Montana History:  Butte




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  A mining town, Butte has a rich history in the lore of Montana, and in the early 1900s was the largest town in the state, and one of the largest cities in the Western United States.

Where did the name come from?

Butte is named for a prominent butte overlooking the city.

Brief History of Butte

Emerging in the 1880s from mining camps, gold, silver and later copper (the later driven by the advent of electricity) put the town of Butte on the map as it developed into one of the most prosperous cities in the country in the WWI era, becoming known as "the Richest Hill on Earth."  For a time the three copper kings (William A. Clark, Marcus Daly and F. Augustus Heinze) controlled Butte's wealth, but upon their deaths the Anaconda Mining Company took over their holdings.  With an estimated population of 115,000 at its peak in 1910, Butte for a short time was the largest city between the Mississippi and California.  Approximately 1/3 of all copper in the United States at the turn of the century came from Butte.  The mines brought an eclectic mix of immigrants into the city, resulting in many ethnic neighborhoods, and this influx of miners gave Butte the reputation as a wide-open town where any vice was obtainable.

In the 1920s, the Anaconda Mining Company was the fourth largest company in the world, and had a virtual monopoly over the mines in and around Butte. The prosperity continued up to the 1950s, when the Anaconda company switched its focus from the costly and dangerous practice of underground mining to open pit and strip mining, marking the end of Butte's heyday.  At that time, thousands of homes were bulldozed to build the Berkeley Pit.  Opened in in 1955, the pit was abandoned in 1982 and soon classified as a Superfund site.  Cleanup of the rising toxic waters began in the 1990s, and today a treatment facility treats and diverts much of the water flowing into the Pit, and the Pit is a major tourist attraction.


Montana History Net is produced by Bruce Gourley.  Photographs, except Clark signature, copyright Bruce Gourley.