The story of John Campbell Greenway and Ajo
John Campbell Greenway was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on July 6, 1872. After graduation from Yale University, where he studied engineering and was a celebrated athlete, Greenway went to work for U.S. Steel.
The company needed someone to go to the Western Mesabi range in northern Minnesota where they had mining rights to a large body of ore near Bovey. Exploration was no easy task since the area was isolated without a good road, much less a railroad.
In addition to the problems of location, astute engineering ability was required to develop a method of concentrating the sandy ore and making it marketable. U.S. Steel needed someone with engineering ability, managerial talent, perseverance, and a reputation for completing tough jobs -- and they chose John Campbell Greenway.
Between 1905 and 1910, Greenway helped U.S. Steel open the Western Mesabi range and write a chapter in the industrial history of the United States as the raw iron ore was converted by Pittsburgh mills into the steel used to build modern America.
In 1910, Greenway moved from Minnesota to Arizona to manage copper mines owned by Calumet and Arizona Co. at Bisbee.
In April 1911, having seen some core sample from Ajo, Greenway came here to inspect the site. He found a population of 25, lots of minerals, and another challenge.
The problems of extracting the ore without any available water and then getting the copper out of the area had daunted mining companies here since the mid-1800s. Confident he would find a way to overcome the obstacles, Greenway negotiated with John Boddie to buy the New Cornelia Copper Company for Calumet and Arizona.
Tests showed there were 40-million tons of two types of copper ore, most of it low-grade. Greenway thought it was ideal for open pit mining using steam shovels, a technique he was familiar with.
He still faced the problems of finding water, processing the ore, and transporting the copper out of the area.
For water, he found an ancient lava flow north of Ajo which he tapped with a large oil rig hauled through the desert by mule teams. Man-made caverns housed the pumps and a pipe-line brought the water across miles of desert to town. Greenway had a plentiful supply of water for the mine and the growing town -- at a cost of over a million dollars.
Processing the ore was the next problem Greenway faced. With Dr. L. D. Ricketts, he developed a processing method which they tried out in a small, one-ton test plant in Ajo. When it proved to be a success, a forty-ton plant was built in 1915. After 15,000 tons of ore had been processed, plans were made for a large, permanent plant.
Greenway was issued a patent in 1916 for a method of leaching copper oxide ore in a sulfuric acid bath, followed by an electrolytic process that claimed the freed copper.
1916 was also the year the Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad Company began operation, allowing the mining company to bypass the difficult roads.
In April 1917, a seven-million dollar complex began production with a unique process. Steam shovels loaded large chunks of ore onto railroad dump cars for transportation to two crushers which broke the ore into progressively finer sizes. Conveyor belts carried the ore into six parallel blocks of lead-lined vats made of reinforced concrete. Sulfuric acid was introduced into each five-ton vat and the leaching started. The resulting solution was then fed into 152 smaller vats where anodes and cathodes were inserted into each and the process of electrolytic deposition of the copper began. When completed, traveling cranes lifted sheets of copper from the vats which were ready for shipment to consumers.
All mining and production was accomplished on one site. Between 1918 and 1957, the New Cornelia Copper Company and its successor, Phelps Dodge, shipped over 3,156,000,000 pounds of copper from Ajo.
In 1923, John C. Greenway married Isabella Selmes Ferguson, the widow of one of Greenway's best friends, Robert Ferguson, and in 1924 their son, John Selmes Greenway, was born.
By this time he was popularly known as General Greenway, having been commissioned as a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve for his service on the front line in France during World War I.
After turning the Ajo mine into a profitable business, Greenway resigned as manager in May 1925, turning his attention to the problem of supplying water to Arizona. He was working on the problem of obtaining congressional backing for damming the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon when he was stricken with gall bladder problems. Four days after surgery in New York, he died on January 19, 1926. His death at the age of 54 was mourned across the country.
After a service in St. Bartholomew Church in New York, Greenway's body was taken to Ajo by train. Over 3000 people attended a simple service on the porch of the Greenway home and then relays of pallbearers carried his casket to his grave; mine workers walking with bankers and industrialists, united in their grief. The site was marked with a large boulder of copper ore and later a cross was erected in Greenway's memory on Camelback Mountain.
In his will, Greenway left $100,000 to the miners of New Cornelia Copper Company.
Greenway's longtime friend, Theodore Roosevelt, said Greenway was one of two or three men to whom he turned when their was a need to find a man for a duty of particular hazard or peculiar responsibility. Greenway had served as a lieutenant in Roosevelt's Rough Riders and the bond between the two rugged individualists increased over time.
A eulogy in the New York Herald Tribune said, "When Greenway came upon the field of athletics or war, confidence ran through team or regiment. To know why, to analyze the reasons, would be to analyze life itself, but some of the component elements all men know -- courage, leadership. common sense, unselfishness, loyalty, mercy. All these Greenway had."
Since his death in 1926, John Campbell Greenway had rested on a rise overlooking the Phelps Dodge open pit mine, near the house he had lived in with his wife, Isabella, and their young son, Jack. Now, however, John Campbell Greenway is part of Ajo in spirit only.
On October 30, 1995, the body of John C. Greenway was disinterred in preparation for its removal to the Dinsmore Homestead near Burlington, Boone County, Kentucky, where, on November 5, 1995, John Campbell Greenway was reinterred in a grave next to his wife, Isabella Ferguson Greenway, and their son, John Selmes "Jack" Greenway.
The disinterment was carried out at the request of Patty Ferguson Doar, John S. Greenway's niece and partner in the operation of the Arizona Inn in Tucson. Before his death, Jack Greenway had asked his niece to carry out his mother's wish that John Campbell Greenway's remains be moved from Ajo to the family burial ground in Kentucky.
Editor's Note: The Ajo Copper News received most of the information for this article from Patty Ferguson Doar. She acknowledges much of the historical data comes directly from John Greenway and the Opening of the Western Mesabi by Donald Boese, published in 1975. The book is on the reference shelves at the Ajo Branch Library and a copy is also to be found at the Ajo Historical Society Museum.