NORWAY-L Archives

Archiver > NORWAY > 2003-05 > 1052415561

Subject: Saga in Steel and Concrete - 244-254
Date: Thu, 8 May 2003 10:39:21 -0700


The following selection is taken from "Saga in Steel and Concrete:
Norwegian Engineers in America" by Kenneth Bjork published by the
Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA) in 1947. The volume is
still available from NAHA at where you will
also find the first 33 volumes of Studies and Records online. This
chapter is published with the kind permission of NAHA. The book this
selection is drawn from is under copyright and permission has been
granted for educational purposes and it is not to be used in any way for
any commercial venture.

Ours has been variously called an age of steam, electricity, petroleum,
glass, or plastics, and certainly it owes a peculiar debt to all these
forces and materials. But underlying all technology are certain vital
minerals, without which the conduct of modern life would indeed be
difficult, either in war or in peace. Production, whether it concern
itself with bridges, skyscrapers, tunnels, ships, industry, railroads, or
the many other phases touched upon in this volume, calls for building
materials in greater quantities and ever-improved quality. The smelting
and processing of steel, copper, nickel, and other metals and their
alloys constitute in themselves a significant branch of engineering. It
is therefore natural that a number of Norwegians should have been
attracted by the possibilities in New World metallurgy, have become
involved in the world-wide activities that are associated with it, and
have contributed significantly to its development.
The individual dominating almost any discussion of metallurgy is E. A.
Cappelen Smith, since 1925 a partner in the well-known firm of Guggenheim
Brothers and for a long time before that director of research for the
same company. The history of this engineering giant includes a revolution
in copper converting, the origin of the Chuquicamata method of extracting
copper in Chile, the discovery of the Guggenheim process used to take
saltpeter from Chilean caliche, and the development of a biochemical
method for treating sewage. In the background of Smith's story we find
the struggle to reduce copper production costs, a world competition in
nitrates, international diplomacy, and the operations of a great cartel.
Here indeed is a tale of modern pioneering the like of which is rarely
told; but only its outline, with emphasis on the technical aspects, can
be recorded in this book.
Cappelen Smith was born at Trondhjem in 1873, the son of a wholesale
merchant of iron and steel products. {1} He attended Latin school and the
technical college in his native city. He graduated from the latter in
1893 with the degree of chemical engineer; it was his intention to
continue his chemical studies at Charlottenburg in Germany.
But 1893 was also the year of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, an
event which attracted engineers from every country in Europe, among them
Cappelen Smith. Thus began a "visit" that was to continue through a long
and productive life. Caught up in the whirl of a rapidly expanding New
World economy, Smith took a job in a Chicago laboratory, later
transferring to Armour and Company as assistant chemist in their Chicago
plant. His task was to find methods of utilizing the by-products of the
meat-packing industry, a field in which great progress was made later.
Today, looking back upon his early years, Smith is aware of the many
opportunities that lay within his reach had he stayed with Armour. After
two years at the stockyards, in 1896 he accepted a position as chemist
with the Chicago Copper Refining Company. While working in their
laboratory at Blue Island, about forty miles south of Chicago, he began
his first studies in metallurgy. Smith learned smelting from the ground
up, supplementing his theoretical training with practical experience of
the best kind. Thereafter the story of his life moves unfalteringly, if
somewhat circuitously, toward his first major contribution to the
metallurgy of copper.
Smith was not, however, satisfied to remain in the Chicago area. The
restlessness common to most young immigrants caused him to give up his
job and set out for Anaconda, Montana, the copper El Dorado of the West.
His sights were raised high enough; at the age of twenty-three he sought
nothing less than the superintendency of the electrolytic refinery owned
by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Facing Marcus Daly, the copper
king, Smith was told that he was too young, but was given the position of
chief chemist. One month later he was superintendent, and he held this
position for four years.
Restlessness again overcame Smith, leading him this time to the west
coast. In Republic, a little town in northern Washington, he organized a
company whose purpose was to extract gold from local ores. Machinery was
set up and everything was in order for the start of operations when the
man who had financed the project suddenly died. Unfortunately for the
experiment, the heirs of the financier had no interest in the company but
were intensely interested in his money. Smith's career in the American
West, as a result, came to an abrupt end.
