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James Douglas (businessman)

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James Douglas (businessman)

James Douglas
James Douglas, mining magnate and inventor
Born (1837-11-04)November 4, 1837
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
Died June 30, 1918(1918-06-30) (aged 80)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.A.
Nationality Canadian
Education University of Halle-Wittenberg
University of Edinburgh
Queen's University
Université Laval
Net worth $18 million (at death)
Religion Presbyterian
Spouse(s) Naomi Douglas
Children James Douglas, Jr.
Walter Douglas
Parent(s) James Douglas (father) (1800-1886)
Elizabeth Ferguson (mother)
Relatives Lewis Williams Douglas (grandson)
Malachite specimen from the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona. Douglas saved many of the best mineral specimens from the Copper Queen for his personal collection. His family later donated many of them to the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian display of Copper Queen minerals from Dr. Douglas's collection.

James Douglas (4 November 1837 - 30 June 1918) was a Canadian born mining engineer and businessman who introduced a number of metallurgical innovations in copper mining and amassed a fortune through the copper mining industry of Arizona and Sonora.


James Douglas, Jr. was born in Quebec, Canada on 4 November 1837. His father James Douglas, Sr., a native of Scotland, was an eminent surgeon and manager of the Beauport Lunatic Asylum. His mother, Elizabeth Ferguson, was also a native of Scotland. James Douglas graduated from Queen’s College, Kingston, Canada in 1858 and continued his studies at the University of Edinburgh. He studied both medicine and theology with the intent of becoming a minister but was never ordained. For several years he served as professor of chemistry at Morrin College, Quebec, and in 1864 became managing director of the Harvey Hill Copper Company in Quebec. In 1875 he moved to the United States to take charge of the copper works at Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.[1]

James Douglas married Naomi Douglas (no relationship) from Scotland in 1860. Naomi Douglas’ father (Walter Douglas) was a captain of the Cunard Steamship Line. Dr. Douglas and Naomi had 6 children, four of which survived. The four children include Elizabeth Douglas, Walter Douglas, James S. Douglas and Edith Douglas. James Douglas died on 30 June 1918.

Douglas' father's influence

Douglas's Scottish-born father, Dr. James Douglas, was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He had earned the reputation of being the fastest surgeon in town, capable of performing an amputation in less than one minute. Dr. Douglas transmitted his thirst for adventure to his son, taking him on numerous expeditions to Egypt and the Middle East in the mid-19th century. He brought back several mummies from these journeys, selling them to museums in North America. One of these, sold in Niagara Falls, was recently discovered to be the corpse of Ramses I.

Initial Career - Ministry

James Douglas initially chose a different career from his father, studying to become a minister in the Presbyterian Church. He studied at Queen’s College, Kingston from 1856-1858, and later at the University of Edinburgh. By the end of his studies, however, Douglas had second thoughts: “When therefore I was licensed to teach, my faith in Christ was stronger but my faith in denominational Christianity was so weak that I could not sign the Confession of Faith and therefore was never ordained.” He was granted a license to preach, but never became an ordained minister. This secularism remained with Douglas all his life. He was primarily responsible for making Queen’s into a non-denominational University when he served as Chancellor in 1912.

Second Career - Medicine

In the 1860s, Douglas helped his father at the Beauport Asylum while studying towards a career in medicine. He worked as a librarian at the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, and later became the youngest president in the history of the Society. There, he presented numerous lectures to the Society’s members, the first on Egyptian hieroglyphics and mummies, and later ones on mining and geological issues.

Third Career - Mining

This interest in mining and geology eventually supplanted his interest in medicine and Douglas embarked on a third career. In 1869, Douglas’ scientific experiments with the assistance of Dr. Thomas Sterry Hunt at Université Laval led him to a discovery that was to change his life. Together, they elaborated a patent for the “Hunt and Douglas” process of extracting copper from its ore.[2] Although Douglas had no formal education in chemistry, he was considered competent enough to fill the Chair of Chemistry at his hometown's Morrin College affiliated with McGill University, from 1871 to 1874. His evening lectures were among the most popular in the history of the College.

Mining-related Inventions

With Thomas Sterry Hunt, Douglas was involved with many experiments in the hydrometallurgy of coppers and devised what is known as the "Hunt-Douglas" process for extracting copper from its ores.[3] Douglas was also the inventor of several other improvements in the mining industry consisting of the invention for calcining ores (1884), a furnace for calcining ores (1898), a process for extracting copper from cupriferous nickel ore (1892), a process for separating and recovering copper (1896), and an improved smelting furnace in 1897.

Phelps Dodge and the Copper Queen Mine

Douglas’s patents attracted attention in the United States, and in 1875 he quit his teaching post to work as superintendent for the Chemical Copper Company, Phoenixville, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, then a major center of the chemical industry. He also performed mining consultant work, which took him to the far West. In 1880, Douglas was recruited by the trading company Phelps Dodge, which sent him to Arizona Territory to investigate mining opportunities. This eventually led to the creation of the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona, which became one of the top copper-producing mines in the world. Offered the choice of a flat fee or a ten percent interest in the property for his services, he chose the latter, a decision that subsequently made him a fortune.[4] His deep interest in transportation and mining were united in an essay he wrote in 1885 on "Historical and Geographical Features of the Rocky Mountain Railroads which detailed the geological features of the land near the Union Pacific, Central Pacific, Denver and Rio Grand, Southern Pacific, Atlantic and Pacific, Northern Pacific, and the Canadian Pacific railroads.[5][6][7] In 1883, he made his last permanent move, to the New York City area to be closer to the financial hub.

