History

History

After almost 150 years of pioneering exploration, expansion, diversification and innovation, Rio Tinto stands today as one of the world’s largest producers of a range of essential materials, and a major force driving human progress.

To learn more about our history, explore the timeline below.

+ 2016: Progressing three major multi-decade, high-yield growth projects


Image: Oyu Tolgoi Underground Project

2016 saw Rio Tinto progress its three major multi-decade, high-yield growth projects. In May, work started on the underground development at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia, with copper production expected to begin in 2020. In August, an additional US$338 million investment to complete the Silvergrass iron ore mine in Pilbara was approved. And development work progressed at the Amrun bauxite project in Queensland.

+ 2015: Critical risk management programme boosts drive on fatality elimination

Rio Tinto began implementing its critical risk management (CRM) programme - a dedicated fatality prevention programme for all jobs with a fatality risk – in every operation. By the end of 2016, 1.3 million risk verifications had taken place across more than 60 operational sites.

+ 2014: New kimberlite pipe developed at Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada


Image: Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada

Rio Tinto approved the development of a fourth diamond-bearing kimberlite pipe, known as A21, at its Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada. The mine, 220km south of the Arctic Circle and on the bed of a vast northern lake, Lac de Gras, demanded engineering on the grandest of scales, including construction of rockfill dikes to hold back the lake waters. A21 production is scheduled to begin in 2018.

+ 2013: Oyu Tolgoi begins shipping copper concentrate to customers


Image: Shipment of copper concentrate leaves Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia

Oyu Tolgoi began shipping copper concentrate to customers, mostly in nearby China, from ore produced in the open pit mine in Mongolia’s southern Gobi desert. Oyu Tolgoi is jointly owned by the Government of Mongolia, which holds 34 per cent, and Turquoise Hill Resources (51 per cent owned by Rio Tinto) with 66 per cent. Rio Tinto has been manager of the project since 2010.

+ 2012: Rio Tinto supplies medals metals for London 2012


Image: medals for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

Rio Tinto, appointed official metals provider, supplied the eight tonnes of gold, silver and copper used to make 4,700 medals for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

+ 2011: Land use partnerships with Pilbara Indigenous groups secure future of iron ore business


Image: Participation Agreement signing with the Banjima people

Rio Tinto sealed land use partnerships with five Indigenous groups across the Pilbara in Australia, securing the future operations of its iron ore business. The new partnerships build on previous agreements and cover matters such as employment and training, business development, cultural heritage, land access, environmental management, cultural awareness training and life-of-mine planning. They also provide royalty-type economic benefits, based on the value of ore shipped . In 2016, Rio Tinto formed its tenth Indigenous Land Use Agreement in the Pilbara. Signed with the Banjima Traditional Owners, this agreement means that the Group has now signed agreements with all Native Title Claim groups who hold interests in areas of the Pilbara that it operates in.

+ 2010: Post-2008 divestments and rights issue strengthen balance sheet

Following the financial crisis of 2008 and an abortive takeover bid from BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto undertook over US$11 billion worth of divestments and a US$15.2 billion rights issue to strengthen the balance sheet. The company thereby gained the financial foundation to support renewed growth initiatives, and is now well placed to capitalise on the world’s hunger for human progress, and the essential materials to fulfil it.

+ 2008: Pioneering Mine of the Future™ programme launched


Image: Driverless truck at Rio Tinto's Mine of the FutureTM

Rio Tinto launched its pioneering Mine of the Future™ programme, using next generation technologies to enable smarter mining, with greater efficiency and lower production costs as well as improved health, safety and environmental performance.

+ 2007: Rio Tinto acquires Alcan


Image: The Arvida smelter in Saguenay, Quebec

Rio Tinto acquired the Canadian aluminium producer Alcan Inc. to form Rio Tinto Alcan, becoming a global leader in the aluminium industry.

+ 2001: Rio Tinto becomes founding member of International Council on Mining & Metals

Rio Tinto became a founding member of the International Council on Mining & Metals, now 23 mining and metals companies and 34 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations, coming together to develop and share solutions to industry challenges. All member companies must monitor their compliance with the standards embodied in the ICMM Sustainable Development Framework.

