Tin Smelting

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: August 1, 1995

In 1948 the only tin smelter in the United States, the Longhorn Tin Smelter at Texas City, provided a resource for which the country formerly depended on the British and the Dutch. In 1940 the Combined Raw Materials Board started discussions with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation on the subject of building a tin smelter that would be designed to treat any grade of tin-bearing material, from rich high quality alluvial ore down to the poorest concentrate of Bolivia. After consultation with the Dutch, who owned the Arnhem Tin Smelter operated by N. V. Billiton Maatschappy in Holland, it was agreed that the Tin Processing Corporation, a Billiton Company subsidiary, would undertake to design, build, and run a smelter for the United States government. Texas City was chosen for the site of the plant because of its access to ocean freight and its supplies of natural gas and hydrochloric acid. In March 1941 construction began, and in April 1942 the first furnace went into production. The United States government invested nearly $8,000,000 on the smelter, which was managed by the Tin Processing Company in behalf of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Because of the complex nature of the Bolivian ores, facilities were provided for the roasting and leaching of such ores as treatment preliminary to smelting. The process added materially to the cost of the treatment and reduced the capacity of the plant to a point far below that of plants treating only high grade concentrates. Waste acid, originally channeled into Galveston Bay, was later stored in ponds and treated in a separate plant. By 1948 the plant had produced 3,000 tons of tin from Bolivian and Netherlands East Indies ores and an occasional shipment from Siam in exchange for surplus tobacco. Congress had authorized continued operation until July 1949, and negotiations had been opened for future operations as a commercial enterprise. At one time the plant had 850 employees and produced 43,500 long tons a year, or 45 percent of world production, under the Longhorn 3-Star trademark.

A search for domestic deposits of tin-bearing ore has not been successful. Small quantities of tin were produced during the early 1900s in the Franklin Mountains of El Paso County. Tin minerals were also found in the Streeter area of Mason County and in some localities of the Central Basin. An extensive survey by the Bureau of Economic Geology of the University of Texas failed to disclose any deposit of commercial value, but the Franklin Mountains deposit was listed as worthy of further investigation. In 1951 production at Texas City was interrupted by a revolution in Bolivia, the source of the smelter's ore. For two years no long-term contract for tin ore was negotiated. The smelter, the only source of refined tin in the United States, produced 50 percent of the tin used by United States consumers in 1952. By 1953 the Texas City smelter was able to handle all grades of tin from pure alluvial to low-grade primary ore. The annual capacity of the two-step, natural gas-fired reverberatory furnace was 96,000 tons, with 99.75 percent purity or better.

In 1955 the $13,000,000 facility was put up for sale by the Office of Defense Mobilization to block a move to close the government-owned plant. Wah Chang Company of New York City, a well-known tungsten firm, purchased the smelter in 1958 and adapted it for the manufacture of tungsten products and tin alloys. By 1956 production of tin had fallen to 17,600 tons, much less than the 43,000 tons produced in 1946. Obtaining ore remained a problem during the late 1950s, and although there were tin minerals in the Trans-Pecos and Burnet-Llano areas, no Texas ore was mined. Wah Chang produced 11,597 tons of tin ingots in 1960, as well as some ferro metals such as tungsten metal powder and tantalum columbium oxides. In 1964 the Texas City plant produced 3,958 tons of tin and began to recover molybdenum; a year later the plant doubled its tin-producing capacity. In 1970 the Gulf Chemical and Metallurgical Corporation, a subsidiary of Associated Metals and Minerals Corporation at Texas City, contracted with CorporaciĆ³n Minera de Bolivia to smelt and refine 15,000 tons of Bolivian tin concentrates and produce 7,000 tons of fine electroytic tin. In 1980 the West German-designed Kaldo-type furnace at Texas City continued in operation, but reduced imports of tin concentrates forced the company to rely on recycled and stock materials for processing. Slags and low-grade residues were successfully used in the furnace, and overall output was marketed chiefly in the United States. In 1986 the Tex Tin Corporation, a part of the Associated Metals and Minerals Company, announced that the Texas City smelter would begin smelting tin concentrates for Minsur S. A. of Peru, for marketing in the United States. See also MINERAL RESOURCES AND MINING.

U.S. Bureau of Mines, Minerals Yearbook. University of Texas, Texas Looks Ahead: The Resources of Texas (Austin, 1944; rpt., Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1968). H. F. Van der Laan, "Longhorn Tin Smelter, Texas City, Texas," Texas Journal of Science 3 (December 30, 1951). Walter Harvey Weed, El Paso Tin Deposits (Washington: GPO, 1901).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Tin Smelting,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tin-smelting.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995