Monday, 13 February 2017

Who was Julius Kruttschnitt?

The Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre, otherwise known as the JKMRC or just the JK, is widely known internationally in mineral processing circles. But many will not know of Julius Kruttschnitt, the man after whom the JK is named. It is an interesting story which spans a largely forgotten period of the minerals industry from the early 1900s till the mid 1970s.
Don McKee, who succeeded Alban Lynch (posting of 11 August 2014) as the second Director of the JKMRC in 1990, takes up the story. It is a story of a great mining engineer who spent the first part of his professional career in North America and the second in Australia.

Julius Kruttschnitt (JK) was born in 1885 in New Orleans, Louisiana. JK studied mining at Yale where geology had long been a major strength. He undertook a course which included geology, chemistry, mining, metallurgy, and foreign languages. This broad education, typical of the time and in some respects sadly lacking today, particularly when the trend at operations is to integrate the geology, mining and processing functions, provided a base which was to serve him well.
Julius graduated in 1906. His first job was as a geologist's assistant in California. He soon moved to the Arizona Copper Company where he grappled with complex metallurgical problems. In 1909 he joined ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) and was sent to Mexico where the company had substantial mining operations. The time in Mexico was varied and unpredictable including an occasion when he was held at gunpoint, as 1910 was the beginning of the Mexican revolution. In 1912 he moved to the El Paso smelter operations and from there to Tucson at the head of the company office in Arizona. Over the next 18 years he was responsible for mining acquisitions including the Silver Bell operation and for mining developments at many sites. By the mid-1920s JK’s responsibilities included ASARCO’s operations in the US south-west and all of its western Mexico sites.
JK's story then switched to Mount Isa in North West Queensland. Lead and zinc had been discovered at what became Mount Isa in 1923. The development of a large underground mine, processing plant and lead smelter and all the associated services, including power and a water supply, proved to be a huge challenge in such an isolated region.
JK as General Manager of
Mount Isa Mines
The ownership of the fledging operation changed a number of times during the 1920s as the mine consumed vast capital. In 1930 ASARCO invested in the operation and Julius Kruttschnitt travelled to Mount Isa late that year to assume the position of General Manager.
Mount Isa which was little more than an isolated and uncomfortable mining camp. In his own words “I was in Arizona. I was in charge of the South West Mining Department of ASARCO. They asked me to come as General Manager of Mount Isa Mines. If you're a mining engineer, you don't say ‘where is it and what kind of living accommodation and how much am I going to get’, you go – that’s your profession to go where the mines are”.
Such were the challenges which confronted JK over the next 15 years that it is worth outlining a few so that today’s engineer can gain an idea of just how difficult things could be 80 years ago.
When JK arrived at Mount Isa in December 1930 underground mine development (which had not long resumed after the mine was flooded earlier in the year) and construction of the concentrator and lead smelter were proceeding. There was an urgent need of additional capital to complete the operation. This was to become a recurring theme for the next seven or eight years. JK had to raise more finance and this at a time when metal prices were the lowest in history. The first lead carbonate ore was put through the plant in May 1931 and the mill was an immediate failure. Lead losses were running at 25%. To make matters much worse, the smelter was also a failure and it was immediately necessary to double the capacity of the sinter plant and add another blast furnace. To complete the woes, fumes in the lead smelter were choking and health issues for the workforce were severe.
As mining continued there was a transition from shallow carbonate ore to deeper lead sulphides containing the familiar mix of galena, sphalerite, pyrite, pyrrhotite, silver minerals and small amounts of chalcopyrite. At the time JK reported “concentration is made difficult by the fineness of the mineralisation and the intimate associations of the sulphide and gangue minerals”. Metallurgists at Mount Isa ever since have confronted exactly the same issue. In 1936 JK was forced to reduce the lead reserves because the lead grade was lower than expected. Cost pressures were constant, made more serious by the extremely high transport costs to Townsville. It took until 1936/37 for Mount Isa to record a profit.
Drilling in the late 1930s had discovered mineable copper reserves. In 1942 the Australian government requested, perhaps it was stronger than requested, Mount Isa to change to copper production for the war effort. So began a frantic few months during which a copper smelter was built from the long abandoned smelters at Mount Elliott, Mount Cuthbert and Kuridala. It is almost beyond belief that copper production commenced in April 1943, a mere six months after the government directive. It is still even more remarkable that just seven months later, the government advised it did not want copper from Mount Isa. Furious negotiations followed, resulting in copper production continuing till May 1946.
And what of the man? The following comments were provided by the late David Buchanan, a young metallurgist who joined Mount Isa Mines in 1946. He recalled a small man, always impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. His dress formality extended in other ways. He was always Mr Kruttschnitt and senior company staff always addressed one another as Mr. He was a generous man who looked after his employees without their being aware. JK understood all aspects of the operation and most of all, the financial position. David remembers JK and his senior managers doing a complete site inspection every Saturday. The people working at Mount Isa knew their general manager was familiar with every aspect of the operation.
JK retired in 1953 and lived in Brisbane till he passed away in 1974. He was one of the outstanding men of the Australian minerals industry and he is rightly credited with establishing Mount Isa Mines and providing the foundation upon which was built one of the great Australian mining companies.
What has all this to do with the JKMRC? There were many sides to JK. One of his major contributions was to work with two other leading mining figures to convince the University of Queensland to offer a degree in mining engineering. The Mining Department was established in 1949 and the first courses were offered in 1950. Its first leader, Professor Frank White, was an outward looking man who could engage with the industry and understood the importance of research.
Alban Lynch joined the Department in a research capacity in 1958. In 1962 he established an AMIRA Project The development of a system for automatic control of ore grinding circuits. Widely known as the AMIRA P9 project, it continues uninterrupted today. Alban Lynch regarded the concentrators as his laboratory, establishing the approach of conducting experimental work in plants, largely by postgraduate students. Mount Isa Mines by now was at the forefront of technical developments in its mine, concentrators and smelters and it enthusiastically embraced the Lynch approach. In a remarkably short time, the grinding and classification models developed by Alban Lynch and TC Rao (posting of 16 July 2014) were used to simulate a rearranged grinding circuit at Mount Isa which achieved significantly increased throughput.
The project rapidly marched on. By 1967 one of the Mount Isa grinding circuits was under analogue computer control and this was soon followed by digital control. It is fair to say the management of Mount Isa were impressed with such rapid progress.
The Managing Director of Mount Isa Mines at the time, the late Sir James Foots, could see the potential for expanded industry focussed University research of the type undertaken by Alban Lynch. Negotiations between the University and Mount Isa Mines during 1968/69 resulted in Mount Isa providing funds to establish a research centre for the Lynch group, which included the provision of a new building at the University Mine at Indooroopilly and some recurrent funding to expand the work of the group.
The research centre was established in 1970 and was named in honour of Julius Kruttschnitt, then a man of 84. In 1971 the University conferred an Honorary Doctorate on JK.
Julius Kruttschnitt speaking at the opening of the JKMRC, 1971
JK (front centre), with JKMRC staff and students, including Alban Lynch (front left), in 1971
Alban Lynch remembers JK in the early days of the Julius Kruttschnitt Centre at Indooroopilly. JK was interested in the Centre and he was a frequent visitor. He recalls a man interested in research and technical developments. He suggests this interest stemmed from JK’s personal involvement in the US and Mexican mining industries at a time which saw the transformation of small, high-grade underground mines using gravity concentration methods to much lower grade and largely open pit operations using flotation recovery. Subsequently, JK published detailed technical papers on mining and processing at Mount Isa in the AusIMM Proceedings. And finally, Alban recalls a man from an era when company loyalty was paramount. He was typical of the great general managers who were skilled in geology, mining, processing and financial management.
Over the years the JKMRC has been active in geology, mining and processing research. Only the financial dimension has been lacking from the Julius Kruttschnitt armoury of expertise. It is highly likely JK would be impressed by the achievements of the centre which bears his name.
Many thanks to Don McKee for supplying this fascinating biography of a mineral processing legend.

