July 26, 2018

Bob Vine and the Anaconda Copper Mining Company of the 1960s

Kelly Burton
Film Archivist
Montana Historical Society

A tour group at an Anaconda facility, circa 1960s (PAc 2008-102)

In his 1986 interview for the Montana Historical Society’s oral history project ‘Metals in Montana: Industry and Community in the 20th Century,’ lifelong Montana resident Bob Vine discussed his relationship with the town of Anaconda and its namesake company: “I’ve been in Anaconda since 1950 when I got out of college. I taught art and English in the high school for seven years. And then joined the company in June of 1957 as an artist. Subsequently I went into communications and training. I was personnel director in Anaconda, personnel director in Butte. Then I became director of education and development for the entire Montana operations.” (OH 925, p. 2) Vine worked for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and ARCO smelter in Anaconda from 1957 to 1983, and during that time he developed an enduring respect for the individual workers and the communities at large. In addition to providing MHS with two in-depth oral histories (OH 925 and OH 1676) on the mining industry after his retirement, Vine also produced a history of Anaconda’s first women smelter-workers at the Washoe Reduction Works of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company titled “Women of the Washoe” (978.687 V75W) and a centenary celebration of the town entitled “Anaconda Memories 1883-1983” (PAM 1567).

 Bob Vine’s most distinctive and voluminous contribution to the historical record of Montana exists not on the printed page, but rather within thirty-nine canisters of 16mm motion picture film. Donated to MHS by the Vine Family in 2008, this film collection (PAc 2008-102) adds up to approximately 10,000 feet – or five continuous hours – of regional moving image history about the mining industry. Most of the films created and collected by Vine were shot during the 1960s, and these color and black and white reels cover a wide range of activities related to Anaconda Copper during a turbulent decade for the company. Extensive notes on the original film canisters provide a wealth of detail regarding content, and the choice of subject matter throughout demonstrates Vine’s desire to temper his industrial images with more human scenes from the greater mining communities.

Blasting at the Berkeley Pit, circa 1960s (PAc 2008-102)

The footage created by Vine consists primarily of mining and smelting processes at various Anaconda sites, and the 1960s saw ACM trying to balance rising costs with diminishing profit margins. Bonner Lumber Mill, the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway, and the Anaconda Reduction Department are just a few of the many subjects documented by Vine. Canister labels provide meticulous – and occasionally dramatic – program descriptions, as evidenced by this small section from a canister note about filmed Berkeley Pit activities in Butte: “changing truck tires with overhead crane; trucks being loaded; top rim of pit NE of viewing stand; pit from above; powder truck; overhead view of shovel; blasting crew; powder truck; BLAST!” The editing/splicing methodology employed by Vine is not always apparent, however – images from rugged outdoor locations such as the Berkeley Pit are occasionally and incongruously followed by bureaucratic scenes in departmental offices and sterile control rooms.

An Anaconda Company control room, circa 1960s (PAc 2008-102)

The Bob Vine film collection also covers some of the less routine aspects of working life at the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Awards ceremonies, contests, training sessions, and stockholders’ meetings at the Washoe Theater on Anaconda’s Main Street are just a few of the events listed on the collection’s canister labels. Communications and education played a large role in Vine’s career with ACM, and we also find several commercials that were made to emphasize the more human side of the company. These commercials often used footage taken from community events sponsored by ACM, such as the Smeltermen’s Union Day at Washoe Park, Children’s Day at Butte’s Columbia Gardens, and public tours through the plants themselves.

Smeltermen's Union Day at Washoe Park in Anaconda, MT, circa 1960s (PAc 2008-102)

Eight films from the Bob Vine collection have recently been digitized by MHS in cooperation with the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center in Big Sky, Montana as part of an evolving multimedia project pertaining to Montana and its history. These films can now be found on the MHS Moving Image Archives YouTube playlist: MHS Moving Image Archive.