1873 - 1968
British and European investors form the Rio Tinto Company in London to reopen ancient copper mines beside the River Tinto in southern Spain.
The Rio Tinto mines in Spain had been operating since about 750 BC, when the ancient Phoenicians traded in the Mediterranean. The mines were at the heart of a vast mineralised zone extending from Seville west through Huelva into Portugal. They provided silver, copper and gold which contributed significantly to the economic prosperity and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. After a long period of abandonment, the mines were rediscovered in 1556. The mines reverted to the Spanish Crown in 1783 and were operated by the government until 1810. Then came the Napoleonic Wars when they were largely idle. By 1871 the Government was willing to sell to provide much needed money, and bids were invited. A British-European syndicate was led by Scottish entrepreneur Hugh Matheson. A bid of £3,680,000 was lodged for the mines on condition they be ceded in perpetuity. The Spanish Government accepted the terms on 17 February 1873. Following purchase of the mines, the syndicate launched the Rio Tinto Company, registering it as a public company on 29 March 1873. The new owners constructed a number of new processing facilities, introduced new mining techniques, and expanded operations. From 1877 to 1891, the Rio Tinto mine was the world's leading producer of copper.
The Zinc Corporation is created to treat zinc bearing mine waste at Broken Hill in New South Wales, Australia.
The inland city of Broken Hill in Australia hosted the richest silver-lead-zinc deposit on Earth. The metals, discovered in 1883, occurred together in the form of sulfides, which were difficult to process. While it was possible to extract payable amounts of silver and lead concentrates from the ore, metallurgists had been unable to devise a commercially viable method of recovering the zinc. The operators were left with valuable residues and no way to get the zinc out. Zinc is used mainly to coat steel to prevent rusting. American mining engineer Herbert Hoover, who would later become 31st president of the US (1929-1933), saw an opportunity. He and associates formed The Zinc Corporation in Melbourne to buy up tailings dumps [waste material] and process two million tonnes of residues. The shares were also listed in London. After three years of experimentation beset by technical and financial difficulties, refinement of the flotation method of mineral separation brought about the successful production of zinc from the residues, revolutionising the metallurgy of Broken Hill, and setting The Zinc Corporation on its way.
A new management team headed by chairman Sir Auckland Campbell-Geddes starts focusing on the diversification of the Rio Tinto Company outside Spain.
Sir Auckland, later Lord Geddes, was a British academic, soldier, politician and diplomat who served as a member of David Lloyd George's coalition government during the First World War (1914-1918) and as ambassador to the US. As chairman of the Rio Tinto Company from 1924 to 1947, he 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 outside Spain. Rio Tinto invested in copper mines in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, which were eventually consolidated into the Rhokana Corporation. These and later efforts at diversification helped the company to eventually divest its interests in Spain.
The Consolidated Zinc Corporation is formed with the merger of two UK firms, the Imperial Smelting Corporation and London listed The Zinc Corporation.
The Zinc Corporation had acquired the Sulphide Corporation and its smelting plant at Cockle Creek in Tasmania in 1948. Common goals led to the merger of the UK interests of The Zinc Corporation and Imperial Smelting and hence the establishment of The Consolidated Zinc Corporation in the UK and its Australian subsidiary, Consolidated Zinc Proprietary, in Melbourne. Because of the difficulties of managing Australian activities from London, Consolidated Zinc Proprietary was appointed manager in Australia. It led the way in the years after the Second World War in development of the uranium mines Rum Jungle and Mary Kathleen, and later the bauxite deposit at Weipa.
Two thirds of the Rio Tinto Company's Spanish business is sold to fund further development of the company elsewhere.
After 80 years of ownership by the Rio Tinto Company, the Rio Tinto mine suffered economic and other hardships as a result of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Second World War (1939-1945) and the great economic depression in Spain that followed the wars. By 1947 profitability of the mine in terms of remittable foreign exchange receipts to the parent company in London was almost negligible. Rio Tinto succeeded in disposing of two thirds of its interest for £8 million of new capital which was used to establish three exploration companies. These were located in central and southern Africa, Australia and Canada. This led to the discovery and development of major mines producing uranium, copper and other metals on three continents. The rest of the interest in the original Rio Tinto mine was disposed of in subsequent years.
