Cochise College                 Student Papers in Geology   
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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Mike Hernandez

Physical Geology
Spring 2005



            As a native of Bisbee, Arizona, Copper has become a very popular mineral in my life. Copper is man kinds oldest metal, dating back more than 5,000 years to some sources and as far as 10,000 years to other sources. In my home town, Copper has helped Bisbee to grow and develop over the years to what it is today. Bisbee’s Queen Mine was one of the richest mines in history (Queen Mine Tours). 

            What is Copper? Copper is a reddish chemical element, that takes on a bright metallic luster and is an extremely ductile metal and is only second to silver as a conductor of electricity and heat. It can never be broken down into different substances by normal chemical means. It is believed that people liked Copper because of its native condition which could be easily beaten into weapons or tools.

            As stated earlier, Coppers history may have began as far back as 10,000 years ago.   Neolithic humans about 10,000 years ago first used native copper as a substitute for stone. The Egyptians and the Sumerians invented metallurgy, first reducing ores with fire and charcoal about 4000 BC. Copper was intentionally alloyed with tin as bronze about 3500 BC, and this harder metal was so universal in early history that one period is known as the Bronze Age. “Copper is easily worked and is remarkably ductile. It can be cold-rolled down to one-thousandth inch in thickness, and, by cold drawing, its length can be increased as much as 5,000 times. Hence it is an ideal metal for making wire”(Copper) .

            The electrical industry is one of the greatest users of copper. Copper occasionally occurs native, and is found in many minerals such as cuprite, malachite, azurite, chalcopyrite, and bornite. (A lot of these minerals can be found in Bisbee).  Large copper ore deposits are found in the U.S., Chile, Zambia, Zaire, Peru, and Canada. The most important copper ores are the sulfides, the oxides,( and carbonates). From these, copper is obtained by smelting, leaching, and by electrolysis. Its alloys, brass and bronze, long used, are still very important; all American coins are now copper alloys; monel and gun metals also contain copper. The most important compounds are the oxide and the sulfate, blue vitriol; the latter has wide use as an agricultural poison and as an algaecide in water purification. Copper compounds such as Fehling's solution are widely used in analytical chemistry in tests for sugar ( Copper Facts).

            Who produces Copper? For many years, Chile has been the world's largest producer of copper, with the United States a close second. Other major producers include Canada, Zambia, Russia, Poland, China, Mexico, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia. After Arizona, the leading copper-producing states in the U.S. are New Mexico, Montana and Utah. Today, in the United States we continue to produce Copper and my home state Arizona leads all by producing 747,000 short tons, Utah coming in second with 187,000 short tons, and New Mexico is the third highest producer of Copper in the U.S. When copper is being mined, both Native copper and copper ore are usually found. The highest grade of copper ore is pale silvery gray. Miners used to be always in danger in copper mines. Today, we have reduced a fair amount of these hazards. Miners wear hats made of iron or very hard plastic. This is to protect them from falling rocks. Lamps are also attached to these helmets in case some of the lighting in the mine goes out leaving a miner stranded in the dark (Huerena) . One of the biggest problems with mining is that in some places dangerous gas's may exist, like Carbon Monoxide. In the past we had very cruel and inhuman ways to detect harmful gases. One of these ways was the use of canaries. Miners would let them fly into a part of the mine where a poison gas was suspected. If there was a harmful gas, the bird would fall over dead at the first scent of the gas. Today, we have better ways to detect gases without having animals die. We now have detection machines in all parts of mines. Mines also have top of the line fire alarms and water systems. If a flammable gas ignites, like sulfur, the fire may not die for years, which results in closing the mine. Another problem miners complain about are the rats. Mines will often have mine cats that hunt out the rats. These cats are well fed and petted by most of the miners (Huerena).

            Where Can I find Copper? Half of the worlds deposits are in the form of Chalcopyrite ore. All important copper-bearing ores fall into two main classes: Oxidized ores and Sulfide Ores. Ores are removed by either open-pit or by underground mining, profitably in open pit mining, but underground mining is profitable only if an ore contains 0.7-6% copper ( Grolier: Encyclopedia). Most copper is found in several ores. That means it's mixed in with other metals like lead, zinc, gold, cobalt, bismuth, platinum, and nickel. These ores will usually have only about 4% pure copper in them though. Sometimes miners may only find 2%. The things that make copper such a popular metal are malleability which is how easily it bends. Copper is highly malleable and won't crack when hammered or stamped. Ductility is also a good property and is the ability to be molded or bent into a shape. Copper can be pulled into very thin wire. For example, if you took a copper bar, 4 inches (10 centimeters) square, you could draw it into wire thinner then a human hair. One of the most amazing things about copper is its resistance to corrosion. Copper will not rust. However, when the air grows damp, copper will go from reddish-orange to reddish brown. After being in damp air for long periods of time, a green film will coat the copper, called patina, which will protect it from further corrosion.

            What can Copper be used for?  Copper is one of the most widely used metals in the world, we use it for a lot of things. Copper gives us water heaters, boilers and cooking utensils. It is used for out door power lines, cables, lamp cords, and house wiring. Electrical machinery like generators, motors, controllers, signaling devices, electro magnets, and communication devices all use copper. Copper is just about everywhere you look even in unexpected areas. 

            Today Copper is used in many different ways and as well as for it’s historical purposes. According to research, an average single family home uses 439 pounds of Copper:

            195 lbs. Building wire

            151 lbs. Plumbing

            24lbs. Brass goods

            12lbs. Built-in Appliances

            10 lbs. Misc wire and tube

There’s more than 50 pounds of Copper in an American- built Automobile. The statue of Liberty contains 179,000 pounds of Copper. These are just some of the uses that Copper gives us at the present time ( Copper Facts)..

            Bisbee, Arizona continues to use it’s Copper Mines as a tourist attraction as well as a financial way to get ahead. Bisbee’s mines opened in 1877 and eventually closed when Phelps Dodge discontinued mining operations in the Mid 1970's but then opened the mines once again as a tour for visitors. Today approximately 50,000 people a year visit Bisbee’s Queen Mine tour (Queen Mine Tours) to commemorate it’s mining heritage and also to learn the role that Copper played in the development of Bisbee today.

            Personally, I feel as though Copper has played a major role in the world we live in today and there may still be uses for Copper we may not yet have found. What we do know is that Copper has had a major impact in the world we live in and it looks as though it is here to stay. 



“Copper” Grolier: Encyclopedia of Knowledge. Volume 5

Bisbee Arizona. Bisbee Queen Mine. 20 Apr.


Copper Facts. Copper Development Association Inc. 2002. 15 Apr.


Native Copper


Albert Huerena.( Personal communication:interview).

            April 5th 2005. Has personal experience working in mines