Living Superior, Arizona: The life and times of a copper mining town from 1930 to 1950
Arizona Mining Review: Living Superior, Arizona: from 1930 to 1950 with Dr. Joaquin Trujillo
After returning from service abroad in 1997, sociologist and ethnologist Joaquin Trujillo jumped on a motorcycle to tour Arizona’s copper corridor. Early one morning he arrived in Superior, Arizona, home of the former Magma Mine (1880s to 1982). Superior’s main street was closed off and the local kids were holding box car races. Store fronts were shuttered, and the town looked decrepit. Joaquin wondered, ‘what made people want to stay here’?
That exposure to Superior led Joaquin to a major research project and months of fieldwork in the early 2000s. The result: the 325-page ‘Living Superior, Arizona: From 1930 to 1950’, a narrative history, published by Zeta Books. The latest Arizona Mining Review episode explores Joaquin’s narrative (https://tinyurl.com/AMR-Superior-AZ-1930-1950).
The book may interest a broad audience. From those interested in the lives of Superiorites during the Great Depression and WWII; to others interested in the Magma Mine and the miners who labored there; and for historians, mining historians, and sociologists interested in the interactions of a small, ethnically mixed community.
Dr. Trujillo selected the 1930 to 1950-time window because it captured the Great Depression, WW II and post-WW II; a period when Magma Mine was in its glory years. And because ‘the stories were perishing’ as the Great Depression and the WW II generations were fading away.
Joaquin focused on everyday life in Superior in the shadow of the most tumultuous years of the 20th century. Superior was insulated from the darkest day of the Great Depression as more than 80% of the male population was employed by Magma Mine. Families lived modestly – most homes had one or two rooms and there was no indoor plumbing – but people there fared better than elsewhere as the mine remained in production throughout even the most desperate days of the 1930s. Mine management was forced to reduce copper production, but the staff remained in place by reducing the number of hours worked per day.
Hard times led to ‘friendships forged in the sweat of our labor and forged in the blood of our sacrifices.’ The book details the professional, social and civil stratification of a diverse ethnic community that included Caucasians, Hispanics, Eastern Europeans, Syrians, Lebanese, Chinese, and a handful of American Indians.
An underground mine is like a city with a suite of trained professionals: miners, mining and project engineers, geologists, hydrologists, medical staff, and administrators. During WW II, miners were encouraged not to enlist but rather to stay on the job to produce the copper that was so essential for the war effort.
Superior’s economy collapsed in 1982 when Magma Mine closed. The town began to fray at the edges; businesses were boarded up, unemployment increased, and drug use was common. In the 2000s, Superior rose like a phoenix from the ashes. The population increased as people returned to Superior. Stores re-opened as the community became a draw for tourists interested in its long mining history, local architecture, the spectacular mountainous scenery, and the preserved infrastructure of the Magma Mine.
According to Dr. Trujillo, the future of Superior looks bright. The town is staged as a major tourist stop on the Arizona Copper Corridor tour that includes San Manuel, Mammoth, Winkelman, and Kearny. And mining is returning to Superior. Permitting is underway to launch the Resolution Copper mine, one of the largest porphyry copper deposits in the world. The deposit is situated at 7,000 feet below the ground surface. Developing and operating the mine will require a professional staff of hundreds working at well-paid jobs for decades.
Arizona Mining Review e-Video Magazine: (https://tinyurl.com/AMR-Superior-AZ-1930-1950).
Additional Online Resources
For two Arizona Experience videos showcasing Superior, Arizona, ca. 2013 - http://arizonaexperience.org/innovate/copper-corridor
AZGS Contributed Report: Briggs, D.F., 2015, Superior, Arizona - An Old Mining Camp with Many Lives