Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Social Sciences

Advisor 1

Timothy Scarlett

Committee Member 1

Fredric Quivik

Committee Member 2

Steven Walton

Committee Member 3

Paul White


This dissertation is a study of small-scale smelting in Colorado during the nineteenth century. Many small smelting enterprises were established throughout the mountains of the state from the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s. The smelters helped to revitalize a flagging mining industry by fostering its growth and, consequently, the development of the state before being outcompeted by larger smelting establishments developing in the growing cities on the Front Range. However, the life of these smelters was brief, and the majority failed within a few years. The role of these smelters in Colorado’s history has been largely overlooked but provide a rich potential to contribute to our knowledge of Colorado history, and scientific studies relevant to contemporary society including rural economic development, technology transfer, sustainability, and the ecological impacts of industrial enterprises.

The primary pattern within the small-scale smelting industry of Colorado was one of failure. The study of the reasons for the failure of the small smelting businesses forms the main topic of this dissertation. These smelters required a specific set of conditions to survive, grew in isolated areas with difficult access, and failed when their isolation was ended by improved transportation, which opened their region to outside competition. Although there were many facets contributing to the failure of these smelters, competition from larger businesses is the main culprit as the small smelters could not compete with better capitalized and more efficient large smelters once their niche market was incorporated into the larger economic sphere of the state.