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Blast Creative 917 W Granite St, Butte, Mt
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About Butte

Butte (IPA: [bjut]) is a city in Montana and the county seat of Silver Bow County, United States. In 1977, the city and county governments consolidated to form the sole entity of The City and County of Butte-Silver Bow. As of the 2000 census, Butte's population was 33,892. In its heyday between the late 19th century and about 1920, it was one of the largest and most notorious copper boomtowns in the American West, home to hundreds of saloons and a famous red-light district. The documentary Butte, America depicts its history as a copper producer and the issues of labor unionism, economic rise and decline, and environmental degradation that resulted from the activity.

The city is served by Bert Mooney Airport. The airport code for Butte is BTM.

History

Butte began as a mining town in the late 19th century in the Silver Bow Creek Valley (or Summit Valley), a natural bowl sitting high in the Rockies straddling the Continental Divide. At first only gold and silver were mined in the area, but the advent of electricity caused a soaring demand for copper, which was abundant in the area. The small town soon became one of the most prosperous cities in the country, especially during World War I, and was often called "the Richest Hill on Earth". It was the largest city for many hundreds of miles in all directions. The city attracted workers from Ireland, Wales, England, Lebanon, Canada, Finland, Austria, Serbia, Italy, China, Syria, Croatia, Montenegro, Mexico, and all areas of the USA. The legacy of the immigrants lives on in the form of the Cornish pasty which was popularized by mine workers who needed something easy to eat in the mines, the povitica -- a nutroll which is a holiday favorite sold in many supermarkets and bakeries in the Butte area -- and the boneless pork-chop sandwich.

The influx of miners gave Butte a reputation as a wide-open town where any vice was obtainable. The city's famous saloon and red-light district, called the "Line", was centered on Mercury Street, where the elegant bordellos included the famous Dumas Brothel, regarded as the longest-running house of prostitution in the U.S. In the brick alley behind the brothel was the equally famous Venus Alley, where women plied their trade in small cubicles called "cribs". The red-light district brought miners and other men from all over the region and was openly tolerated by city officials until the 1980s as one of the last such urban districts in the U.S. The Dumas Brothel is now operated as a museum to Butte's rougher days. Close by Wyoming Street is home to the Butte High School (home of the "Bulldogs").

At the end of the 19th century, copper was in great demand because of new technologies such as electric power that required the use of copper. Three men fought for control of Butte's mining wealth. These three "Copper Kings" were William A. Clark, Marcus Daly, and F. Augustus Heinze.

In 1899, Daly joined with William Rockefeller, Henry H. Rogers, and Thomas W. Lawson to organize the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company. Not long after, the company changed its name to Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM). Over the years, Anaconda was owned by assorted larger corporations. In the 1920s, it had a virtual monopoly over the mines in and around Butte. Between approximately 1900 and 1917, Butte also had a strong streak of Socialist politics, even electing a Mayor on the Socialist ticket in 1914.

The prosperity continued up to the 1950s, when the declining grade of ore and competition from other mines led the Anaconda company to switch its focus from the costly and dangerous practice of underground mining to open pit mining. This marked the beginning of the end for the boom times in Butte.

Labor organizations

Butte was also known as "the Gibraltar of Unionism", with a very active labor union movement that sought to counter the power and influence of the Anaconda company, which was also simply known as "The Company."

By 1885, there were about 1,800 dues-paying members of a general union in Butte. That year the union reorganized as the Butte Miners' Union (BMU), spinning off all non-miners to separate craft unions. Some of these joined the Knights of Labor, and by 1886 the separate organizations came together to form the Silver Bow Trades and Labor Assembly, with 34 separate unions representing nearly all of the 6,000 workers around Butte. The BMU established branch unions in mining towns like Barker, Castle, Champion, Granite, and Neihart, and extended support to other mining camps hundreds of miles away.

