Did You Know: John Greenway Was A Prominent Arizona Figure

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, April 10, 2015 - 2:05pm
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
This is the John Greenway statue that once stood at Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Today, it adorns the entrance of the Arizona State Library Archives and Records Management building near the Arizona Capitol.

Name something or someone connected to Arizona. The Grand Canyon or maybe Barry Goldwater. A statue of an important person who once stood in our nation’s capitol now stands at the state library. 

For 85 years a statue of John Greenway stood at Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol representing Arizona. But earlier this year his statue was replaced by a sculpture of Barry Goldwater. That brought the Greenway statue home to the State Library, Archives and Records building.  Did You Know … Greenway is among the reasons why Ajo became a prominent copper mining town in Arizona?

“I don’t know who the founder of Ajo is, but I think he was as much a founder as anybody," said Dennis Preisler with the Arizona State Library. “But, I know that they were proud of Greenway contributions to the town.”

Preisler stood in the lobby while admiring the eight-foot-tall bronze statue. He said Greenway came from Minnesota to Arizona around 1911. The mining company he worked for in the midwest sent him to manage its operation in Bisbee. But it was Ajo where he made his mark. There had been copper mining in the area before, so Greenway expanded the business there creating the New Cornelia mine.  

“The other thing that he did at Ajo, because there was nothing out at Ajo, he had to build a town for the workers to live at," Preisler said.

Preisler says the Yale graduate and a partner created patents that minimized pollution when mining. He also discovered an underground water supply in Ajo that helped develop it into a booming town. Preisler says by 1917, Ajo had electricity, waterlines, and paved streets.

“In order to get the copper to some place he had to build a railroad. So he built Tucson Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad. And that ran from Ajo up to Gila Bend where it connected with the Southern Pacific Railroad. So that way they were able to get the copper plates and ore up to the railroads so they could take it back east,” Preisler said.

When WWI began, Theodore Roosevelt tried to revive the Rough Riders and Greenway was eager to rejoin his best friend’s well-respected group. But they weren’t commissioned. So Greenway found a way to enlist and commanded U.S. troops. He ended his military career as a brigadier general with numerous military awards.  After the war he returned to Arizona to manage the copper mine until 1925 and died shortly after that.  

“During the time that he was general manager, the copper mine paid $15 million in dividends to the investors. Now, you think about that, that’s in the 1920s, that’s just the dividends. Not to mention all the money that went into the workers pockets and managements pockets and state collected income tax off of all that," Preisler said.

Preisler said Greenway’s wife, Isabella Selmes Greenway, commissioned a well-known artist to create the statue that stands here today. That artist was Gutzon Borglum, the same artist who created Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

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