NSS 75th Anniversary Convention

Robinson Mining District

These mines lit up America

Around 1868, prospector Thomas Robinson discovered gold and silver, along with widespread, low-grade copper, in what became the Robinson Mining District. From around 1892 to 1907, several gold mines were opened, but none were successful. Without sufficient demand, the lack of transportation, the low grade of the ore, and the difficulty in extracting the copper made it unprofitable for mining.

Copper was re-discovered in 1900, at the same time as the silver boom in Tonopah was beginning. Mark Requa (1866-1937) optioned the copper claims of Edwin Gray and Dave Bartley. Requa was the son of a Comstock engineer and a trusted advisor to President Herbert Hoover. The two men had become close friends while attending engineering classes at Stanford University. Requa's initial interest in White Pine County was to build a feeder railroad to the Eureka and Palisade Railroad. However, the copper soon interested him. He organized the White Pine Copper Company in 1902, and soon solved problems related to metal extraction and transportation.

In the winter of 1904, Requa went east to secure financing for the new mine and smelter. During that trip, he learned that the company that owned land next to his, the New York and Nevada Copper Company, was bankrupt. He purchased it and created the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company.

Nevada Northern Railway

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Subsequent meetings with railroad magnate E. H. Harriman, then-president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, secured Requa the right to extend his Nevada Northern Railway to the trans-continental lines in the northern part of the state. This connection gave the company access to distribution channels across the continent.

The Guggenheim family already controlled the Utah Copper Corporation at Bingham Canyon. With their financing, the mine and smelter near Ely were built, along with needed railroad lines. Requa eventually lost control of the company to the Guggenheims, but his legacy lived on.


In the early 1900s, commercial and residential use of electricty was in full-scale development across North America. Availability of large amounts of power from distant locations had become possible after Charles Parsons' production of turbogenerators in 1889. The transmission infrastructure to deliver that electricty, however, did not exist.

In the span of a few short years, the demand for power transmission technology exploded as North America adopted an electrical-powered society. The key ingredient of those power transmission lines was a previously un-impressive mineral. Copper.

...and Supply

Audio Tour

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The first blister copper - partly purified ore - was shipped from White Pine County in 1908. The mine earned only $622,470 in the first year. One year later, in 1909, the mine brought in $6,561,787 from copper production.

Nevada Consolidated Copper Company, and later, Kennecott Copper Corporation, owned the Robinson District copper mine. The ore was carried by rail 22 miles to the McGill Smelter north of Ely by the Nevada Northern Railway..

During World War I and until the Great Depression, Nevada Consolidated Copper Company employed some 1,000 - 1,200 men in their underground mines. In 1932, the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Kennecott Copper, another Guggenheim-controlled company. Underground mining ended around 1949 when production switched to an open-pit mining method.

Besides Ely, four company towns were created to house the miners and smelter workers. Ruth was built near the mine, and McGill was built near the smelter. The two other company towns were Kimberly and Veteran. As the open pit mines encroached on Kimberly and Veteran, those towns were demolished to allow for expansion of the mines. The entire town of Ruth was relocated away from the pit and survives in its new location. The open pits were subsequently named after the towns that they displaced.

Decline of a Commodity

Demolition of the McGill Smelter

The demolition of the 750 foot tall, 55 foot diameter, 9,300 ton reinforced concrete chimney in McGill holds the American record for demolition of all types of chimneys, and the world record for demolition of a corbeled concrete chimney.

The copper mine of the Ely area continued until declining copper prices forced its closure in 1978. In that time, more than 4.5 billion pounds of copper were taken from the Robinson District. Gold is a by-product in this mine. In its first 60 years, 2.7 million ounces of gold also were produced.

Several years ago, many years after the McGill Smelter was closed, the main smoke stack at old site was demolished for safety reason. It was the 4th chimney to be demolished by Controlled Demolition Incorporated at the site as the McGill, Nevada Plant was phased out. Although the mines remain in operation, it's now more feasible to truck the ore to distant processing facilities.

Production Resumes

In 1986, gold mining resumed in the Robinson District. As hundreds of thousands of ounces of gold and silver were extracted, Magma Copper Company bought the claims that had belonged to Kennecott and the gold mines. BHP purchased Magma Copper Company as it prepared to begin mining copper again.

Modern Era & Rebirth

In early 2012 the mine was acquired by KGHM Polska Miedz. Based in Poland, they are one of the largest producers of copper and silver in the world. Published ore reserves at Robinson as of January 1, 2008, were 103 million tons containing 0.68% copper and 0.23 gm/t gold. Current annual production averages around 120 million pounds of copper and 75,000 ounces of gold.