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Marcus Daly (1841 - 1900):
Mining engineer; politician

Marcus Daly emigrated from Ulster to become one of the most prominent copper producers in the United States, at a time when new industries relied heavily on what had been a relatively inconsequential metal. He became one of the three so-called “Copper Kings” of the town of Butte, Montana. 

Daly was born in Ballyjamesduff, County Cavan, son of Luke Daly and Mary Coyle, poor peasant farmers. In 1856 he emigrated to the United States, initially installing himself in New York City, then in 1861 moving to California where he where he worked at mines at Calavares and Grass Valley. He moved to Nevada where he was foreman for John W Mackay, then moved to Utah where he was employed by Walker Brothers of Salt Lake City to supervise their mining interests there. All the while he was acquiring an impressive reputation as being “able to see further under the ground than any mining engineer In 1876 he moved to Butte, Montana, where he and the Walkers purchased the Alice mine. Eventually he sold his share and bought the Anaconda silver mine, on the south side of Butte Hill, for $30,000 and the adjacent mine (one of his financial backers was George Hearst, father of the future press magnate Wilmiam Randolph Hearst; the other two were Lloyd Tevis and Ben Ali Haggin). 

In 1882 the new age of electric power was about to dawn; one notable sign of this was Edison’s new electric power generator which he demonstrated in New York; telegraph and telephone lines were expanding at pace. Daly, who had discovered a large copper seam on the property, and a self educated engineer, realised that this commodity, previously regarded as relatively unattractive as an investment material, would become highly desirable as it was a excellent conductor of electricity. He shrewdly constructed the world’s largest smelter – previously copper smelting was transatlantic, in Wales, and Daly sent 37,000 tons there before his own smelter was ready – and developed ancillaries such as sawmills and coalmines; the region was heavily forested. Commercially speaking he formed the Anaconda Copper Mining Company of which he was General Manager and 25% shareholder, the other three, each 25% were his original financial backers. He founded and developed Anaconda as a small town, which was populated largely by his employees. The adjacent town of Hamilton was also owned by Daly, who was widely regarded as a generous employer and was popular. 

Daly had two commercial and political rivals, and theirs was no friendly rivalry. These were William Clark and (slightly later) F Augustus Heinze.  These three became known as “The Copper Kings of Montana” and dominated the entire state. Clark was on a par for wealth with Daly: he owned 13 mines in Butte and a smelter in Arizona. He owned banks, newspapers, a railroad and the townsite of Las Vegas. He was particularly ambitious politically, and while Daly had few ambitions of that kind for himself, he was determined to frustrate Clark’s campaigns for public office. This Clark-Daly completed dominated Montana politics through the 1890s, Daly, short, stocky, rather red of face, affable though liable to be short-tempered; Clark, taller, more reserved, dapper.

Anaconda-Hamilton residents faced with an upcoming election, especially those suspected of considering Clark with their ballots, would typically find themselves the recipients of gifts of whisky and cigars. This might in other places have been seen as a form of bribery. In 1888 Clark was trying for a territorial seat in Congress (for Montana); Daly provided an unknown though without doubt large sum, and Clark’s bid failed. In 1894, the race was on to designate as Montana state capital either Anaconda, naturally supported by Daly, or Helena, favoured by Clark. One estimate was that the candidates spent a total of $17,000,000 in a campaign marked by corruption on both sides; this time Clark emerged on top. Daly somewhat lost interest after this; selling out to finance companies and spending more and more time in New York where he died. Clark, too, sold out and retired. He spent most of his remaining years in Los Angeles, giving large sums to educational and cultural institutions. Heinze apparently died penniless

The American National Biography (1999) states that “Daly was first of all an empire builder and a political manipulator” and quotes an historian writing of Daly that “more than any other man, he built the mining industry of Montana. As much as any man, he defiled the political life of Montana.”  

A resplendent mansion built by his widow; Margaret, still stands in Anaconda, and is open to the public; the family house in Ballyjamesduff would not be so well preserved.

Born: 5 December 1841
Died: 12 November 1900
Richard Froggatt

American National Biography, 1999 Clark C Spence; article in Michael P Malone: The Battle for Butte: Mining and Politics on the Northern Frontier 1864-1906, 1981); “Epic struggle over mineral riches, political control shapes Montana”