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.


Born in Virginia City, Montana, 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 stock broker. His first success, the Shannon Copper Company, where he opened mines, built a smelter, and a railroad between them, is now part of the vast Morenci, Arizona 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 large 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, 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.

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 principle 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.[4] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]


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.[8]

The mission saw firsthand the suffering of the people and the inability of the social democratic government headed by Alexander Kerensky to feed the hungry. Although Thompson added $1 million of his own to the relief funds provided by the U.S. government, he was unable to convince President Woodrow Wilson to do more. However, he was able to rally other financiers including the trust of J.P. Morgan to aid the effort. Soon after the Americans had returned home, the Kerensky government fell and the Bolsheviks came to power. Thompson’s hopes for a prosperous democracy in Russia were ended. The Russian experience convinced him that agriculture, food supply, and social justice are linked. World political stability in the future, he prophesied, would depend on the availability of adequate food. This conviction, along with his faith in science, helped to shape his next philanthropic project, the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research.

Another argument as detailed in Anthony C Sutton's 'Wall Street & The Bolshevik Revolution', and as claimed by Thomspson himself in the Washington Post (Feb 2nd 1918) - Thompson gave money to the Bolsheviks to undermine the militarist regimes of the General Empires. The mission was in fact a mission of Wall Street financiers to influence and pave the way for control, through either Kerensky or the Bolshevik revolutionaries, of the Russian market and resources. The single overwhelming objective was to gain political and economic influence with the new regime, whatever its ideology.[9]

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.


Plant research

He was not only a shrewd man of business but also had great intellectual curiosity, particularly about science. He wished to be a force for good in the world and supported various philanthropies. He also funded research and paid for students' tuition at various universities.

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.

Other causes

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 Phillips Exeter Academy upon his death and a significant gem and mineral collection to New York's American Museum of Natural History.

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

The Boyce-Thompson family listed by ancestry/generation:

  • William Boyce Thompson (18691930) (m. Gertrude Hickman)
    • Margaret Thompson Biddle (18971956) (1st m. 1916 Theodore Schulze II div. unk.) (2nd m. 1931 Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr. div. 1936)
      • Theodore Schulze III (19201962) (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)


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.[10]


  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. 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.
  5. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  6. azstateparks.com/Parks/BOTH/. Missing or empty |title= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. 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.
  8. "William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930)".
  9. C. Sutton, Antony. "Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution. Chapter V: THE AMERICAN RED CROSS MISSION IN RUSSIA -- 1917". reformed-theology.org. Retrieved 2017-05-05.
  10. Parsons, A. B. (1933). The Porphyry Coppers. New York City: American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers.
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