In September, 1900, Smith visited Norway, remaining in Trondhjem until
January of the next year. Upon his return to the United States, he became
assistant to the engineer in charge of metallurgical operations at the
Baltimore Copper Smelting and Rolling Company. During the years he worked
in Baltimore, new metallurgical methods were coming into use. Men were
experimenting with converters and borrowing the lessons learned in steel
production. Smith missed nothing; he was determined to make the most of
New World possibilities in the field of copper, and it was in this field
that he achieved his first great success.
In 1907 the Guggenheim Brothers bought control of Smith's firm, and in
1912 he became their general consulting metallurgical engineer.
Thereafter he held many additional offices. He was for a time president
and director of the Anglo-Chilean Consolidated Nitrate Company, the
Lautaro Nitrate Company, Limited, and Cosach (Compania Salitrera
Anglo-Chilena). At present he is a member of the firm of Guggenheim
Brothers; president and director of Minerec Corporation; and director of
the Chilean Nitrate Sales Corporation, the Anglo-Chilean Nitrate
Corporation, the Lautaro Nitrate Company, Limited, and the Pacific Tin
Consolidated Corporation.
It was during the early years of the twentieth century, from 1901 to 191,
that Cappelen Smith made his first contributions to the metallurgy of
copper. In those years he helped put into general use an improved method
of furnace refining that introduced air under the surface of molten
copper, thus borrowing a principle long employed in steel production and
more recently in the copper industry; it made possible the present-day
use of giant furnaces for copper smelting. Mention should also be made of
his new method of treating the precious-metals slimes obtained in
electrolytic refining; of the recovery on a commercial basis of selenium,
tellurium, platinum, and palladium from the same slimes; and of the
production of nickel salts as a byproduct of copper refining. {2} His
major contribution during this period, however, was his new method of
basic copper converting, a method that revolutionized smelting practices
and was immediately adopted by every large copper producer in the world.
With his superior at Baltimore, Smith built a furnace embodying the
principle of basic lining and employing his improved Bessemer techniques.
They then began a successful venture in manufacturing the new product.
His well at this point to explain that there are in use today several
methods of extracting copper from its ore. The first method, commonly
used in the Lake Superior region where the mines are underground, is to
crush the ore and then send it to what is known as a concentration mill.
There the copper is separated from the waste and then sent to a smelter
to be treated in reverberatory furnaces. Air blown through the molten
copper oxidizes the impurities. The second, or leaching, process is used
most commonly in the pit or surface type of mining. After the copper ore
is crushed, it is placed in huge vats where leaching solutions, acidified
with sulphuric acid, percolate through the ore. The acid, when it unites
with copper, forms a copper sulphate solution which passes to an
electrolytic tank house, the waste being left behind. In the tank house
an electric current is shot through the copper solution, resulting in the
deposit of metallic copper on cathodes. The cathodes, after they are
sufficiently built up with copper, are sent to reverberatory furnaces,
where they are melted and cast into commercial forms.
The third method is used in ores rich in sulphur content. The copper
concentrate goes from a concentrating mill to a roasting furnace where
the sulphur is driven off and other impurities oxidized. Proper fluxes
being added, the copper is melted in reverberatory furnaces and the
floating slag is removed through a taphole on one side of the furnace.
The matte-copper containing iron, sulphur, and precious metals collects
in the bottom of the furnace and is removed in ladles. The matte while in
a molten condition is dumped into converters, where it is Bessemerized;
that is, air is forced through the molten matte, the mass being heated by
the oxidation of the sulphur in the metal. Two products are thus produced
- copper, and a slag composed of silica, aluminum, and other materials,
including a small amount of copper, which is later reclaimed. The sulphur
is eliminated through the chimney as gas. Copper produced by this method
is known as blister copper and has a purity of about 98 per cent; the
remaining 2 per cent consists of such impurities as gold, silver, and
other metals. {3}
The origins of modern copper converting go back to the work of Sir Henry
Bessemer, who in 1856 introduced the method of blowing air through molten
cast iron in the production of steel. The Bessemer process, so successful
in turning out a quality steel, was first applied to copper on a
commercial scale by Manhès in 1880. In 1883-84 the Manhès converter, with
a capacity of from 7 to 10 tons, was introduced into the United States.
