Saturday, May 5, 2018

Prospector Files Original Claims for Today’s Hecla Mining Group [otd 05/05]

According to the Illustrated History of the State of Idaho, “The original claims comprising the Hecla group were the Hecla and Katie May lode claims, located by James Toner on May 5, 1885.” The original claim of twenty acres was near Burke, about six miles northeast of Wallace.
Hecla Mine, Burke, Idaho, 1909. University of Idaho.

However, as happened for many claimants, Toner lacked the resources to fully develop the property. The initial prospect dwindled, and Toner eventually sold the rights, which then passed through several owners. Finally, a claimant who saw greater prospects for the plot purchased it. Then those rights became part of the holdings of the Hecla Mining Company, which Amasa Campbell, John Finch, and some other investors organized in October 1891 [blog, April 6].

For the next several years, other valuable investments preoccupied Campbell and Finch. Their co-investors showed little inclination to put a lot of money into development work on the Toner site. Thus, Hecla obtained rather small returns from the claim, which they operated directly or through lease arrangements.

In 1898, Campbell and Finch led a reorganization of Hecla Mining Company. In the process, they also purchased a number of nearby claims. The company soon owned fifteen lode claims spread over about two hundred and fifty acres. The expansion increased the expected production and  reduced the possibility that a promising ore vein might lead outside the areas they owned.At that time, the Hecla was viewed as “still a prospect,” but one that was “more than paying its own way.”

With renewed energy, Hecla poured money into support facilities and underground development. That included a substantial investment in tunnel building and renovation, as well as rental of a mill. During the summer of 1900, the Company began paying its first dividends, an amount that approached $100,000 by the end of the year. That encouraged further investments in development, which built Hecla into one of the major mining operations in the region.

Hecla weathered a nationwide financial panic in 1907 and returned to profitability even before a spurt during World War I. The Idaho Statesman reported (February 18, 1917), “Wallace – The Hecla Mining company paid dividend No. 164 in January of 15 cents per share, amounting to $150,000, making grand total paid by the company $5,455,000. At this rate the Hecla will pay $1,800,000 the current year.”

The company derived most of its income from the production of lead, used for batteries, chemical-resistant sheeting, and (back then) paint. Silver was simply the icing on the cake.
Hecla Mine, Burke, 1910. University of Idaho.
Unfortunately, profits were by no means guaranteed because metals prices tend to fluctuate wildly. (For a number of years, on-going labor-management disputes also hampered profitably.)

In hopes of leveling out their metals revenue, Hecla began expanding into the area of zinc production. Zinc demand also depends upon battery manufacturing. However zinc is mainly used to make corrosion-resistant galvanized steel for roofing, chain-link fence, and other products.

The company struggled through ups and downs in metal prices and the Great Depression, but hung on. It even survived the crisis when the original Hecla claim petered out in 1944.

Today, Hecla Mining Company owns properties all over the West, and in Mexico. The company extracts substantial amounts of silver (it’s the top U. S. producer), lead, zinc, and small quantities of gold.
References: [Illust-State], [Illust-North]
Corporate History, Hecla Mining Company, Coeur dAlene, Idaho (1991).
"Hecla Mining Company," International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 20, St. James Press, Farmington Hills, Michigan (1998).

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