In 1892 there was a violent strike in Coeur d'Alene. Although the BMU was experiencing relatively friendly relations with local management, the events in Idaho were disturbing. The BMU not only sent thousands of dollars to support the Idaho miners, they mortgaged their buildings to send more.

There was a growing concern that local unions were vulnerable to the power of Mine Owners' Associations like the one in Coeur d'Alene. In May of 1893, about forty delegates from northern hard-rock mining camps met in Butte and established the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), which sought to organize miners throughout the West. The Butte Miners' Union became Local Number One of the new WFM. The WFM won a strike in Cripple Creek, Colorado, the following year, but then in 1896-97 lost another violent strike in Leadville, Colorado, prompting the Montana State Trades and Labor Council to issue a proclamation to organize a new Western labor federation along industrial lines.

After 1905, Butte became a hotbed of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or the "Wobblies") organizing. There were a number of clashes between laborers, labor organizers, and the Anaconda company, including the lynching of IWW activist Frank Little, and at one point, Pinkerton Agency guards hired by The Company resorted to gunning down strikers in the Anaconda Road Massacre.

Copper production

In 1917, copper production from the Butte mines peaked and has steadily declined since. By WWII, copper production from the ACM's holdings in Chuquicamata, Chile, far exceeded Butte's production. The historian Janet Finn has examined this "tale of two cities"--Butte and Chuquicamata as two ACM mining towns.

The open-pit era

Thousands of homes were destroyed in the Meaderville suburb and surrounding areas, McQueen and East Butte, to excavate the Berkeley Pit, which opened in 1955. At the time, it was the largest truck-operated open pit copper mine in the United States. Other open pit mines were dug in the area, including the still-operational East Continental Pit. The Berkeley pit grew with time, and in November 1973 the Columbia Gardens, William A. Clark's gift to the people of Butte, was torn down to expand the Berkeley Pit. In 1977 the ARCO company purchased Anaconda Mining, and only three years later started shutting down mines due to lower metal prices. In 1982, all mining in the Berkeley Pit was suspended.

Anaconda stopped mining at the Continental pit in 1983. Montana Resources bought the property and reopened the Continental pit in 1986. The company stopped mining in 2000, but resumed in 2003 with higher metal prices, and continues at last report, employing 346 people. From 1880 through 2005, the mines of the Butte district have produced more than 9.6 million tonnes of copper, 2.1 million tonnes of zinc, 1.6 million tonnes of manganese, 381 thousand tonnes of lead, 87 thousand tonnes of molybdenum, 715 million troy ounces of silver, and 2.9 million ounces of gold.

When mining shut down at the Berkeley pit in 1982, water pumps in nearby mines were also shut down, which resulted in highly acidic water laced with toxic heavy metals filling up the pit. Only two years later the pit was classified as a Superfund site and an environmental hazard site. Meanwhile, the acidic water continued to rise. It was not until the 1990s that serious efforts to clean up the Berkeley Pit began. The situation gained even more attention after as many as 342 migrating geese picked the pit lake as a resting place, resulting in their deaths. Steps have since been taken to prevent a recurrence, including but not limited to loudspeakers broadcasting sounds to scare off waterfowl. However, in November 2003 the Horseshoe Bend treatment facility went online and began treating and diverting much of the water that would have flowed into the pit. Ironically, the Berkeley Pit is also one of the city's biggest tourist attractions. It is the largest pit lake in the United States, and is the most costly part of the country's largest Superfund site.

Recent history

Since about 1960, the city's population has been about 30,000, despite periodic rises and drops. Over a dozen of the headframes still stand over the mine shafts, and the city still contains thousands of historic commercial and residential buildings from the boom times, which, especially in the Uptown section, give it a very old-fashioned appearance like a ghost town, with the many buildings and comparatively few people. As with many industrial cities, tourism and services, especially health care (Butte's St. James Hospital has Southwest Montana's only major trauma center), are rising as primary employers. Many areas of the city, especially the areas near the old mines, show signs of wear from time but a recent influx of investors and an aggressive campaign to remedy blight has led to a renewed interest in restoring property in Uptown Butte's historic district, which was expanded in 2006 to include parts of Anaconda and is now the largest National Historic Landmark District in the United States with nearly 6,000 contributing properties.

