“Butte (Mont.) had a population of more than 100,000 people in the early 1900s,” says local historian Bob McMurray. “It was bigger than Seattle.” It built a skyscraper of eight stories in 1901, one year before New York City had one that big, and had electricity in 1881, the third city in the country to do so, again before New York.
But it all had a cost. The copper mines that financed all of this advanced technology and wealth also polluted the air so badly that Butte’s street lights stayed lit all day. Acid rained from the sky. Butte began to expand underground. A business district under the sidewalks of uptown Butte peaked at more than 130 businesses, some of which operated into the 1960s and 1970s.
These days, McMurray takes people on tours to the businesses that are still there and tells the stories he has uncovered.