Railroad Entrance into the International Smelter, Tooele Valley Museum Collection

For over sixty years, smoke rose from the smelter in Pine Canyon.  The International Smelter and Refining Company produced copper, lead, and zinc from the ore scratched out of mountains in the American West.  The smelter company and those that supported it were primary economic forces in Tooele Valley. 

In 1900, the town of Tooele boasted 1,200 residents and was snuggled against the Oquirrh Mountains.  This geography greatly influenced the economic development of the town in the 20th century.  Mining and smelting had already become a big business in Salt Lake City by the dawn of the century.  However, the geography of Salt Lake Valley was inhospitable to the operation of smelters because the fumes from the stacks could not always escape the valley easily. 

To avoid the complications that came from people’s outrage over the smelter smoke, Utah Consolidated Mining looked elsewhere to place a much-needed regional smelter.  Pine Canyon was and ideal location for many reasons.  The geography of Tooele Valley did not concentrate smoke like that of Salt Lake Valley.  The slope of the canyon pushed the stacks high enough their toxic smoke did not float right down into the town of Tooele. The valley was still largely unpopulated.  The 1900 census indicates less than 3,000 residents in the entire valley.  Finally, the canyon was on the west side of the Oquirrh Mountains almost directly across from prosperous mines on the east.

In 1908, Utah Consolidated incorporated the International Smelting and Refining Company, which built the smelter and had it online in less than a year extracting copper from local ore.  A few years later, the company added lead extraction facilities.  The company hired hundreds of employees that moved to the area to work at the smelter and the railroad that connected it to the Union Pacific junction.  The railroad company was the Tooele Valley Railroad, and you can find more about it at the Tooele Valley Museum stop. 

In the 1930s and 1940s, the smelter ownership changed hands a couple times. By the mid-1940s, Anaconda Copper Company owned the smelter. The new owners swept Tooele’s smelter further into international economic trade.

By the late 1960s, the smelter was under pressure.  International economic trends in the copper industry greatly affected the smelter’s profitability.  Pollution prevention laws began to put increasing pressure on the company to upgrade equipment.  Anaconda’s copper investments in Chile affected the entire company.  When the Chilean government nationalized its copper industry, Anaconda lost millions.  To recover, Anaconda sought to downsize or close less profitable facilities.  International Smelting and Refining Company was on their list.  By 1971, the smelter ceased operations and a chapter in the history of Tooele ended. 

Some of the “Big Wheels”, Tooele Valley Museum Collection
International Smelter and Refining Company shortly after lead refining facilities built 1911, Utah State Historical Society Digital Collection