A century after the era of intensive mining and smelting, the area around the city remains an environmental issue. Arsenic and heavy metals such as lead are found in high concentrations in some spots affected by old mining, and for a period of time in the 1990s the tap water was unsafe to drink due to poor filtration and decades-old wooden supply pipes. Efforts to improve the water supply have taken place in the past few years, with millions of dollars being invested to upgrade water lines and repair infrastructure. Environmental research and clean-up efforts have contributed to the diversification of the local economy, and signs of vitality remain, including a multi-million dollar polysilicon manufacturing plant locating nearby in the 1990s and the city's recognition and designation in the late 1990s as an All-American City and also as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2002. In 2004, Butte received another economic boost as well as international recognition as the location for the Hollywood film Don't Come Knocking, directed by renowned director Wim Wenders and released throughout the world in 2006.

The annual celebration of Butte's Irish heritage (since 1882) is the annual St. Patrick's Day festivities. In these modern times about 30,000 revelers converge on Butte's Historic Uptown District to enjoy the parade led by the Ancient Order of Hibernians and celebrate in bars such as Maloney's, the Silver Dollar Saloon, the M&M Cigar Store, and The Irish Times Pub.

Butte is one of the few cities in the United States where possession and consumption of open containers of alcoholic beverages are allowed on the street (although not in vehicles).

The larger and better known annual celebration is Knievel Days held each summer. This event draws over 50,000 bikers and daredevils from across the world. The highlight of the event is when all participants share a moment of silence for the whole Knievel clan traditionally observed at 4:20 pm on the second day of the event. The moment is broken by five daredevils simultaneously jump 19 trucks while fireworks explode and fifty foot flames of fire shoot up through the trucks while God Bless America plays.

Butte's Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks show is the largest in the state. In 2008 Barack Obama spent his last Fourth of July before his Presidency campaigning in Butte taking in the parade with his family and celebrating his daughter Malia Obama's 10th Birthday.

In March 2009, Butte was the location of an airplane crash that made headlines worldwide. Fourteen passengers and crew were killed when the plane crashed into the Holy Cross Cemetery near the runway at Bert Mooney Airport.

Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine Disaster

Sparked by a tragic accident more than 2,000 feet (610 m) below the ground on June 8, 1917, a fire in the Granite Mountain shaft spewed flames, smoke, and poisonous gas through the labyrinth of underground tunnels including the connected Speculator mine. A rescue effort commenced but the carbon monoxide was stealing the air supply. A few men built man-made bulk heads to save their lives but many others died in a panic to try to get out. Rescue workers set up a fan to prevent the fire from spreading. This worked for a short time but when the rescuers tried to use water, the water evaporated creating steam that burned people trying to escape. Once the fire was out, those waiting to hear the news on the surface couldn't identify the victims. They were too mutilated to recognize, leading many to assume the worst. 168 bodies were removed from the mine, most had died due to lack of oxygen and smoke inhalation as opposed to the actual fire itself. Due to the heroic efforts of men such as Ernest Sullau, Manus Duggan, Con O'Neil, and JD Moore, some survived to tell the tale. The Speculator Mine Memorial was built as a reminder of the greatest loss of life in US hard rock mining history, a title it still holds today.

Notable places

Notable natives and residents

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 716.8 square miles (1,856.5 km²), of which, 716.1 square miles (1,854.7 km²) of it is land and 0.7 square miles (1.7 km²) of it is water. The total area is 0.09% water. Butte is also home to one of the largest deposits of Bornite. Of all U.S. communities situated on the Continental Divide, Butte is the most populous. Every highway heading out from Butte (except westbound I-90) crosses the Divide (eastbound I-90 via Homestake Pass; eastbound MT 2 via Pipestone Pass; northbound I-15 via Elk Park Pass; and southbound I-15 via Deer Lodge Pass).

