American miner and business leader Marcus Daly (1841-1900) founded the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and was a power in Montana politics.
Marcus Daly was born on Dec. 5, 1841, at Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan, Ireland. In 1856 he emigrated, settling first in New York City, where he found work as an errand boy and hostler. Five years later he moved to California and got a job as a mucker (clean-up man) in a gold mine. Despite his lack of education, Daly was intelligent and ambitious and soon had learned enough about good mining practice to become foreman of a mine on the Comstock Lode in Nevada. He remained in the Virginia City area from 1862 to 1868 and then moved to Utah, where he operated several silver mines for a firm of Salt Lake City bankers and mine owners.
Daly's big opportunity came when this firm sent him to Butte, Mont., to examine their mining claims. Deciding to remain in Montana, Daly purchased the Alice silver prospect from his employers. He sold the mine at a large profit, which he then used in 1880 to purchase a small silver deposit known as the Anaconda from a prospector named Michael Hickey. Historians have speculated whether Daly actually knew that the mine contained a huge body of copper or was just lucky in his investment. Daly soon acquired adjoining claims, then entered into a partnership with three other men who provided the capital to develop the Anaconda.
Daly's partners were not enthusiastic about a copper mine in Montana. It was too far from the copper market, the market was limited, and what there was of a market was already monopolized by Michigan miners. But Daly, anticipating a great expansion in the use of copper, gambled that—with large-scale production—he could compete successfully with eastern mining interests. The rapid, phenomenal growth of Anaconda attests to Daly's business acumen.
From copper mining Daly branched out into related enterprises—banking, lumbering, and coal mining. He founded the town of Anaconda, constructed water and power facilities, went into ranching, bred racehorses, developed fruit orchards, built the largest smelter in the world, and constructed a railroad from Anaconda to Butte.
Daly also established a newspaper, the Anaconda Standard, which he used to further his political objectives. Although he personally sought no public office, he did finance the campaigns of Democrats for seats in the state and national legislatures. He also waged an expensive but unsuccessful fight to make Anaconda the state capital; Helena won the coveted prize by a margin of only a few thousand votes. But above all, Daly's political activities were directed toward frustrating the political ambitions of his archrival in copper mining, William Andrews Clark.
Until 1894 the Anaconda was operated as a partnership. Then the partners incorporated as the Anaconda Mining Company. When a Rothschild syndicate bought one partner's share of the property in 1895, the company reorganized as the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. In 1899 Standard Oil purchased Anaconda. Through all these changes Daly continued to serve as president of the company.
On Nov. 12, 1900, after a lengthy illness, Daly died in New York City. He was remembered as charitable, generous, and fair. His memory of his beginnings as an immigrant and a humble miner enabled him to maintain good relations with his workers. Anaconda had no labor disturbances so long as Daly remained at the helm.
There is no biography of Daly, but material on his career may be found in Federal Writer's Program, Copper Camp, Stories of the World's Greatest Mining Town: Butte, Montana (1943); Isaac F. Marcosson, Anaconda (1957); and K. Ross Toole, Montana: An Uncommon Land (1959).
Powell, Ada, The Dalys of the Bitter Root, Montana: A. Powell, 1989.