The discovery of extensive bauxite deposits at Weipa in far northern Queensland, Australia, the formation of Comalco Limited and
Rio Tinto's entry into aluminium.
The discovery in 1955 of the vast Weipa bauxite deposit marked the beginning of Australia's integrated aluminium industry. Bauxite is the base material to produce alumina and thence aluminium. Weipa's discovery was made by Harry Evans, chief geologist of a company in which Consolidated Zinc Proprietary held a one third interest. Foreign capital and expertise were needed to achieve development, leading to the formation in 1956 of The Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty Ltd, known as Comalco, with Consolidated Zinc Proprietary and Kaiser Aluminum of the US initially each holding 50 per cent of the equity. By 2000, Rio Tinto would own Comalco outright after buying out minority shareholders. Comalco became Rio Tinto Aluminium in 2006, which became Rio Tinto Alcan in 2007.
Landmark mergers result in the formation of Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA) and Rio Tinto-Zinc (RTZ) in the UK.
Over the years the array of UK based and Australia based companies related to the original Rio Tinto Company (1873) and original Zinc Corporation (1905), with their cross holdings, had started to become confusing and inefficient. In the UK, the British parents of the Rio Tinto Company and The Consolidated Zinc Corporation merged to form Rio Tinto-Zinc, known as RTZ Corporation, and at the same time, the Australian interests of both companies were merged, creating Conzinc Riotinto of Australia, known as CRA Limited. The pair effectively operated as separate entities until 1995, when matters were further simplified and they became a single company, later adopting the original name common to both -
Rio Tinto launches its iron ore operations in Western Australia with the opening of Hamersley Iron's Mount Tom Price mine and its first shipment to Japan.
The opening of the Mount Tom Price iron ore mine to supply Japanese steel smelters was the start of a new world class iron ore district and the creation of a global business that has made Rio Tinto the second largest iron ore producer in the world. In 1966, Hamersley Iron had about 4,500 employees and produced 72 million tonnes of ore a year. By 2010 Rio Tinto Iron Ore had 10,500 direct employees and contractors, and operated 14 mines which produced 220 million tonnes of iron ore per annum. Export infrastructure includes a 1,400km rail network and three ports. Plans have been announced to increase production in the Pilbara to 283 million tonnes per annum by 2013, aiming for 333 Mt/a by 2015 - an almost fivefold increase in nearly 50 years since 1966.
Rio Tinto acquires US Borax, owner of the world's largest deposit of the industrial mineral, borates, a product with hundreds of everyday uses.
Rio Tinto purchased 100 per cent ownership of US Borax, a company that became very cash generative during the energy crisis of the 1970s due to the insulating properties of products derived from borates. Borax profits later helped purchase the mining assets of BP Minerals when the oil company exited the mining industry in 1989. Borax traces its roots to California's Death Valley, where borate deposits were discovered in 1872. The firm was famous for the 20 mule teams used to haul ore out of the remote desert. Twenty Mule Team became the brand name for a popular cleaner and detergent. Pacific Coast Borax Company, which later became US Borax, sponsored Death Valley Days, one of the original "soaps". It was a radio and television anthology dramatising true stories of the old American West, particularly the Death Valley area. One of the last television roles of the future US president Ronald Reagan was as host of Death Valley Days in 1964-1965. Reagan also acted in some episodes.
1986 - 1998
Rio Tinto's participation in Cornwall's ancient tin mining industry in the UK comes to an end due to declining demand and prices for the metal.
The London Metal Exchange decided in March 1986 to cease tin trading, following the default in 1985 of the International Tin Council. Carnon Consolidated Limited was a wholly owned subsidiary of RTZ Metals Limited, operating the Wheal Jane, South Crofty and Wheal Pendarves mines in Cornwall, together employing 1,000 people. After the International Tin Council's default, Carnon continued production in order to keep its options open regarding future tin prices. Carnon did everything to optimise performance and made considerable operating improvements. In spite of these measures, substantial losses were incurred. Rio Tinto set in motion a process that resulted in the closure of the mines in August 1986.
