William Boyce Thompson

William Boyce Thompson (May 13, 1869 – June 27, 1930) was an American mining engineer, financier, prominent in the Republican party, philanthropist, and founder of Newmont Mining. Thompson was one of the significant early twentieth century mine operators that discovered and exploited vast copper deposits that revolutionized Western American mining, and reaped for themselves tremendous fortunes. He currently has a school named after him in Yonkers, New York, called the William Boyce Thompson school.

William Boyce Thompson
Born(1869-05-13)May 13, 1869
DiedJune 27, 1930(1930-06-27) (aged 61)
Resting placeSleepy Hollow Cemetery
  • Mining engineer
  • financier
  • philanthropist

History Edit

Born in Virginia City, Montana Territory and raised in Butte, he was schooled in the rough mining towns of southwest Montana - but also at Phillips Exeter Academy and the Columbia School of Mines. During the 1890s he joined his father, William, one-time mayor of Butte, in Montana mining and lumber ventures, before moving east to become a mine promoter and stockbroker. His first success, the Shannon Copper Company – where he opened mines, built a smelter, and a railroad between them – is now part of Arizona's vast Morenci open pit, largest in the United States. Joining the brokerage firm of Hayden, Stone & Co. during the early 1900s he expanded his promotions: to Ely, Nevada, where he helped organize the Nevada Consolidated, which eventually became a part of the multinational Kennecott Copper Company (Guggenheims), of which he was a director; Mason Valley where he opened old copper mines and built his smelter town which was named Thompson, Nevada after him (now a ghost town); and most fortuitously in the 1910s opened the Magma mine at Superior, Arizona, which became a major copper producer; and the promotion of the incredibly rich Inspiration Copper Company at Inspiration, Arizona, near Miami, Arizona, during the 1910s (absorbed by the "Anaconda crowd" in 1912, but with Thompson retaining a 15% share); all made him fabulously wealthy. He had built a considerable fortune developing low grade, large scale porphyry copper deposits at the same time he got lucky with his high-grade Magma mine, which proved a phenomenal bonanza.[1] He retired from the New York stock exchange in 1915 and later created his own holding company, Newmont Mining Corporation, to which he transferred his many mining interests.[2] By the time of his death, Newmont Mining was a major factor in world copper production. Today, Newmont is the largest gold producer in the United States but continues the legacy of Thompson to explore and bring into production new ore deposits.[3]

Thompson's promotions and financial holdings were scattered from Canada to Peru. They included Indian Motorcycle Co. He financed lead, zinc and coal mines, street railways, and handled the sensational Midvale Steel financing during the War when the stock rose from 290 to 500. He promoted the great Nipissing silver deposit at Cobalt, Ontario, Canada for the Guggenheims and reaped a quick million dollars return. He refinanced American Woolen Co. and Tobacco Products Co., launched Cuba Cane Sugar Co., got control of Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co., organized Submarine Boat Corp. and the Wright-Martin Aeroplane Co. He was a director of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. By the 1920s he was a director of Sinclair Oil and promoter of Gulf Sulphur, but all these were diversions from his main interest in mining copper.

In 1925, when planning to scout mining properties in South Africa, he became ill and returned home halfway through the trip, his last, lingering illness. Rotund, good-natured, bald, a tireless worker, a devoted family man, Thompson chewed tobacco, underpaid his employees (though equivalent to pay given by his contemporaries) and, as one of the greatest gamblers of his time, discharged them for gambling. [4]

He was prominent behind the scenes in the Republican party, a presidential elector, party chair, as well as served on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1914 to 1919 and was twice (1916 and 1920) a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In 1921, he declined nomination for a cabinet post under president Warren G. Harding. He was head of and principal supporter of the President Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association from 1919 until his death.

In 1912, he built the W. B. Thompson Mansion at Yonkers, New York.[5] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[6]

During the 1920s, near Superior, Arizona, he built his winter mansion, Picket Post House, overlooking the beautiful desertscape and gardens he created at what is now the magnificent Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.[7] The Mediterranean style home is occasionally open for tours through the arboretum.

In 1925, Thompson ordered a luxuriant private railroad car, named the Alder, from the Pullman Company. The car was later used by ASARCO and in 1971 was owned by the National Railways of Mexico.[8]

The mausoleum of William Boyce Thompson

Thompson died from pneumonia in 1930 and was buried at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A 1935 biography of Boyce-Thompson, The Magnate, by Herman Hagedorn, the presidential biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, profiles his life.

His portrait was painted by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862–1947) about 1920-5, and was donated to the New York Chamber of Commerce around 1948/9 by the artist's friend, the soprano Jessica Dragonette (died 1980) who had acquired it from the artist's estate; she claimed in her autobiography 'Faith is a Song' (1951) that she offered it to Thompson's daughter who set a fee for the privilege of destroying the portrait. The portrait is now in the New York State Museum at Albany.

