The Legacy of American Copper Smelting: Industrial Heritage versus Environmental Policy

By Simson, William | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

The Legacy of American Copper Smelting: Industrial Heritage versus Environmental Policy


Simson, William, The Journal of Southern History


The Legacy of American Copper Smelting: Industrial Heritage versus Environmental Policy. By Bode J. Morin. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013. Pp. [xxviii], 274. $49.00, ISBN 978-1-57233-950-7.)

National copper resources gave the United States an industrial miracle. Copper wiring electrified America, while copper-derived chemicals transformed munitions (drying agents) and agriculture (pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers). Ravenous consumption of the red metal fed rapid ingenuity in production, placing America for generations at the head of copper producing nations. Industrial archaeologist Bode J. Morin, a historic site administrator at Eckly Miner's Village in Weatherly, Pennsylvania, takes us where the great work occurred, reminding us that the industry scarred the environment in a manner still affecting the industry's most renowned production sites.

This study stands as an important contribution to industrial relations and environmental scholarship. Morin examines what happens to a site when a company shuts down, and cleanup, as dictated by government, commences. The major players are government authorities and whatever corporate entity has inherited responsibility. Heritage preservationists are the other players in Morin's study, and they suffer from the public's increasingly thin memory of its industrial past. Readers of this journal will be most interested in Morin's chapter on the East Tennessee "Ducktown" Copper Basin, which he compares with the restoration of sites in Michigan and Montana in respective chapters. At Ducktown, Morin assessed twenty years of postindustrial land and watershed restoration and industrial heritage efforts. Those interested in a social history of the region will have to look elsewhere.

Morin grounds his research in corporate and government records, interviews, and unpublished scholarship. His comprehensive assessment of the postindustrial narrative explains how environmental restoration (backed by government Superfund money and private funding) often overwhelmed those keen on preserving the physical legacy. Typically corporations resisted federal oversight because bureaucratic decision making led to costlier cleanup and built legacy requirements. …

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