See also Conversations with other well know mineral processors.


  1. Barry, thanks so much. I would just add that he was the grandson of the German Consul in New Orleans.
    Fathi Habashi, Laval University, Canada

  2. Bary,
    God Bless You for bringing out such a great narrative; a must read for any budding mineral industry student and or a "few lessons to budding managers of mineral industry"
    Think of their vision and hard work.
    It is so clear that we need visionary academic persons like Prof.White to imagine and bring out an effective network with industry so that teaching has a goal.Credit to Prof.White to identify a person like Dr.Lynch to Head the programme at U,Q.The rest is already explained in your brief.
    Thank you, Don--you showed that we should not forget the Greats like J.K, Prof.White and Dr.Lynch--inspiring figures who dared to think beyond ordinary and took mineral industry and related R&D to a new orbit.
    I am happy and privileged that I am a part of J.K.

  3. Great Blog on the history of mining, mineral processing and smelting and the leading people. Do we have such leaders of technology now in the mining industry?


  4. Julius Kruttschnitt was skilled in all aspects of the mining industry as Don's story of his career demonstrated. Some years ago I was the co-author of an article about him published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and an excerpt from that article indicates the interest he took in the welfare of employees.

    Kruttschnitt joined Mount Isa Mines long before the days of air-conditioning but he always dressed immaculately in a suit and tie even in very high temperatures. J.K., as he was known, even wore a tie when playing golf. With a high level of financial and technical skills Kruttschnitt, though small in stature, commanded respect. Remarkably in tune with the community, he involved himself in a wide range of social and sporting activities. While seeking to restore the ailing mining company, he showed an interest in the welfare of miners and their families, particularly in housing. The unique Mount Isa tent house, initially a tent to which was added a corrugated iron wall designed to create a ventilation channel, was developed while Kruttschnitt was general manager.

    JK lived at Indooroopilly in Brisbane after he retired from MIM. It was coincidence that his home was close to Finney's Hill where the research centre named in his honour was built. It was my privilege to invite him to visit the JKMRC occasionally and we discussed research in progress over morning tea.

    Congratulations on renewing the memory of a great engineer and manager.
    Alban Lynch, Brisbane, Australia

  5. It was a great experience reading this motivational article. Very well written, precise yet conveying a complete picture of the man and his times. I was aware of the origin of the name of the research center but did not know what all went behind establishing the facilities. Back in those days when academia and application were completely isolated and lived in their own domain that Mr. Jk could think of involving a university in the development of mineral industry through focussed research into different areas of operation be it mining or ore processing speaks for the grand vision of the man. The concept has now spread and in India Dr. T.C. Rao, having been brought up in the culture of JKMRC , made great efforts in bringing industry and academia together in solving ore processing problems for operating plants. Various mineral industries have benefitted from such research programmes.
    Dr. A. Bandyopadhyay, Chief Technologist, CDE Asia Limited, India

  6. I was giving a talk last night at the CIM Vancouver and while ranting about technology, I was reminded how far ahead Alban, Bill Whitten and the JK guys were all those years ago. The process control course I did as an elective while doing my U/G Extractive Met degree is still one of the most useful learning of my life. Those guys put me ajump ahead of all the Tehcnohype of today by giving a solid fundamental understanding for which I am eternally grateful I sure many others share my experience. The question is, how to we persuade today's executives to invest and return to thise days of fundamenal understanding and hype free progress?


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