This converter was acid lined and the lining was quickly consumed in the
converting process. {4} Attempts were made at an early date to introduce
a basic or neutral material such as chrome or magnesite brick as a lining
for the converter, the purpose being to eliminate chemical action between
the lining and the molten mass in the converter. To Cappelen Smith goes
the honor of successfully introducing basic lining on a commercial scale.
When Smith was employed by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in the late
nineties and was temporarily in charge of its tilting furnaces, he began
to experiment with the idea that later developed into the basic-lined
converter. He was not alone in this work; Ralph Baggaley conducted
similar experiments at Butte, Montana, about 1903. In Norway still other
work of a similar nature was carried out. But it was Smith's efforts at
Baltimore that finally put a successful product on the American market.
Free at last to experiment, and encouraged by William H. Peirce, his
superintendent and manager, he produced in 1908 a magnesite-lined
converter for leady copper mattes. "To Smith and Peirce belongs the
credit of taking a long-discarded idea and developing it into a
successful product." {5} To posterity the very name Peirce-Smith
converter will suggest a dual contribution, and justly. By making it
possible for Cappelen Smith to work at the problem of conversion, Peirce
immortalized his name along with that of his brilliant associate.
The Peirce-Smith converter could produce 3,000 tons of copper, instead of
the former 10, without relining. This figure was later increased to
40,000 tons. Needless to add, the effect on the copper industry was
nothing short of revolutionary. Before the new converter was put into
use, the cost of converting copper was from 15 to 20 dollars a ton. This
figure was quickly reduced to 4 or 5 dollars by the new process --- one
which authorities had confidently asserted would not work. {6} The most
important feature of basic lining is, of course, its permanence. By
eliminating frequent' relinings the new converter permitted many plant
economies, both in capital investment and operating costs. It was no
longer necessary to haul converters frequently to the repair shop --- a
fact which in turn made possible the use of larger converters and
increased "the ultimate possibility of continuous operation." The
converters that were immediately put into operation were about 26 feet by
12 feet in size, with a capacity of 35 to 45 tons of matte and a daily
output of 33 tons of copper from 40 per cent matte. {7} The daily output
was soon increased to 125 tons or more.
The steel vessel of the early Peirce-Smith converter was lined with
magnesia brick at least 9 inches in thickness, except at the air openings
or tuyeres, where it was 18 inches thick; its bottom was lined with
ordinary firebrick. The magnesite bricks were laid in dry magnesite
powder, except near the tuyeres, where linseed oil was mixed with the
magnesia. Inserted at intervals along the side of the fresh linings were
so-called expansion cushions of wood which were "seasoned" with molten
copper. A siliceous flux was dumped into the converter; the matte charge
was poured upon this. {8}
The converting of copper in a Peirce-Smith converter is done by forcing
air through the tuyeres into the molten matte. Small streams of air pass
through this, oxidizing the iron to iron oxide and the sulphur to sulphur
dioxide, and at the same time giving a converting temperature of about
1200° C. The iron oxide then combines with the silica in the flux to form
slag, while the sulphur dioxide passes off as gas. Heat is furnished by
the oxidation of the iron and sulphur and by the formation of the
iron-silicate slag. The copper, reduced to a metallic state, settles to
the bottom of the vessel and is then cast into forms suitable for further
treatment. {9}
The new converter naturally created great interest when it appeared. The
Engineering and Mining Journal, to mention only one technical periodical,
spoke of it as a new outgrowth, in a sense, of the steel industry ---
which it was --- and emphasized that basic converting along orthodox
copper lines was by no means untried when Smith went to work on it. This
periodical described the first converter as a tilting reverberatory
furnace, a large cylindrical shell with ends like the frustums of cones.
From experience with this furnace a later type of converter was evolved.
The new converters were improved by moving the mouth to the center and
substituting pipe tuyeres, the number of which was increased to 37.
