Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Social Sciences


Terry S Reynolds


This dissertation examines the global technological and environmental history of copper smelting and the conflict that developed between historic preservation and environmental remediation at major copper smelting sites in the United States after their productive periods ended. Part I of the dissertation is a synthetic overview of the history of copper smelting and its environmental impact. After reviewing the basic metallurgy of copper ores, the dissertation contains successive chapters on the history of copper smelting to 1640, culminating in the so-called German, or Continental, processing system; on the emergence of the rival Welsh system during the British industrial revolution; and on the growth of American dominance in copper production the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The latter chapter focuses, in particular, on three of the most important early American copper districts: Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, Tennessee’s Copper Basin, and Butte-Anaconda, Montana. As these three districts went into decline and ultimately out of production, they left a rich industrial heritage and significant waste and pollution problems generated by increasingly more sophisticated technologies capable of commercially processing steadily growing volumes of decreasingly rich ores.

Part II of the dissertation looks at the conflict between historic preservation and environmental remediation that emerged locally and nationally in copper districts as they went into decline and eventually ceased production. Locally, former copper mining communities often split between those who wished to commemorate a region’s past importance and develop heritage tourism, and local developers who wished to clear up and clean out old industrial sites for other purposes. Nationally, Congress passed laws in the 1960s and 1970s mandating the preservation of historical resources (National Historic Preservation Act) and laws mandating the cleanup of contaminated landscapes (CERCLA, or Superfund), objectives sometimes in conflict – especially in the case of copper smelting sites. The dissertation devotes individual chapters to the conflicts that developed between environmental remediation, particularly involving the Environmental Protection Agency and the heritage movement in the Tennessee, Montana, and Michigan copper districts. A concluding chapter provides a broad model to illustrate the relationship between industrial decline, federal environmental remediation activities, and the growth of heritage consciousness in former copper mining and smelting areas, analyzes why the outcome varied in the three areas, and suggests methods for dealing with heritage-remediation issues to minimize conflict and maximize heritage preservation.