Douglas, Arizona and the Phelps Dodge Corporation

In the late 1880s, early 1890s, with the success of the Copper Queen, and backing of Phelps Dodge partners he acquired for them additional property, and built up other spectacular copper mines, including the Detroit Copper Company at Morenci, Arizona, the Moctezuma Copper Company at Nacozari, Sonora, and the United Globe-Old Dominion mines at Globe, Arizona. In 1905, the partnership purchased the vast coal lands of Dawson, New Mexico and organized the Stag Canyon Fuel Co. He was made president of each of the operating companies by the Phelps Dodge partners. Importantly, he recruited talented young engineers, including his sons James and Walter, Dr. L. D. Ricketts, and Charles E. Mills, to manage the expanding business. James Douglas also founded the copper smelting Mexican border town of Douglas, Arizona. To connect these operations he led in the construction of mine railroad branches and the construction of the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad, a 750 mile railroad link between the Rock Island and Southern Pacific Lines, from Tucumcari, New Mexico to Tucson, Arizona via Douglas (part of the Golden State Route, Chicago to Los Angeles). With the passing of the senior members of the Phelps Dodge partnership, the firm was dissolved and replaced in 1908 with the Phelps Dodge Corporation, a holding company of all the subsidiary properties. Douglas became first president, later CEO, of Phelps Dodge, and helped transform it into the Fortune 500 company. Around 1912, he began reducing his business commitments and delved into philanthropy more until his death in 1918 at his home in Spuyten Durvil, New York.[8]

James Douglas was always known as Dr. Douglas or Prof. Douglas. His son, James S. Douglas, Jr., or "Rawhide Jimmy" (1867-1949), managed the Phelps Dodge works at Nacazori before heading off on his own and built a major fortune with the United Verde Extension mine in Jerome, Arizona. His Jerome mansion is open to the public as the Jerome State Historic Park. Walter Douglas followed in his father's foot-steps as manager of the Copper Queen, then president and finally CEO of Phelps Dodge. James S. Douglas, Jr.'s son (Dr. Douglas's grandson) Lewis Douglas was elected U. S. Congressman representing Arizona, served within President Roosevelt's administration, and later was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain.

Publications and Philanthropy

Throughout this time, Dr. Douglas maintained an interest in Canadian history and heritage. He wrote several books on the subject in his lifetime, namely Canadian Independence, Old France in the New World, and New England and New France—Contrasts and Parallels in Colonial History. In addition to bailing Queen’s University out of a financial crisis with approximately a million dollars from his own pocket, Douglas also established the first chair in Canadian and Colonial History there in 1910. He also financed many libraries, such as the library of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, where interest from his donations is still used to purchase books. He had built and supported libraries in each of the Phelps Dodge major mining camps and smelter towns.

Medical Philanthropy

James Douglas was dedicated to investigating the effects of radiation on cancer following the treatment of his daughter in England. He and Dr. Howard Kelly, a Baltimore, Maryland gynecologist and philanthropist, joined forces to supply radium in the US. In partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Mines, they formed the National Radium Institute.

Douglas also donated to several medical causes. In 1912 Douglas gave $100,000 to General Memorial Hospital (which would become known as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) for the endowment of ten beds for clinical research work, and the equipment for an X-ray plant and clinical laboratory.[9]

In 1915 Dr. Douglas, working with Dr. James Ewing, helped to establish a radium department and lay the foundation in the United States for radiation therapy.[9]

Also of note is the Douglas Hospital in Montreal, Quebec. This institution pursued the cause which had been taken up by his father, a pioneer in the treatment of mental health in Quebec. Douglas’ donations helped keep the hospital alive in the institution’s early years. Originally called the “Protestant Hospital for the Insane”, the institution took on the name of Douglas Hospital in 1965 as a tribute to James Douglas, Jr. and his father.

In 1913 Douglas donated nearly a million dollars of radium to Johns Hopkins University helped medical research.[10]

Professional Accolades

He was member of a number of technical or scientific societies and served as president of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, 1899-1900. Since 1922, the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers annually awards the James Douglas Gold Medal in his memory. His writings on the copper industry are voluminous, He was an advocate of the free exchange of scientific information.

The Douglas Library at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, is named in his honor, as is Douglas Hall at McGill University. Dr. Douglas also endowed a lectureship at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and in 1940 Phelps Dodge Corporation funded the construction of the James Douglas Memorial Building for Mines and Metallurgy at the University of Arizona.[11]

Professional Memberships


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Robert Paul Browder and Thomas G. Smith, Independent: A Biography of Lewis W. Douglas (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), p. 7
  5. ^
  6. ^ Douglas, James. (1885). Historical and Geographical Features of the Rocky Mountain Railroads. Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, 299-342.
  7. ^ The Golden Spike: A Centennial Remembrance (1969). This book reprints the essay as well an essay written by Lewis W. Douglas, in appreciation of Dr. Douglas.
  8. ^ H. H. Langton, James Douglas, a Memoir (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1940)
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^
  11. ^ Dedication for the Douglas Memorial Building for Mining and Metallurgy (Tucson: University of Arizona Bulletin, 1940)
  12. ^

Works by James Douglas

  • Memoir of T. Sterry Hunt, F.R.S. (1898)
  • Untechnical Addresses on Technical Subjects (1905)
  • Old France in the New World (1905)
  • The Influence of the Railroads of the United States and Canada on the Mineral Industry (1909)
  • Journals and Reminiscences of James Douglas, M.D. (1910)

External links

  • Queen's University bio
  • Mining Hall of Fame bio
  • James Douglas Gold Medal
  • Jerome State Historic Park
  • James Douglas and the Douglas Hospital
  • Dr. James Douglas Collection, 1863-1935 at Arizona Historical Society
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sandford Fleming
Chancellor of Queen's University
Succeeded by
Edward Wentworth Beatty
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