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History of Butte, MT

Updated: Jul 14

A city in Montana's southwest, Butte, is renowned as a mining camp in the northern Rocky Mountains spanning the Continental Divide in the 1860s. Butte became a cradle for gold and silver mining in the city's early stages and developed exponentially after the emergence of electricity in the late 19th century because of the land's massive natural shops of copper. Butte's mining operations, in 1888 alone, had produced a return of 23 million dollars. The arrival of the Copper Kings initiated the dawn of Butte's foundation as a boomtown.

The establishing land of Butte is situated in the Silver Bow Creek Valley or Summit Valley. The southwestern side of the natural bowl is composed of Boulder Batholith, a huge mass of granite that carbon-dates to the Cretaceous era. The surrounding land of Butte all over Silver Bow Creek was a fishing and hunting area for the native Salish tribe who has northwest settlements near Missoula.


In the 1860s, Butte started as a mining camp. Early map drawings of the city oftentimes referred to the community as "Butte City". William L. Farlin wager the Asteroid Mine and was accompanied by an incursion of more miners pursuing gold and silver in 1874. The mines drew workers from Ireland, Lebanon, Wales, Canada, Cornwall, Austria, Italy, Syria, China, Mexico, Finland, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, and all of the Unites States' areas. The stream of miners gave Butte prominence as a wide-open town.


Copper was in massive demand during the late 19th century due to the new technologies that required the use of it such as electric power. The control of mining wealth in Butte was fought by three industrial magnates. These three notorious "Copper Kings" were F. Augustus Heinze, Marcus Daly, and William A. Clark.


Clark built the Butte's Copper King Mansion from 1884 to 1888. In 1899, he purchased a small park, Columbia Gardens, and developed it into an amusement park that features a rollercoaster, a lake for canoeing and swimming, and a pavilion. The city's additional cultural developments include the appearance of the Montana and Boston Band.

Around the 20th century, flourishing mining had produced significant wealth in Butte. Copper ore mined from the mining district of Butte alone amounts to over 200 million pounds, making it North America's largest copper producer. The quantity of ore produced in Butte earned its label "The Richest Hill on Earth". Along with its massive workforce of miners working in a physically dangerous state, Butte was the spot of active labor movements.


Butte launched the Montana School of Mines as its first institution of higher education in 1900. Butte had a tough period of Socialist politics roughly between 1900 and 1917 establishing itself as one of America's most solid union cities. Butte became the headquarters of Industrial Workers of the World after 1905. The rivalry between the WFM locals and IWW supporters peaked in Butte and resulted in the dissipation of the mine owners' recognition of the union.


The copper mines demonstrated to be prosperous through the 1950s when other mines' competition and the declining ore grade caused the Anaconda Company to shift from underground to open-pit mining.


The city's five vital developments occurred since the 1950s: the 1970s series of fires in the business district; the open-pit mining during the mid-1950s; the 1983 copper mining end; the relocation debate on the historic business district of the city; and new civic leadership. In return, Butte found ways to expand the economy and offer employment. Jobs were produced from the legacy of environmental degradation over a century. Butte's environmental cleanup, appointed a Superfund site, has hired hundreds of employees.


Environmental issues resulted from a century of intensive smelting and mining caused great efforts from environmental clean-up and research to diversify the local economy of Butte in the post-millennium era. The city still boasts numerous historic residential and commercial buildings which contribute to the city's tourism.


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Learn about what makes Butte, MT a great place to live



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