After a major strategic review, Rio Tinto decides to play to its strengths and concentrate on mining, and to sell off its non mining interests.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Rio Tinto developed major enterprises in non mining activities such as cement, chemicals, oil and gas and industrial products. This diversification stemmed partly from the loss of confidence that beset the worldwide mining industry during two oil price led recessions that decreased demand for many metals and minerals. The year1988 saw the sale of Rio Tinto's cement business (jointly to Aker Norcem of Norway and Euroc of Sweden), oil and gas (to Elf Aquitaine), and Everest double glazing (to Caradon). The chemicals business was subsequently sold to Rhone-Poulenc. Disposals in 1988 totalled £900 million.
Rio Tinto acquires BP Minerals in a deal that is key to its transition from a financial and industrial conglomerate to a global mine operating company.
In what was at the time the biggest private deal between two British companies, Rio Tinto shareholders approved the US$4.3 billion acquisition of the minerals businesses, assets and investments of The British Petroleum Company plc (BP). Rio Tinto thereby acquired a number of low cost, long life operations including Kennecott Utah Copper, Quebec Iron and Titanium (now Rio Tinto Fer et Titane) and an interest in Coal & Allied in Australia. Rio Tinto invested in and modernised these businesses. KUC is still the bedrock of the Copper product group and entry into the iron and titanium business has made Rio Tinto a global leader in specialty iron and titanium dioxide feedstock. In a prescient comment, Derek Birkin, chief executive of Rio Tinto, said in 1989 that the BP Minerals acquisition "secures the successful development of the company well into the 21st century".
Rio Tinto produces its first billion tonnes of iron ore, 25 years after production started at its first iron ore mine in Australia, Mount Tom Price, in 1966.
It took 25 years for Rio Tinto Iron Ore to reach the one billion tonnes of production mark in 1991. Cumulative expansion meant that it took only 12 years for the second billion tonnes to be reached in 2003 and six years for the third billion in 2009. Rio Tinto Iron Ore expects to produce its four billionth tonne in 2013 and its fifth in 2016, which would coincide with the 50th anniversary of commencing operations at Mount Tom Price in 1966.
The final curtain falls on Rio Tinto's diversification phase as the Group increases its strategic focus on mining.
Rio Tinto sold its RTZ Pillar industrial products subsidiary based in the UK to MB Caradon plc for £900 million. Pillar made window and door frames and other building products. In the same year, Rio Tinto recouped almost half of US$1.1 billion it spent on the acquisition of Nerco, a US mining company with interests in oil and gas and coal, less than two months after Nerco's acquisition. Rio Tinto retained Nerco's coal mining assets, located in Wyoming and Montana, which went on to become part of Rio Tinto Energy America (divested in 2010 as Cloud Peak Energy). Future chief executive Tom Albanese joined Rio Tinto from Nerco where he had been chief operating officer.
The RTZ Corporation and CRA Limited are merged as a dual listed company, forming RTZ-CRA, the initial name of the merged entity.
By 1995, CRA was an icon of Australian industry, whilst UK based RTZ led the global mining business. Both companies originated from the 1962 merger of two British companies: The Rio Tinto Company and The Consolidated Zinc Corporation. To ensure a merger of equals, a dual listed company (DLC) structure was adopted. This means the two companies continue as distinct legal entities, with their own shareholders and annual general meetings, but the directors of both are the same people. All shareholders decide matters of common interest together, including the election of directors. Combined assets are run as a whole by one management team. Effectively, RTZ and CRA shareholders remained in exactly the same position as if they held shares in a single, unified enterprise. The merger unleashed remarkable synergies of an organisational kind. It unified the commercial skills of Rio Tinto, honed as a mining finance house in London, with the project and operational skills of CRA in Australia, bringing together two powerfully complementary forces.
Kennecott Utah Copper buys the land that will become the Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve.
In the 1990s, in order to continue operating, Kennecott Utah Copper (KUC) needed to expand its tailings impoundment, where benign ground up rock is stored after the metals have been extracted. The only ground suitable for the expansion was an area that included wetlands. KUC created an offset area to mitigate wetlands affected by the expansion, but also took the opportunity to restore more habitat than required by regulators. In 1996, KUC purchased land and water rights on the shores of Great Salt Lake, 20 miles west of Salt Lake City, which had been used for illegally dumping garbage and over-grazing over the years. Once KUC restored the site and introduced water flows, resident and migratory birds flocked to it. The Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (ISSR) is now used by an estimated 120,000 shorebirds, waders and other waterfowl every year. To date, around 200 bird species have been recorded, and the site has also seen improvements in water quality and vegetation. The ISSR design and management is considered best practice in Great Salt Lake ecosystem services restoration.
