• Why Move To Chile In 1911?

    March 30, 2019 | News
  • Book groups!  I love the discussion. Especially when readers ask good questions. It proves they have put their imaginations to work. 

    Brides of 1941 raises this puzzler: Just how did born and bred North American characters from the Northeast (namely T. Wayne and Lelia McLatchey Skinner) land in a “company town” in the Andes Mountains of South America at a time when the calendar had barely flipped into the twentieth century?

    This is the story of how T. Wayne found his way to Chile in 1911, where Lelia joined him as a young bride in 1916.

    El Teniente, Pueblo Hundido


    Copper deposits at the “El Teniente” mine were known for centuries – dating back to the Spanish conquest that followed the 1520 landing of the famous Portuguese explorer we all studied in fourth grade; Ferdinand Magellan!

    The red metal was, among other raw materials, exported by the Spanish. Eventually Chile broke from Spanish rule in 1818 following an eight-year struggle for independence (although Spain did not fully recognize Chile diplomatically until 1844).

    In the second half of the nineteenth century, the el Teniente property was owned by a group of wealthy Chilean families – aristocrats who turned their economic interests toward the profitability of agricultural production and commerce. Commodities like grapes were pressed into wine for Holy Communion. Mining and processing copper ore was not their bailiwick. Boom. Operations ceased after the mine flooded during the winter of 1889.

    The Chilean government looked to foreign investment to reclaim and capitalize el Teniente. Enter MIT educated William Braden, a Butte, Montana mining engineer who surveyed the ore deposits in 1903 – 1904. In combination with his employer, E.W. Nash, the President of the American Smelting and Refining Company (est. 1898) and financier Barton Sewell, they founded Braden Copper Company in June 1904. Mining operations began in 1905. Three years later, Guggenheim Exploration bought rights to the Braden mine and an infusion of North American capital followed. Recall that the Guggenheim family’s legacy of philanthropy grew out of the extraction and refining of metals.


    The nation’s first mining school, Columbia School of Mines, was founded in 1864. The engineers trained there brought forth cutting edge technologies. Drilling down on their studies, T. Wayne Skinner met Lester E. Grant, the son of a socially prominent family with a connection to the Guggenheims. Grant graduated in 1909 and accepted a position as mining engineer for Braden Copper. He moved to South America in 1910, the same year El Teniente began producing.

    When T. Wayne graduated from Columbia in 1911, he followed the long-distance path forged by his friend. He, too, accepted a position as a mining engineer with Braden Copper. It was the same year donkey carts gave way to the narrow-gauge railroad that snaked upward forty-five miles from the closest town, Rancagua. The railroad connection opened the door for development of a model “company town” on the hillside above el Teniente.

    El Teniente
    LOC Carpenter Collection


    In 1915, the Guggenheims merged their mining properties to form Kennecott Copper Company. Their original mining property was the Bonanza mine in the territory of Alaska.  Author Ron Simpson writes about the history of people and place surrounding the Alaskan enterprise in this historic novel, Legacy of the Chief. Check out his blog https://ronsimpson.blogspot.com/ or buy the book and plan a trip!

    What had once been Kennecott’s primary mine, with a great mass of high-grade ore on the crest of a mountain overlooking the Kennecott river, became a remote outpost abandoned in 1938.

    Then what? 

    Financial gains from the Alaska mine were invested in other properties. Four were scattered around the western U.S.: the Bingham district of Utah (Utah Copper), the Nevada Consolidated holdings in Nevada, the Chino in New Mexico, and the Ray in Arizona.

    The only foreign mine property was the Braden works. They named this company town “Sewell” to memorialize Braden Copper’s first president, Barton Sewell, who died in 1915 – the year of the Kennecott merger. And as much as the Chilean enterprise might have been branded “Kennecott,” the Braden Copper Company (BCC) retained the Braden name.


    In 1916, T. Wayne returned to his former stomping grounds in the northeast to marry the girl he’d met at Keuka College years before. The mining camp was no place for her when T. Wayne moved to Chile in 1910. Besides, Lelia was nose deep in books earning her degree at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The long-distance romance held true. By 1916, BCC had adopted their vision for a model community. T. Wayne and Lelia were suited to toe the company line, advance good citizenship and model the sociological construct of a “traditional” family.

    You see, the key to success at el Teniente depended on a stable work force – men who would make a full-time career of mining and stay for extended periods. To that end, BCC fostered the formation of nuclear families and gender specific roles among the Chilean people. Men were the wage earners, women managed the home. Together a husband and wife could achieve middle-class respectability and (in theory) raise the next generation of mining families. 

    More on this restless subject is revealed in a book authored by Thomas Miller Klubock: Contested Communities –  Class, Gender and Politics in Chile’s El Teniente Copper Mine, 1904 – 1951. Another fresh perspective is found in the senior thesis of Katherine E. Grusky, Brown University, 2017: Digging Below the Surface: Women and Families in the El Teniente Copper Mine.