CLARKDALE — Copper: So important was it to the history of Arizona that it remains front and center on the state flag as a copper-colored star.
Over the years, Arizona has consistently produced more copper than all the other states combined. In fact, 28 percent more copper is being produced now than 50 years ago.
You don’t have to look far for copper. It’s found in airplanes, automobiles, coins, computers construction materials, cookware, radios, telephones, TVs and video games, according to the Arizona Farm Bureau.
“Here at the museum, we have a panel that shows where copper is used,” said Drake Meinke, founder of the Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale.
“For art purposes, about 3 percent of the world’s supply is fabricated into something. The other 97 percent is used for electrical, transportation and construction uses,” said Meinke.
Prior to European colonization, copper was used in the tools and trade of various aboriginal people living and traveling across Arizona. It even played a role in producing turquoise, another trade item prior to colonization.
Turquoise is naturally produced when water containing copper and other elements leaks into rock, resulting in veins of the blue-green precious stone.
As one of the first and most prominent of the “5C’s,” how has copper mining fared in Arizona compared to 50 years ago?
Copper in 1964
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, half of all Arizona counties had a working copper mine in 1964. The statewide total was 74.
The number one copper mine in the state was Morenci in Greenlee, while Yavapai County’s Bagdad ranked 12th in production.
Back then, total copper production in Arizona was 621,890 metric tons (a metric ton is 2,208 pounds). The price was .34 cents a pound, for a total annual value of close to half-a million dollars.
Arizona accounted for 55 percent of all copper production nationwide in 1964.
Copper in 2014
Fast forward 50 years later.Instead of 74 copper mines, Arizona now has only eleven (and those operations can be in flux, at times).
Yet new advances in technology have actually increased copper production by 28 percent over the past 50 years.
In 2014, some 795,000 metric tons of copper worth $3.40 a pound were produced, with a total annual value of nearly $6 billion.
Arizona also gained in market share. Now, 65 percent of domestic copper production originates in Arizona.
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