Name change: The "alphabet soup" of RTZ-CRA becomes Rio Tinto Group.
Two years after the key merger of Rio Tinto's UK and Australian entities the unified RTZ-CRA was showing its mettle. Exploration, research and technology were integrated and the management structure reorganized to capture the dual listed companies' global potential. Now the "alphabet soup" problem of a company name was solved, by simply calling both companies Rio Tinto. They had, after all, started out in 1962 with Rio Tinto in both their names. Shareholders in the UK and Australia voted to change the names of their companies to Rio Tinto plc (for RTZ) and Rio Tinto Limited (for CRA), with the simpler Rio Tinto or Rio Tinto Group for the unified whole.
A major disaster in which ten employees died in an underground mine in Austria intensifies Rio Tinto's journey to achieve zero harm.
The accident that galvanised Rio Tinto into a more relentless focus on the utmost importance of safety management occurred at the Lassing talc mine in Austria, helping to create today's strong safety ethos and achievements. A miner became trapped underground following an inrush of water and mud. Nine miners and one technical expert went underground on a rescue mission. On the surface above the mine a crater began to appear and houses in close proximity to this began to tilt and move. Suddenly the crater rapidly increased in size and filled with water. Those at the pithead felt a violent rush of air expelled from the shaft as a major collapse occurred. It took nine days to reach the miner who was first trapped and he was saved, but his rescuers were lost. Efforts to recover the bodies continued for three more weeks without success after which the mine was sealed. Rio Tinto subsequently initiated Group wide safety management systems with mandated policies, standards and practices to improve the focus on safety. Today Rio Tinto has one of the best safety records in the industry.
2000 - 2010
Rio Tinto sets in motion US$4 billion of acquisitions of major aluminium, iron ore, diamonds and coal assets, mainly in Australia.
Early in the year, Rio Tinto bought out the public shareholding in Comalco Aluminium for US$847 million, thus acquiring control of Comalco's cash flow and the full benefit of cost savings potential and development opportunities. The US$2 billion acquisition of Australian multinational North Ltd was driven primarily by opportunities offered of synergies with Hamersley Iron in Western Australia. It also brought Iron Ore Company of Canada into the fold, another long life asset. The US$418 million acquisition of Ashton Mining delivered full ownership of the Argyle diamond mine. Six coal mines adjoining Coal & Allied's properties in New South Wales were purchased to more than double production, and in the US, new coal mining leases were acquired in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.
Rio Tinto signs a partnership agreement with the Eden Project in the UK, one of the most successful science centres in Europe.
The Eden Project's mission is to promote the understanding of man's relationship to the natural world and natural resources, contributing to sustainable use and a sustainable future. The aim of the partnership with Rio Tinto is to jointly develop and manage a programme of activities to enhance understanding of the role of minerals in everyday life; improve understanding of how mineral resource use can be developed with maximum social, environmental and economic gains and minimum adverse impact; and to showcase and promote examples of good industry practice.
Rio Tinto rolls out a strategy to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS at operations, mainly in southern Africa.
Over a 12 month period, a Rio Tinto task force developed an HIV/AIDS strategy for the Group. Implementation of the strategy started in the southern African operations, including Rio Tinto Exploration. It includes prevention, awareness and education programmes, voluntary counselling and testing, and treatment, including antiretroviral therapy. The strategy is directed at all permanent employees and a nominated partner. The HIV/AIDS strategy is now implemented in all operating environments where HIV/AIDS poses a significant health, social and business.
Rio Tinto develops strategies and rolls out action plans to manage its impacts on biodiversity and to combat changes to climate caused by human activities.
Impacts on biodiversity make mining and processing projects potentially sensitive. In response, Rio Tinto developed and launched a biodiversity strategy in 2004. The strategy was revised and re-released in 2008 to communicate a developed understanding of biodiversity as an issue. The goal is to minimise the impacts of exploration and mining activities and contribute to biodiversity conservation so that a region ultimately benefits from Rio Tinto's presence.
Rio Tinto is both a user of energy and a supplier of energy products. The Group acknowledged in 2004 that man made emissions contribute to greenhouse gases that cause climate change. It pledged to reduce emissions, develop low emission product pathways and engage with others to advocate sound and efficient domestic and international policies.