Weather data for Butte, MT
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 58
(14)
61
(16)
69
(21)
83
(28)
90
(32)
97
(36)
100
(38)
99
(37)
93
(34)
85
(29)
69
(21)
66
(19)
100
(38)
Average high °F (°C) 30
(-1)
35
(2)
42
(6)
52
(11)
61
(16)
71
(22)
80
(27)
79
(26)
68
(20)
55
(13)
39
(4)
30
(-1)
54
(12)
Average low °F (°C) 5
(-15)
10
(-12)
18
(-8)
26
(-3)
34
(1)
41
(5)
45
(7)
44
(7)
35
(2)
26
(-3)
15
(-9)
6
(-14)
25
(-4)
Record low °F (°C) -48
(-44)
-52
(-47)
-36
(-38)
-16
(-27)
9
(-13)
22
(-6)
28
(-2)
23
(-5)
3
(-16)
-23
(-31)
-42
(-41)
-52
(-47)
-52
(-47)
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.53
(13.5)
0.47
(11.9)
0.83
(21.1)
1.02
(25.9)
2.02
(51.3)
2.07
(52.6)
1.47
(37.3)
1.36
(34.5)
1.09
(27.7)
0.79
(20.1)
0.60
(15.2)
0.53
(13.5)
12.78
(324.6)

Demographics

Historical populations
Census Pop.
 %±
1870 241  
1880 3,363   1,295.4%
1890 10,723   218.9%
1900 30,470   184.2%
1910 39,165   28.5%
1920 41,611   6.2%
1930 39,532   −5.0%
1940 37,081   −6.2%
1950 33,251   −10.3%
1960 27,877   −16.2%
1970 23,368   −16.2%
1980 37,205   59.2%
1990 33,336   −10.4%
2000 33,892   1.7%
Est. 2007 31,967   −5.7%

As of the census of 2000, there were 33,892 people, 14,135 households, and 8,735 families residing in the city. The population density was 47.3 people per square mile (18.3/km²). There were 15,833 housing units at an average density of 22.1/sq mi (8.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.38% White, 0.16% African American, 1.99% Native American, 0.43% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.59% from other races, and 1.39% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.74% of the population.

There were 14,135 households out of which 27.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.7% were married couples living together, 10.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.2% were non-families. 32.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.7% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 26.7% from 25 to 44, 23.9% from 45 to 64, and 16.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 97.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,516, and the median income for a family was $40,186. Males had a median income of $31,409 versus $21,626 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,068. About 10.7% of families and 15.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.2% of those under age 18 and 9.0% of those age 65 or over.

Government

Butte and Silver Bow County are merged into one governmental body.

Butte and Superfund

The Upper Clark Fork River, with Butte at the headwaters, is America's largest Superfund site. This area takes in the cities of Butte, Anaconda, and Missoula. The mining and smelting activity in Butte resulted in significant contamination of the Butte Hill as well as downstream and downwind areas. The contaminated land extends along a corridor of 120 miles (193 km) that reaches to Milltown near Missoula and takes in adjacent areas such as the Anaconda smelter site. The mining and smelting operations of the Anaconda Copper Mining Corporation were the primary cause of this pollution at the headwaters of the Columbia River.

Between the upstream city of Butte and the downstream city of Missoula lies the Deer Lodge Valley. By the 1970s, local citizens and agency personnel were increasingly concerned over the toxic effects of arsenic and heavy metals on environment and human health. Most of the waste was created by the Anaconda Copper Mining Corporation (ACM), which merged with the Atlantic Richfield Corporation (Arco) in 1977. Shortly thereafter, in 1983, Arco ceased mining and smelting operations in the Butte-Anaconda area.

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