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Preserving History of Copper Smelter

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Last August, I sent a postcard concerning the dedication of a diorama of the 16-mile tramway which transported copper ore from atop the Continental Divide to the smelter between Riverside and Encampment.  

On Aug. 28, a diorama of the smelter was dedicated at the Grand Encampment Museum in Encampment and a tour was taken of the smelter site. Details of the program can be found online or by calling up the Grand Encampment Museum smelter dedication. The diorama is on display in the museum’s “Doc Culleton Memorial Building.” 

Since this column is a “Postcard from the Past,” this week we will be reporting on some interesting early day “facts” concerning the building, promoting and operation of the smelter.

Information for this article was obtained from a 1908 prospectus book entitled “Saratoga and Encampment Railway Company,” published by Penn-Wyoming Co. and structured as an investment opportunity for the public. As was true in 1908, and still is today, “buyer beware” and reader be skeptical. However, considerable history, along with a lot of “BS,” can be obtained from this booklet, read at your own risk. 


Gold, silver and copper are the three principal metals handled by smelters. They are a congenial family generally found cuddled together in their rocky home. Unlike the great giant iron, who prefers to live by himself, the two precious metals, gold and silver, seem to have a most democratic fondness for the company of their most humble imitator, copper, consequently the three metals are now being mined and smelted together in manly localities. 

A smelter is not like a factory running only by daylight. It works night and day. 

It is better than banking, because it deals with money itself. There is no credit, no debt, no uncertainty, it is the surest business in the world.

The smelting industry has been lifted to a wonderful level. It has become a science instead of a guess. The process of smelting today (1908) has become so accurate, practically every particle of copper in the ore is saved, all the gold can be taken out and very little silver is lost.

Another article reads, “This company has an investment in Carbon County of nearly $6 million, most of which has been put into the purchase of properties and the construction of its Smelting Works and other enterprises. All this money has been expended and their splendid properties built up without railroad facilities.”

The article stated the company has purchased both the Doane-Rambler and Ferris-Haggarty mines as well as the tramway and continued:

These properties are really the base of all the mining operations of the Penn-Wyoming Copper Co. and in themselves were sufficient to warrant the building of the large Smelting and Reduction Works at Encampment for the treatment of their ores, but now that so many other properties have been brought to the point of production, the Penn-Wyoming Copper Co., with its usual foresightedness, has decided upon a policy of expansion, and has recently enlarged its Smelter, Concentrating Mill and Reduction Works to a size sufficient to take care of the output of the other mines throughout this section. This is the only Smelter and Reduction Works in the state of Wyoming.

Brief history of smelter

The Boston & Wyoming Smelter, Power & Light Co. began operation in Grand Encampment in 1902. It was later sold to the Penn-Wyoming Copper Co., mentioned above.

In 1906, the smelter burned to the ground and rebuilt about nine months later, only to burn down again soon after. It was rebuilt a third time in 1912.

With the closing of the large mines and the copper boom coming to an end due to dropping prices, the site only stayed active until 1917 providing electricity to the community, but that’s a story for another time.

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