HIsmelt®, a revolutionary new iron making process developed largely by
Rio Tinto, opens its first commercial plant outside Perth in Western Australia.
HIsmelt® is a new direct smelting technology that produces a premium grade iron product. It is a more environmentally friendly process, replacing traditional ironmaking and removing the need for coke ovens and sinter plants. It is also a new source of low cost iron feedstock for electric arc furnaces. The process uses iron ore from Rio Tinto and low volatile coal from Queensland. These materials are injected as fines into the molten bath of the smelt reduction vessel where they are directly smelted to molten iron.
Rio Tinto acquires the Canadian aluminium producer Alcan Inc. to form Rio Tinto Alcan, a global leader in the aluminium industry.
Rio Tinto had assessed Alcan Inc. a number of times as far back as 1990. Studies showed an attractive opportunity to capitalise on the favourable demand fundamentals of aluminium. Just as important was a strong strategic fit and common corporate values. Like Rio Tinto, Alcan's assets are long life, low cost, expandable and predominantly in safe geographies. Alcan became available for acquisition when the US aluminium producer Alcoa made an unsolicited US$27 billion offer for Alcan in May 2007. In a behind the scenes bidding war that also involved the Brazilian multinational Vale, Rio Tinto won out with a cash offer of US$101 per Alcan share that was agreed with the Alcan board, for a total consideration of US$38.1 billion. By 25 October Rio Tinto had acquired more than two thirds of the shares and gained control of Alcan, creating a world leader in aluminium.
Rio Tinto unveils its vision of the mine of the future, aiming to be the leader in integrated and automated mining and transport, starting with iron ore operations in the Pilbara of Western Australia.
Rio Tinto's Mine of the Future™ programme uses next generation technologies to allow for smarter mining, with greater efficiency and lower production costs as well as improved health, safety and environmental performance. Key to the first step is Rio Tinto Iron Ore's Operations Centre located outside Perth some 1,500 kilometres from the Pilbara mines, rail and ports network. Working remotely, more than 400 employees have full end to end visibility of the iron ore value chain from mine to port in real time, synchronising every element with giant screens showing instant activity. Chief executive Tom Albanese said: "Rio Tinto is changing the face of mining. We have at least a three year start on the rest of the industry." Since 2008, Rio Tinto has formed five research centres around the world devoted to finding better ways to mine and recover metals and minerals in more efficient and environmentally sustainable ways. Mining innovation centres in Australia, Canada, and the UK have been forging ahead to develop new excavation systems, greater mine automation, advanced mineral sorting, materials sensing, and mineral recovery.
Rio Tinto publishes Why gender matters
Why gender matters is a comprehensive guide for integrating gender considerations into communities work. Part of the Group's commitment to diversity, Why gender matters is a "how to" manual for Rio Tinto businesses, particularly those involved in community work. It covers the role played by gender in every aspect of the business, including mine development from exploration to closure, as well as the gender related issues of recruitment and employment. Why gender matters is the product of much collaboration between experts from within the Group and external advisers, including the University of Queensland's Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, plus academics and NGOs from around the world.
Period of balance sheet re capitalisation completed, setting Rio Tinto on course for renewed growth.
From the acquisition of Alcan in 2007 and lasting through 2010, Rio Tinto experienced the most intensive period of corporate activity in its history. In November 2007, in the midst of the heady boom in metal markets, BHP Billiton made an "approach" to take over Rio Tinto, which became a conditional offer in February 2008. The financial crisis that struck later in the year exposed Rio Tinto's levels of debt, resulting in BHP-Billiton walking away in November 2008, and causing Rio Tinto's share price to plunge. The subsequent months were difficult, with market conditions unfavourable for the planned sale of non core assets to pay down debt incurred in the purchase of Alcan. Nevertheless a tremendous turnaround was achieved. By the end of 2010, Rio Tinto had completed divestments worth more than US$11 billion since the start of 2008. This followed Rio Tinto shareholders showing an extraordinary gesture of confidence in the Group's future by strongly supporting rights issues in 2009 that raised US$15.2 billion to help stabilise the balance sheet. Growth was back on the agenda and Rio Tinto remains well placed to benefit from expected soaring demand for mined products, mainly from countries in the developing world.