John Dennis Ryan, the least flamboyant and most remote of the Montana copper kings, was not only the most expansive of those empire-builders—he was also the last. Born in the copper country of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, John Ryan arrived in Denver in 1890 and for several years sold lubricating oils throughout the Mountain West. He gained a first-hand knowledge of the western mining industry and in 1901 acquired an interest in the Daly Bank and Trust Company in Anaconda, Montana.
Within a year, John Ryan was President of the bank and the chief banker for the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company. In 1904, Amalgamated hired him as its Managing Director. Two years later, Ryan negotiated Amalgamated’s buyout of disputatious mine owner Augustus Heinze, gaining Anaconda essential control of the Butte mines. Also in 1906, in a personal venture with Thomas Cole, Ryan acquired the rich Cananea copper mine in northern Mexico. In 1909, he became President of Amalgamated.
Although controlled by Amalgamated, the Butte mines were still owned by several corporations and run separately and often inefficiently. John Ryan and his team pushed through further consolidation under the banner of the Anaconda Company, eliminating conflicts of rights to ore bodies and facilitating lower-cost operations.
Concurrent with the formation of the Anaconda Co., Ryan undertook the consolidation of several regional electrical generating companies into Montana Power Company. He achieved this objective in 1913. Montana Power, as a single giant utility, provided Anaconda with low-cost electricity for its mines in Butte and smelters in Great Falls and Anaconda, Montana. As President of Montana Power, Ryan fostered the electrification of the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railroad—the world’s first electrified railroad. Electrification of the Butte mines led to installation of a centralized compressed-air hoisting system, introduction of underground locomotives and pumps, and better lighting and ventilation. The new technology supported safer, deeper operations and reduced production costs.
In 1914, Anaconda acquired the International Smelting and Refining Company, which had plants at Tooele, Utah; Perth Amboy, New Jersey; East Chicago, Indiana; and Miami, Arizona. The next year, United Metals Selling Company, its sales agent, came into the Anaconda fold.
John Ryan also found time to perform public service, giving up his corporate presidencies during World War I to become Director General of military relief for the Red Cross and later head of the War Department aircraft production program. Cornelius Kelly took over as President of Anaconda, and when John Ryan returned, continued in that position while Ryan became Chairman of the Board.
Together, Ryan and Kelly maintained Anaconda’s expansive mode. In 1922, Anaconda acquired American Brass, fully justifying its slogan “From Mine to Consumer.” In 1923, Anaconda acquired the huge Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile and became a truly international company. John Ryan remained Anaconda’s Chairman until his death in 1933.