+ 1998: Major disaster brings new commitment to safety

A major disaster at Lassing talc mine in Austria took the lives of ten employees, galvanising Rio Tinto’s relentless focus on safety.

+ 1995: UK and Australian businesses merge, adopting common heritage name: Rio Tinto

The RTZ Corporation and CRA Limited merged as a dual listed company, bringing together the commercial skills of Rio Tinto, honed as a mining finance house in London, with the CRA’s project and operational skills. Initially called RTZ-CRA, the new company two years later adopted the original name common to both: Rio Tinto.

+ 1989: BP Minerals acquisition takes Rio Tinto to the next global level

In a pioneering deal - at the time the biggest ever between two UK companies - Rio Tinto acquired BP’s minerals businesses for US$4.3 billion, becoming one of the world’s largest copper producers and a global leader in specialty iron and titanium dioxide feedstock.

+ 1968: Profits from US Borax acquisition build capital for BP Minerals move

Rio Tinto added another essential material to its portfolio with the purchase of US Borax, a company that thrived in the energy crisis of the 1970s due to the insulating properties of products derived from borates. It generated profits which later helped purchase the mining assets of BP Minerals when BP quit mining in 1989.

+ 1966: Opening of Mount Tom Price mine makes Rio Tinto world’s #2 in iron ore


Image: Mount Tom Price mine in Australia’s Pilbara region

The opening of the Mount Tom Price mine in Australia’s Pilbara region to supply Japanese steel smelters marked the creation of a business that has made Rio Tinto the world’s second largest iron ore supplier.

+ 1962: Mergers unite UK and Australian operations


Image: Development of the Pilbara operations 

The array of UK and Australia-based companies related to the Rio Tinto Company and Zinc Corporation were merged into RTZ Corporation and CRA Limited respectively. In 1995, RTZ and CRA themselves merged to become a single company.

+ 1956: Comalco formed to exploit vast bauxite deposits at Weipa, Australia


Image: Exploration at the Weipa bauxite deposits

The Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty Ltd, known as Comalco, was formed to exploit the vast bauxite deposits of Weipa. Initially 50/50 owned with Kaiser Aluminum of the US, by 2000 Rio Tinto had become sole owner of the company.

+ 1954: Rio Tinto sale yields funds for global exploration

After 80 years, two-thirds of the now low-yielding Rio Tinto mine was sold, with the proceeds financing new pioneering exploration companies in Africa, Australia and Canada, leading to the establishment of major mines producing uranium, copper and other metals.

+ 1949: Mergers in zinc; new ventures in Australia


Image: Surveyors at work at Weipa in the early days

The UK interests of two firms, the Imperial Smelting Corporation and The Zinc Corporation, merged to become The Consolidated Zinc Corporation. Its Australian arm, Consolidated Zinc Proprietary, developed the uranium mines Rum Jungle and Mary Kathleen, and later the bauxite deposit at Weipa in far north Queensland.

+ 1925: A global essential materials powerhouse is born


Image: Sir Auckland Campbell-Geddes

A new management team, headed by chairman Sir Auckland Campbell-Geddes, launched a series of joint ventures, technological developments and overseas expansions that marked the beginnings of Rio Tinto’s transformation from a Spanish copper mine business into a global essential materials powerhouse.

+ 1905: Pioneering process to extract valuable zinc from waste residues

American mining engineer Herbert Hoover, later the 31st President of the United States, joined associates to form The Zinc Corporation, which developed a new process to extract zinc from residues left after the extraction of silver and lead from ores from Broken Hill in Australia – the richest silver-lead-zinc deposit on Earth.

+ 1873: Transforming the mines of antiquity into the world’s #1 copper producer


Image: The Rio Tinto Company's original copper operations in southern Spain

The Rio Tinto (Red River) mines in Spain, dating back to about 750 BC and once supplying the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome, were sold by the Spanish Government to a British-European syndicate led by Scottish entrepreneur Hugh Matheson. The “Rio Tinto Company” constructed new processing facilities, introduced new techniques and turned the mine into the world's number one copper producer from 1877 to 1891.