Ordinary converters, it was explained, could easily be changed to the new
method by the simple expedient of lining them with magnesia bricks - a
procedure actually undertaken by Anaconda. The latest Peirce-Smith
converter (in 1917) was described in detail. Tilted by an electric motor
and capable of producing over 100 tons of blister copper while converting
a 40 per cent matte, the new converter was in use at such important
copper centers as Tacoma, Garfield, and El Paso, and was being installed
at Hayden, Arizona, at the Braden Copper Company mines in Chile, and at
the new plant of the British America Nickel Corporation in Sudbury,
Ontario. {10}
One voice was raised to protest the honors given Cappelen Smith and
Peirce, that of Ralph Baggaley, whose experiments with basic lining at
Butte have already been mentioned. Baggaley not only questioned the
originality of Smith's work, but claimed all credit for the new process
for himself and even charged that Peirce and Cappelen Smith had merely
subjected his discoveries to certain elaborate tests. Baggaley claimed
that he had unwisely described his experiments to the Guggenheims. "What
have Smith and Peirce invented or developed?" he asked. "I practiced the
art [of basic lining] with perfect success for 81/2 months, using a
single lining, years before they even commenced to test the correctness
of my theories and which theories all of their own experts disputed. As a
well-known authority has stated to me, all of Smith and Peirce's patents
for `improvements' on my process are really `steps backward.' Their
design and construction are such that it is impossible to hold their
linings or tuyeres in place." Baggaley then proceeded to detail the
advantages of his own converter. {11} Authorities, however, are unanimous
in crediting Smith and Peirce with the successful introduction of basic
Their professional standing was strengthened by a severe test. The basic
patents for the converter properly filed, the two men organized the
Peirce-Smith Converter Company to manufacture the new product, with Smith
as vice-president and director of the firm. Within two years every large
copper company was using the new converter, but it occurred to none to
pay royalties to the inventors. In this they were merely following
tradition: no copper company in America had ever paid an inventor for the
privilege of using his discoveries. In the case of the converter,
however, they made a mistake. The Peirce-Smith Company decided upon a
test case, patiently waited until the copper interests had installed
their converters, and then began legal action against Senator W. A. Clark
of Montana and his United Verde Copper Company. The result was a classic
case in the history of the American patent system; {12} and the four
volumes of testimony that resulted constitute a veritable textbook in
metallurgy. Peirce and Smith were completely established as the inventors
of the basic-lining process. {13} Senator Clark was less fortunate. The
Peirce-Smith Converter Company had originally asked him for only $40,000;
this request had been rejected. After the trial Clark's firm turned over
$850,000 to the converter company.
Cappelen Smith's career, so brilliantly begun in the United States, was
destined to continue on another continent --- this time resulting in the
invention and introduction of the extraction method in use at
Chuquicamata, in Chile, the largest developed copper deposit in the
The problem of this remarkable mine was perhaps first brought to Smith's
attention in the period 1910-12, when, as consulting metallurgist of the
American Smelting and Refining Company, he also served as consultant to
the Braden Copper Company, a Guggenheim firm in Chile. He visited South
America for the first time in 1912. The Chuquicamata mine was acquired by
the Guggenheims when Pope Yeatman, who had previously bought Braden and
other low-grade copper mines for them, concluded that "Chuqui" could be
made to yield millions if a satisfactory method of extracting the copper
could be developed.
Chuquicamata lies north of Calama, a station on the railroad going up to
Bolivia from Chile, between a coastal range of mountains and the Andes.
Located in a desert region at an elevation of from 9,000 to 10,000 feet,
it enjoys neither rain nor snow. Its ore deposits had been worked by the
Indians long before the Spanish conquest. Later attempts to mine its
copper, however, met with general failure. It came under Guggenheim
control in 1911. Early the next year the Chile Exploration Company, with
a capital of $1,000,000, was incorporated for the purpose of opening the
mine. By 1913, exploratory work in which Cappelen Smith played a part
revealed that there were at least 154,000,000 tons of ore at
Chuquicamata, averaging about 2½ per cent copper. Actually the deposit is
vastly greater.
