James Hyde installed the first froth flotation process in the United States, thus revolutionizing the American mining industry. Without this process, there would be no mining industry as we know it today: virtually the entire world supply of copper, lead, zinc and silver is first collected in the froth of the flotation process.
The Butte and Superior Copper Company Mill at Basin, Montana - the first commercial froth flotation mill in the U.S. - was designed by Hyde in 1911. He gained his knowledge of flotation while working in the London laboratories of Minerals Separation Ltd. When he completed his contract there, Herbert Hoover offered him a job. Hoover was studying the Butte and Superior Copper Company for investment and sent Hyde to thoroughly examine their holdings and to particularly look into the metallurgy of the ore. He was instructed to experiment with various forms of flotation and to report his findings to Hoover. Hyde demonstrated great intuition and genius, by designing a unit with two sections, one of rougher cells and the other of cleaner cells. The rougher concentrate was cleaned in the cleaner cells and the cleaner tailings were returned to the rougher cells. This was the first time the “rougher-cleaner circuit” was employed and the procedure has never been disputed. He was awarded a patent on the process in 1911.
Froth flotation has permitted the mining of low-grade and complex ores that otherwise would have been unprofitable, and thanks to James Hyde, many old “worthless” tailings dumps have been converted into profitable mines.