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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 650

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This is the grave of Marcus Daly.

Born in 1841 in County Cavan, Ireland, Daly was the youngest of 11 children in a poor farming family. He came to the U.S. in 1856. He settled in New York initially, struggling along like most of the rest of the Irish working class for his first five years. Then, in 1861, he moved to San Francisco. This would change his life.

By 1861, the “Eureka” phase of mining was over. No one was finding giant nuggets anymore. It was industrial mining and big capitalists had already taken over the process. He got a job in one of George Hearst’s mines in the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. He rose quickly and got Hearst’s attention. Hearst would be a major backer of this budding mining capitalist.

By 1871, Daly was a foreman at a mine in Ophir, Utah, working for a large banking and mining syndicate called the Walker Brothers. Daly became to become a scout for new mining properties. They sent him to Montana in 1876 to inspect a new silver mine in the territory just opening up for white exploitation in Butte. He recommended they buy it. It became known as the Alice Mine. They then made Daly the superintendent and gave him a cut of the profits. This started the meteoric rise of this mining capitalist.

While working the Alice, Daly noticed a lot of copper. He did some exploration and realized the future was in that metal. He urged his bosses to buy it. They passed. Daly then sold his stake in the Alice and bought it himself. This became the Anaconda Mine, one of the richest mines in American history. Backed by George Hearst’s money, he developed it quickly. Of course, as per the Gilded Age, Daly was sneaky about it. He said nothing about the copper locally. He only mined the silver in the Anaconda and other mines he bought. After a few years, the silver gave out all over. When prices declined, Daly bought out all the other miners. And then he started mining the copper. With the rise of electricity, demand for copper skyrocketed. Daly became one of Montana’s three copper kings, along with the laughably corrupt William Clark and F. Augustus Heinze.

Daly owned the mine. He owned the smelter. He owned everything. He became one of the nation’s richest men in the 1880s. It took a tremendous amount of capitalization to make this work, but Daly, along with Hearst and his other friends made it work. Michigan had lots of copper too and of course it had a head start. But because there was not only silver but also gold in the same mines, combined with the huge technological investment, they beat out Michigan because demand for copper had no limit by the late nineteenth century. In 1899, he decided to sell out to John D. Rockfeller and H.H. Rogers to make the company even larger. Daly was named president.

Interestingly, the fact that Daly, an Irish immigrant, was the owner of the Anaconda and other properties actually attracted other Irish immigrants to settle there. Some have suggested Daly personally recruited them, but he probably didn’t need to do so. Either way, Daly did openly like hiring men from Ireland and they knew that. Thousands immigrated to Butte and Anaconda. He sponsored Irish organizations in Butte such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and was at least sympathetic with Irish nationalism, even if there’s not a lot of evidence that he did anything too active to support it. It’s not as if Daly was pro-union or anything, but he also didn’t actively oppose unionization and Butte became one of the nation’s centers of unionism in these years, continuing until after his death. Arguably, Butte under Daly was the United States’ single strongest union town. He paid standard industry wages, but unlike other boom and bust mines, there was always steady work in Butte. Moreover, Daly built a gigantic hotel to house Irish migrants and it was well-known for being clean and having recreational facilities and a staff that spoke Gaelic. All of this was basically unheard of in American industry. Daly would hold court in the hotel bar at nights, after dining alone in a room that could seat 500 people.

Of course, Daly wasn’t going to be spending all his time in Montana anymore. He was living the good life in New York. He became a major investor in race horses, owning Scottish Chieftain, winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1897, among other famed horses of Gilded Age. But he was strongly dedicated to his adopted state. He had a 20,000 acre ranch in western Montana where he raised his horses. He fought hard to make Anaconda the state capital, but he lost that battle to Helena, largely due to anti-Catholicism. Daly may have made it big as an Irish Catholic, but that wasn’t going to endear him to much of the rest of the Gilded Age elite. Moreover, even though Daly and most of the Irish were Democrats, he seems to have worked to undermine William Clark’s territorial representative bid in 1888 by supporting a Republican candidate, figuring that would be a better move for Montana given the likelihood that Benjamin Harrison would win the presidential election. Plus Clark and the other Montana elites didn’t really want to pander to the Irish so it seemed they ignored them.

Daly, a bit of a hard living guy who liked to smoke and drink, wasn’t the healthiest person. Even at this time of early death, rich people usually lived in a long time becuase they could have access to quality health care. But in 1900, only a year after selling to Rockefeller, he died in a New York hotel at the age of 58, probably of a heart attack. He also had diabetes.

Marcus Daly is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

If you would like this series to visit other mining capitalists, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. George Hearst is in Colma, California and Augustus Heinze is also in Brooklyn, at the same cemetery but I didn’t know that at the time. Interesting how all three of the Montana Copper Kings are buried in New York City. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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