Russia Edit

He visited Russia before the revolution and again in 1918 just after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the effects of crop failure and starvation were rampant. Thompson was a member of an American Red Cross relief mission that also hoped to encourage formation of a democratic government in Russia. He was awarded the honorary title of colonel by the American Red Cross.[9]

The objective of the mission was to enlarge the business opportunities in Russia for him and Wall Street associates and saw firsthand the suffering of the people and the inability of the social democratic government headed by Alexander Kerensky to feed the hungry. Along with assisting the Provisional government in dealing with the famine, Thompson also endeavored to shape post-Revolutionary Russia's political landscape in a manner favorable to Wall Street. Thompson, wholly sympathetic with Kerensky and his provisional government, provided $1 million of his own to a propaganda campaign intent on keeping Russia involved in the war against the Central Powers and the populace loyal to the Provisional government, in spite of growing popular sentiment against the war and Kerensky's mounting unpopularity. With the help of Thompson, the Committee of Civic Education in Free Russia was created by the Provisional government to oversee the Bolshevik propaganda drive, with pro-Kerensky Russian revolutionary Catherine Breshkovsky at the organization's head. According to W.B. Thompson biographer Hermann Hagedorn, the aim of the propaganda disseminated by the Committee was to "beg the Russians in terms which the simplest could comprehend to obey the government and resume the war, not to save the Allies but to save the Revolution."[10] Despite Thompson's generous funding, the Committee was largely unsuccessful and could not compete with the anti-war propaganda of the Russian radicals, specifically that of the Bolsheviks. The million given to the Committee by Thompson was quickly exhausted and no alternative source of funding could be provided by the struggling Provisional government, prompting Breshkovsky to appeal to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for support.[11] Thompson assisted Breshkovsky in this endeavor by reaching out to President Wilson himself but ultimately neither message had any effect and were unsuccessful in securing further funding for the Committee. Despite desperate attempts by Thompson and his cohorts to support Kerensky in the face of both reactionary and radical opposition, the Provisional government was overthrown in the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks came to power, but this did not prove to be an immediate set-back in Thompson's plans for Russia. Thompson and his compatriot Raymond Robins attempted to deal with the new Bolshevik government despite the protests of indignant American diplomats and businessmen that the Bolsheviki were merely paid agents of the German Kaiser and not true representatives of Russian democracy.[12] Based on his own observations of Russia's political climate, Thompson was of the opinion that the new Bolshevik government was certain to remain in power and that official Allied recognition & support of the Bolsheviks would allow Russia to be kept in the bounds of commercial custom and therefore become less radical as a result. According to him, "if [we] leave Russian radicalism to itself to grow like a cancer, it is going to be a menace to the world."[13] Thompson spoke favorably of the Bolsheviks but with some reservations, stressing that he believed the Bolsheviks would "soon learn that capital and labor must go hand in hand" and continue the war against Germany. Nevertheless, Thompson's predictions did not come true. The Bolsheviks withdrew from the war, ceasing hostilities with the German Empire and the other Central Powers through the ratification of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918. While the Soviet Union allowed foreign investments, free trade, and concessions for a time during the era of the New Economic Policy, this retreat towards capitalism and the accommodation to foreign capitalists that it permitted was promptly ended by Joseph Stalin and the beginning of the first Five-year plans for the national economy of the Soviet Union.

There is a persistent theory, most prominently outlined in "Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution" by Antony Sutton that W.B. Thompson gave considerable sums of money to the Bolsheviks.[14] This is a misconception that can be traced back to Thompson's own time, originally appearing in newspapers asserting his support for the Bolsheviks.[15] As pointed out by W.B. Thompson biographer Hermann Hagedorn, when the press uncovered Thompson's financial support for Kerensky and the Committee of Civic Education in Free Russia, they "jumped to the conclusion that he [actually] had given the money to the Bolsheviki for propaganda purposes"[16] likely due to Thompson's controversial public opinions on the Bolsheviks and their role in the future of Russia.

Philanthropy Edit

Plant research Edit

In 1920, he decided to establish the Boyce Thompson Institute , and endowed it with $10 million, a veritable fortune in the 1920s. He hoped that this "seed" money would enable the institute to acquire the very best scientists, equipment, and supplies and then to develop relationships with industry and the government to help finance research.

The yacht Alder after being converted to USS Jamestown (PG-55) in 1941. Photo c. 1943.

Other causes Edit

He donated money for parks and libraries at many of his mining camps, including the Thompson-Hickman Memorial Library in his birthplace, Virginia City; his wife Gertrude Hickman Thompson officially transferred the building to the city in 1918. He donated $50,000 for a park in Butte.

Boyce-Thompson also willed $1 million to his alma mater Phillips Exeter Academy and a significant gem and mineral collection to New York's American Museum of Natural History.[17]

His daughter, Margaret Thompson, and wife, Gertrude Hickman, inherited the balance of his wealth. In 1941, The Alder, Boyce-Thompson's 265 ft. motor-yacht, was given the U.S. Navy to aid the war effort.

