profitable to extract the copper and other metals; and railroads reached Butte
to cut the cost of transportation to eastern manufacturers.

At the same time the electricity and telecommunications industries were getting under way. For instruments and equipment, as well as millions of miles of delivery wire and cable, copper was the material of choice. Butte quickly boomed into a mini New York with lavish theatres, posh hotels, fine restaurants.

 

 

Wealthy copper barons wrestled for power, labor unions rose up, and the mines – more than 200 at one time – hummed 24 hours a day. The one-time mining camp became a metropolitan center of industry, culture and mass transportation in the West. By 1920 the population, a melting pot of Irish, Finns, Italians, Cornish, Welsh, Serbs, Chinese and others, grew to more than
100,000 people. Butte was visited by dignitaries such as presidents
Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and famous entertainers like Charlie Chaplin and Ethel Barrymore.
Evidence of Butte’s history is apparent, from the head frames marking old mine shafts, to elaborate 19th century churches, to the last of the old stamp mills. Much of this heritage is well-preserved and readily accessible. This is why so many history buffs find Butte almost as difficult to leave as it is fun to visit.