1873: On 29 March, a group of British and European investors formed The Rio Tinto Company to reopen ancient copper mines beside the Rio Tinto (meaning red river) in southern Spain. The mines were first in operation around 750BC, but in the 19th century were largely idle. At one time, they had provided copper, gold and silver to the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome. After being reopened by The Rio Tinto Company, the operations became the world’s leading producer of copper between 1877 and 1891.The original company went through several stages of restructuring, merger and acquisition over the intervening 140 years to become the organisation we are today. Key among these events were the formation of The Rio Tinto-Zinc Corporation (RTZ) in 1962 through the merger of The Rio Tinto Company and The Consolidated Zinc Company. In the same year, the Australian interests of both companies were merged to form Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Limited (renamed CRA Limited in 1980).Then in 1995, RTZ and CRA came together under a dual listed companies (DLC) structure, later adopting the original name common to both: Rio Tinto. RTZ became Rio Tinto plc and CRA became Rio Tinto Limited, together known as the Rio Tinto Group.
1925: A new management team headed by Sir Auckland Campbell-Geddes started focusing on the diversification of the Rio Tinto Company outside Spain. Sir Auckland led the way to a series of joint ventures and in the development of new technologies, as well as exploration and development of new mines.
1930:US Borax – the forerunner of our Rio Tinto Minerals business in California – began sponsoring Death Valley Days, a TV and radio show that dramatised stories of the old American West. The sponsorship would last nearly 40 years, and the show would become the longest-running serial in US broadcasting history. Death Valley Days was also one of the last TV roles of future president Ronald Reagan, who hosted the show between 1964 and 1965 and acted in some episodes.
US Borax was established to mine borates from deposits in Death Valley that had first been discovered there in 1881. These minerals were originally used in laundry and cleaning products but now also have a multitude of other applications. The company used 20-mule teams to haul 15 million pounds of borates over 150 miles of desert. These teams became the symbol of the company, its products and its commitment to innovation and endeavour. In 1968, Rio Tinto acquired 100 per cent of US Borax.
1955: Australia’s Weipa bauxite deposit was discovered, marking the beginning of Australia’s integrated aluminium industry, and Rio Tinto’s entry into the sector. The following year, The Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty Ltd (known as Comalco) was established to develop the deposit, with The Consolidated Zinc Company holding a 50 per cent stake. By 2000, Rio Tinto owned Comalco outright, after buying out other shareholders. Comalco became Rio Tinto Aluminium in 2006, which became Rio Tinto Alcan in 2007 after Rio Tinto acquired Canada’s Alcan Inc.
1966: Hamersley Iron’s Tom Price iron ore mine began operating in the Pilbara, Western Australia, after discovery of the deposit in 1962. It was the first operation in what would become a world-class iron ore region for Rio Tinto. In that first year, Hamersley Iron had 4,500 employees and produced 72 million tonnes of iron ore. By 2012, Rio Tinto’s now-global Iron Ore business had swelled to 13,500 employees and produced 254 million tonnes in total (Rio Tinto share: 199 million tonnes), with further expansion under way.
1989: Rio Tinto acquired BP Minerals, and with it, some of our major assets including Kennecott Utah Copper, Quebec Iron & Titanium (today: Rio Tinto Fer et Titane), and an interest in Coal & Allied, in Australia. The acquisition was a landmark deal on Rio Tinto’s journey to becoming the organisation we are today. It continued Rio Tinto’s efforts in the 1980s to concentrate the business on mining. This also saw the company sell off non-mining interests into which it had diversified, such as chemicals, cement, oil and gas, and industrial products.
1998: Ten employees died in a collapse at the Lassing underground talc mine in Austria. It was the single worst accident Rio Tinto had ever experienced. The disaster galvanised Rio Tinto into a more relentless focus on the utmost importance of safety management, helping to create today’s strong safety ethos and achievements. Rio Tinto subsequently initiated Group-wide safety management systems with mandated policies, standards and practices to improve the focus on safety.
2001: Rio Tinto was a founding member of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), established to improve sustainable development performance in the mining and metals industry. ICMM gives the industry a collective voice and helps it to identify, share and develop solutions to complex challenges. Today, ICMM brings together 22 mining and metals companies and 35 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations. All ICMM member companies must implement and measure their performance against a set of standards known as the ICMM Sustainable Development Framework.
2008: Rio Tinto unveiled its vision for the “mine of the future”, aiming to be the leader in automated mining and transport. Today, our Mine of the Future™ programme is an approach used across Rio Tinto to find advanced ways of finding, extracting and processing minerals from deep within the Earth, while reducing environmental impacts and further improving safety. Projects to date include the Operations Centre in Perth, which oversees operations some 1,500km away in the Pilbara; the roll-out of autonomous haul trucks; and the development of improved underground mining technologies.
2013: In January, we produced the first concentrate from our newest operation, and our first in Mongolia: the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine. Oyu Tolgoi, in the South Gobi Desert, is scheduled to be a top-five copper producer, and a significant gold producer.”