To the Phillips Exeter Academy, Thompson donated $2 million during his lifetime. His donations created the Boyce-Thompson science building, a new gymnasium in 1923, squash courts, a baseball field, sports cage, The Exeter Inn, and other facilities.

Boyce-Thompson family Edit

The Boyce-Thompson family listed by ancestry/generation:

  • William Boyce Thompson (1869–1930) (m. Gertrude Hickman)
    • Margaret Thompson Biddle (1897–1956) (1st m. 1916 Theodore Schulze II div. unk.) (2nd m. 1931 Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr. div. 1936)
      • Theodore Schulze III (1920–1962) (m. Joyce Ward)
        • Joyce Schulze
        • Charles Schulze
        • Peter Schulze
      • Margaret "Peggy" Boyce Schulze (1921—1964) (1st m. 1939 Prince Alexander zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst) (2nd m. Morton Downey)
        • Catherine Hohenlohe (1942)
        • Christian-Conrad Hohenlohe (1945)

Legacy Edit

Fortunate for future historians, Thompson began writing his reminiscences before his death. However, a word of caution about Hermann Hagedorn's The Magnate, William Boyce Thompson and His Time (1935) based on this material. Journalist Hagedorn at times writes more hagiography than biography. For example, his depiction of George E. Gunn is libelous—Gunn was not a lowly miner/prospector born in Nevada and working in Montana when "discovered" by Thompson as a worthy partner. Gunn, an Ohian who attended Oberlin and Ohio State University, had worked his way up to mine superintendent when he met Thompson in Helena. The two later became a powerful team (not as Hagedorn writes) after they met again while Gunn was with Guggenheim Exploration, mine finders, and Thompson with Hayden, Stone & Company brokerage. Their Gunn-Thompson partnership was searching in all the major new porphyry districts and developed a number of the major mines by the time heart disease impacted Gunn's abilities, then his death a year later March 11, 1913. Gunn the mine finder was a perfect match for Thompson the broker and high wheeling financier. Gunn had the talent in Salt Lake City on his staff or as consultants next door to find the mines—Mason Valley, Inspiration, Magma, for example—while Thompson had the connections to finance the developments. Again, many of the tall tales Hagedorn relates about the pre-1913 era, especially about Gunn, need correctives: Gunn's eyes were not gray they were blue and one needs to discount the rest of Hagedorn's description of his intellect and appearance; he was not buried by an ex-con and the boys, but by the Masonic lodge he had long been a member of and by a reverend, Hagedorn to the contrary. Same could be said of Hagedorn's depictions of and roles of Philip Wiseman, Henry Krumb, Fred Flindt, Walter Aldridge and others. For a more balanced but still dated account see A. B. Parsons, The Porphyry Coppers.[18]

References Edit

  1. ^ Hagedorn, Hermann (1935). The Magnate, William Boyce Thompson and His Time. New York: John Day. LCCN 77-020633.
  2. ^ Ramsey, Robert H. (1973). Men and Mines of Newmont, a Fifty-year History. New York: Octagon Books. ISBN 0-374-96710-5.
  3. ^ Morris, Jack H. (2010). Going for Gold, the History of Newmont Mining Corporation. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-1677-8.
  4. ^ Review of Thompson biography Magnate. "Books: Disillusioned Millionaire". Time magazine. August 12, 1935. Archived from the original on June 24, 2010.
  5. ^ Austin N. O'Brien (September 1982). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: W. B. Thompson Mansion". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  7. ^ "Arizona State Parks & Trails".
  8. ^ Chappell, Gordon (1973). Rails to Carry Copper, a History of the Magma Arizona Railroad. Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing. p. 123. ISBN 0-87108-056-7.
  9. ^ "William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930)".
  10. ^ Hagedorn, Hermann (1935). The Magnate: William Boyce Thompson and His Time, 1869-1930. Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. p. 205.
  11. ^ Hagedorn, Hermann (1935). The Magnate: William Boyce Thompson and His Time, 1869-1930. Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. p. 215.
  12. ^ Hagedorn, Hermann (1935). The Magnate: William Boyce Thompson and His Time, 1869-1930. Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. p. 248.
  13. ^ Hagedorn, Hermann (1935). The Magnate: William Boyce Thompson and His Time, 1869-1930. Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. p. 261.
  14. ^ Sutton, Antony (1974). Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution. Arlington House Publishers. p. 58. CiteSeerX
  15. ^ "GIVES BOLSHEVIKI A MILLION". Washington Post. February 2, 1918.
  16. ^ Hagedorn, Hermann (1935). The Magnate: William Boyce Thompson and His Time, 1869-1930. Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. p. 267.
  17. ^ AMNH Physical Sciences Division
  18. ^ Parsons, A. B. (1933). The Porphyry Coppers. New York City: American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers.

External links Edit