Julius Eckhardt Raht was the dominant figure in Tennessee’s Ducktown Copper District for nearly a quarter of a century from the early 1850s until 1878. Captain Raht, as he was widely known, consolidated Ducktown mining properties into three successful companies before the Civil War, he got the District back on its feet when the war ended, and he introduced new technology to the District.
Julius Raht was born in Germany and studied chemistry and mineralogy at universities in Bonn and Berlin. In 1850, he immigrated to the United States, initially working in mines in Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. He also managed mines in Virginia and North Carolina, and he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in Washington D.C. in 1853.
In 1854, Julius Raht transferred to the Ducktown District, in the far southeastern corner of Tennessee, and he became Mine Captain for the Polk County and Mary mines. When these mines and others – including the Isabella, East Tennessee, Cherokee, and Hiwasee mines – either closed or struggled because of the panic of 1857, Captain Raht led a consolidation into three companies: Union Consolidated, Burra Burra Copper, and Polk Country Copper. By 1860, Captain Raht was Chief of Operations of all mines and smelting works at Ducktown.
Early in the Civil War, the Confederate government sequestered Ducktown mines, using the copper for the South’s case. Initially, Captain Raht continued operating the mines, trying to protect the companies’ investments. However, when Union troops captured the railroad and copper rolling mill at Cleveland, Tennessee in late 1863, Captain Raft moved to Cincinnati to wait out the war.
After the war, Captain Raht returned to restore the Ducktown copper mining industry, personally financing much of the recovery work. He founded the Cleveland National Bank, and as manager of the Ocoee Turnpike and Plank Road Co., he rebuilt the transportation route needed to ship copper from the District. New smelters were constructed using innovative methods developed by Raht’s talented brothers, Carl, August, and William. Steam engines, diamond and compressed air drills, and other mining techniques were rapidly adopted.
However, falling copper prices, declining oil grades, and transportation difficulties forced the Ducktown mines to shut down in 1878. Another 12 years passed before a railroad reached the District in 1890 and allowed a resurgence of mining activity.
In addition to his leadership of Ducktown mining operations, Captain Raht was known for his philanthropy, erecting schools and churches in both Ducktown and Cleveland. He accumulated a fortune and may have become the “richest man in Tennessee.” At the same time, he established a reputation for being an honest and respectable citizen and a skilled businessman. Of such importance were Captain Raht’s contributions to the Ducktown District that his era became known to local residents in later years as “Back in Raht’s Time.”