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It was a high-stakes poker game, although only pocket change was bet, when a small party of Great Falls men celebrated the completion of the Big Stack. The November 23, 1908 party, hosted by contractor Conrad Worms, was at the top of what was then the world's tallest smokestack.

Sitting on a platform insode the rim of the 506-foot stack, the men enjoyed a German lunch and washed it down with beer from the local American Brewing Company. From their high perch, they also enjoyed the view of Great Falls, the Missouri River and the territory around the city where agriculture was becoming a major influence on an economy previously dominated by mining.

The stack had been built in less than seven months with 18,500 tons of brick, mortar and steel atop a 9,500- ton foundation that extended 22 and 1/2 feet below ground on Indian Point, later called Smelter Hill. The foundation was constructed in 1907, the same year the brick plant was built to supply the building blocks for the above ground stack.

The first brick was laid April 7, 1908, by Benjamin Thayer, an Anaconda Mining Co. vice president from New York. The last was placed October 23rd of that year by a brick layer whose name wasn't recorded.

The inside top diameter was 50 feet and the outside diameter was more than 78 feet. At the top, the wall was 18-1/8 inches thick. It was designed so that an additional 60 feet could be added if required.

Despite its mass, it became the second largest of its kind in the world when the 585-foot stack at Anaconda was finished in 1919.

Building of the Big Stack was hailed as a remarkable feat for the times, the first decade of the 20th century. A tower scaffold inside the chimney hauled material and working platforms upward
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as the stack grew. Bricks were made on the job and were hauled to the base of the stack by rail. After the stack was finished, the brick plant continued to operate, producing material for many Great Falls houses.

Workers needing to climb the stack could do so by using a built-in exterior ladder of iron. Protective loops of iron were connected to every other rung of the ladder, so that a man using the ladder was constantly inside the protective loops.

Two workers reportedly died during the construction of the great stack. The 23-year-old president of the bricklayers' union slipped from a scaffolding and fell 180 feet to the ground in the third month of the project. Ralph Jones, a native of Birkenhead, England, is buried in Highland Cemetery.

Peter C. Yeager died a month before the stack went into operation, when he fell to his death while tearing down scaffolding inside the stack.

The chimney belched forth its first smoke June 12th, 1909, and its last August 6th, 1972. In between, the copper refinery employed as many as 2,000 Black Eagle and Great Falls residents at a time. In 1980 the company shut down the Anaconda smelter and Great Falls refinery, resulting in the loss of 500 jobs in Great Falls and 1,000 in Anaconda.

To Michael P. Malone, historian, author and president of Montana State University - Bozeman, the Big Stack was a symbol of Montana's new corporate structure in the new century.

To Great Falls the Big Stack meant economic growth and stability. And to the men and women who worked in its shadow, it meant job security until the company shut down the last of the operations in Great Falls in 1980.

The Big Stack was razed September 18th, 1982.
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Editorial note (S.A.McClary): Despite the citizens' overwhelming desire to keep the "Stack" as a monument to Great Falls and Black Eagle, the "authorities" declared that it had to go - that it posed a safety threat to those in and around the area. Ostensibly, anyone in its vicinity was at risk of having the thing come crashing down upon them.

An explosives team, from out of the county, was contracted to come in and blow it up. Demolition day arrived and found the River Drive to be literally crawling with people - eager to witness the event but saddened by its impending fate. The count-down proceeded and then the charges blew! A huge plume of smoke and dust obscured our view of the mighty landmark. How many times would return by car to our hometown - rising over one last crest to see the commanding presence of The Stack - to sigh in relief that another journey had been safely completed. We were home! The kids would squeal and come alive as we descended into Great Falls.

When the dust settled finally began to clear, to our collective amazement, the crippled Stack stood proud and strong, defying those who had sentenced it to die. For several moments I didn't hear a sound as I myself stood, dumbfounded and gaping at the ruins. Then, as if on cue, an uproarious cheer emanated from the throngs of witnesses.

Sadly, a few hours later, after the demolition team had to come back to Great Falls, a cowardly second set of charges brought her crumbling to her knees.

An era passed in the span of a single afternoon.

Back to 1900-1909

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