The Chile Copper Company, with a capital of $110,000,000, was then
organized to buy up the properties of the Chile Exploration Company. It
is said that immense sums were invested in developing and equipping the
property. Many unexpected difficulties arose, among them the fact that
the ores were found to contain nitrates as well as chlorides and
sulphates. The resulting technique involved both leaching and
precipitation of the low-grade ore. Not only was it the first large-scale
operation of its kind, but the Chuquicamata process involved
asurprisingly low plant cost. {14} The scientific studies that followed
Yeatman's preliminary investigation of "Chuqui" ores were conducted under
Cappelen Smith's leadership in the Guggenheim laboratories at Perth
Amboy, New Jersey. Considerable money was spent in what is generally
regarded as extremely clever research. The outcome was the chemical
process already referred to, worked out to the last detail and requiring
an elaborate set of equipment. A crushing plant, which would reduce the
ore to one-half inch mesh, was built. The leaching plant called for six
great tanks each 150 feet long by 110 feet wide and 16 feet in depth. In
addition, a pump house, an electrolytic tank house, and a smelting plant
had to be provided. It was found, however, that the same results were
obtained when the ore was treated in Chile on a 10,000-ton scale as in
Perth Amboy with much smaller units.

<1> This section is based on a number of sources, chiefly two articles in
Nordisk tidende, December 6, 1923, and November 24, 1938; an interview
with Cappelen Smith, May 20, 1941; and scattered bits of information in
popular and technical journals.
<2> From a summary of Cappelen Smith's work prepared in the Guggenheim
offices, New York City.
<3> Copper and Brass Research Association, "The Copper Industry," in John
George Glover and William Bouck Cornell, The Development of American
Industries, Their Economic Significance, 384-386 (New York, 1935).
<4> Milo W. Krejci, "Development of Copper Converting," in Engineering
and Mining Journal, 104:669-674 (October 20,1917); Donald M. Levy, Modern
Copper Smelting, 192-195 (London, 1912).
<5> E. P. Mathewson, "Development of the Basic-lined Converter for Copper
Mattes," in American Institute of Mining Engineers, Transactions, 46:473
(1914). When Smith's converter underwent its first real test, he stood
for 72 hours on the converter's platform, exhausted but confident of
success; Nordisk tidende, November 24, 1938.
<6> Nordisk tidende, November 24, 1938. "Keller's report on basic linings
in 1890 stated that they could not be employed successfully, because (a)
basic material, being a good conductor, caused the outside of the
converter to become too hot and the inside too cold; (b) such material
broke up easily and so was unsuitable for use in permanent linings; and
(c) even when basic linings were employed, the silica which was added as
flux, refused to combine with the iron oxides. These views were very
generally accepted for some years, until Baggaley's persistent efforts
and finally those of Peirce and Smith showed that by perfecting the
constructional methods and details, by preventing heat losses as much as
possible, and by operating on very large masses of hot material, the
above difficulties could all be overcome and the basic lining
successfully employed"; Levy, Modern Copper Smelting, 202.
<7> Levy, Modern Copper Smelting, 202. For a more detailed account of the
advantages of the Peirce-Smith converter, see H. O. Hofman, Metallurgy of
Copper, 211-213 (New York, 1924).
<8> Levy, Modern Copper Smelting, 204. See also Hof man, Metallurgy o f
Copper, 211-213.
<9> Krejci, in Engineering and Mining Journal, 104:669-674.
<10> Vol. 91, p. 943, 964 (May 13,1911); vol. 104, p. 674 (October
<11> American Institute of Mining Engineers, Transactions, 46:480-485.
<12> United Verde Copper Company vs. Peirce-Smith Converter Company
<13> The patent under fire was number 943,280, filed in October, 1909, by
Cappelen Smith alone. The Circuit Court of Appeals (Third Circuit), in
reviewing the case, held that Smith was the "first to show that slag had
two habits . . . innocent and vicious, and he was the first to show how
one could be obtained and the other avoided, and, in consequence, how a
basic lining could be preserved through greatly increased length of
operation." The patent was held "not anticipated, valid, and infringed";
Federal Reporter, Second Series, vol. 7 (2d), November-December, 1925, p.
13-19 (St. Paul, 1926).
<14> See H. Foster Bain and Thomas Thornton Read, Ores and Industry in
South America, 221 (New York, 1934); A. B. Parsons, The Porphyry Coppers,
256-283 (New York, 1933); Fortune, 2:72-76 (July, 1930). A good general
account is Joseph Newton and Curtis L. Wilson, Metallurgy of Copper,
345-356 (New York, 1942).

The best thing to hit the internet in years - Juno SpeedBand!
Surf the web up to FIVE TIMES FASTER!
Only $14.95/ month - visit to sign up today!

This thread: