The American Zinc Company plant (now ASARCO) was built in 1911 on land at the west edge of Taylor Springs. The plant site and adjoining lakes covered 181 acres of a total 673 acres purchased by the owners. There were 189 acres under cultivation and 303 acres of woodland.
The plant was built to handle 100 tons of zinc ore and 200 tons of coal a day to produce 50 tons of slab zinc and 100 tons of sulfuric acid.
The buildings constructed when the plant was established consisted of a pottery building, machine shop, storeroom, blacksmith shop, roasting plant, storage facility, crushing plant, acid plant, mixing room, power plant, retort furnaces, office building, laboratory and numerous small structures.
One of the reasons for locating a plant near Hillsboro was the diminishing natural gas flow at the company’s plant in Caney, Kansas. Also, the coal mined in the Hillsboro area was considered a very fine gas-producing coal better than coal mined in other sections of Illinois.
Two large lakes were constructed in 1916 to supply water for the plant, and a third lake was completed in 1917.
The plant was enlarged in 1916 to supply the demand for slab zinc and sulfuric acid during World War I. Two American process zinc oxide blocks were constructed at that time. This industrial plant was a hub of activity during the war.
Zinc ore, shipped by rail to Taylor Springs from the American Zinc Co. mines in Missouri, was fed into five horizontal retort type furnaces put into production in 1912 to produce the slab zinc. Two Hegeler kilns were used to roast the zinc ore and the acid plant was designed to treat the waste gas from the roasters.
The operation of the horizontal retort furnaces was discontinued in 1924 and the equipment was transferred to the company’s plant at Fairmont City. The roasters and acid systems were shut down in 1930. Since then, the plant has manufactured zinc oxide.
In 1971, American Smelting Refinery Company (ASARCO), a major world producer of copper, lead, zinc, silver and other basic metals, purchased American Zinc plant at Hillsboro and Columbus, Ohio.
By 1979, there were 90 workers at the Taylor Springs facility, and the plant was operating at 50 percent of capacity. Zinc oxide production was halted from October 1982 to February 1984 and, by 1985, the number of employees had been reduced to 45.
A 35 percent reduction in production in three years (1982-1985) was attributed to U.S. trade policies which permitted foreign commodity producers unrestricted access to U.S. markets, and to federal fiscal policies which caused an overvaluation of the U.S. dollar.
Good news was back in the headlines by 1988, however, when the company announced expansion of zinc oxide operations by 50 percent and construction of a new French process furnace that would increase production by 7,000 tons per year. Installation was completed in the first quarter of 1989.
Some of the many names prominently connected with the plant over the years have been Harold Wampler, plant manager and general superintendent from 1941 to 1964: Oscar Hassel, who arrived in 1957 and was plant manager from 1964 to 1971, and general superintendent from 1971 to 1979; John Millice, plant manager prior to 1979 then general superintendent from 1979 until he retired in November 1982; and Robert Wagner, plant superintendent from June 1979 until he became general superintendent in November 1982.
Two other men of note were Wayne Curry, who retired as general manager in 1956 after 37 years with the company, most of them spent at the Taylor Springs plant. Mr. Curry, who came to Hillsboro in October 1919, died at age 100 on March 20, 1988.
Also well-known in Hillsboro after a half-century of residence here was Martin C. Pressmar, a German native who came to the American Zinc plant in Taylor Springs in 1913. He retired as plant superintendent in 1947. Mr. Pressmar also lived a long life. He died November 19, 1963, at age 90.