The book is the first comprehensive study of the American copper industry to include labor markets, unionism, and labor relations as an integral part of its focus. It also undertakes a careful examination of the influences exerted by geography and geology in the shaping of the industry.
The study begins with the formation, development, and later histories of all the principal copper producers, their major business and labor policies, technical innovations, attempts at diversification, and foreign ventures. On the labor side, the book examines the beginnings of unionism in the 1880s; the emergence of the Western Federation of Miners in 1893; the later appearance of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in 1916. The eventual takeover of the Mine Mill by the Steel workers in 1967 and the reasons for the eventual collapse of the pattern system in 1983 are also carefully considered.
The study emphasizes the role of strategic innovations in shaping American copper history, most prominently in the successive development of underground block-caving and open-pit mining; concentration and flotation; and solvent extraction and electrowinning. The study concludes with an evaluation of the lessons supplied by the past and the prospects for the future of the industry.