Copper trivia

A modern society without copper is unthinkable. Just ponder the many applications: television sets, computers, smartphones, iPods, e-readers... But also water pipes, high voltage power lines and the contact wires of electric trains; all made of copper. So what is copper? Where does it come from? And why is it popular with thieves? Wikismith provides an inside view on the world of copper.

Copper is commonly occurring metal found in nature. In the crust of the earth, important sources of copper are found, including malachite and azurite. Especially in Chili, Peru and the United States, copper ores are abundant.


The name copper is derived from of the Latin word cuprum. This is related to aes cyprium, which means “ore from Cyprus”. Between 3000 and 2300 BC, copper was mined on this Greek island. But copper was used even earlier than that. From excavations in the North of what is nowadays Iraq, it appears that man has been using copper as early as 8700 BC. The oldest known copper utensil dates back to 5000 BC. Over 7.000 years ago, methods were discovered for purifying copper from its ore.

Pure copper is soft and malleable. 5000 years ago it was discovered that copper melted together with another metal became stronger and harder. Copper combined with another metal is commonly referred to as an alloy. The two best known copper alloys are bronze and brass. Bronze is an alloy of copper and 25% tin, which was originally used for making tools, weapons, containers and jewelery. Nowadays bronze is used for sculptures, musical instruments, marine propellers and other objects that need to be corrosion resistant. Brass is an alloy of copper and 5…45% zinc. The Roman Empire first used brass on a large scale, for coins, kettles and jewelery.

Approximately 60 % of the total copper production is used as a conductor in the energy and communication sectors. Copper wire is assembled into wiring and cables with a solid or stranded core, and used in power distribution networks operating at various voltages, from high to low. Another common use is in the form of (insulated) magnet wire, which is used in solenoids (coils), electric motors and transformers. Wires made from certain copper alloys are used as conductors in electrical and electronic components. In addition to being an excellent conductor for electricity, copper is also resistant to corrosion, both in atmospheric, humid and (sea)water environments, so that it is suitable for minting coins.

The price of copper is high at the moment, and is expected to rise further. At the beginning of 2011 the price of copper reached a record USD 10,000 per tonne. Currently the demand for copper is rising sharply, especially due to the expanding Chinese economy. As the economic growth is modest in most of the remaining world, global stocks are kept at a minimum. Because of this the demand frequently outstrips availability, which is likely to lead to further price hikes.

The continuously rising copper price has caused the theft of copper objects to become a serious problem. Especially railroad operators and utility companies are targeted. The police, Public Prosecutor, railway operators and (scrap) metal industry have taken measures to address the situation. For example, helicopters fitted with infrared cameras patrol vulnerable sections of railroad track. And a registration and identification requirement for people who wish to sell copper is in the making.

Copper wire
Copper wire is made from large blocks of copper by multistage drawing. A wire is formed when copper is rolled into a semi-finished product in multiple stages, followed by drawing through a series of dies with increasingly small diameters. The finished copper wire is rolled onto a coil (or reel) for shipment to manufacturers who further process the material.

Copper wire consists of almost pure copper, and it is used to transport electricity from the generator to the final users. Most copper wire has a round cross section, but for some applications a different cross sectional profile is required, for example rectangular or ribbon-shaped. This copper wire is referred to by the shape of its cross section. Some copper wire is given a coat consisting of an insulating enamel; [this allows the wire to be made into tight coils that do not self-short circuit.

Copper wire is available in thicknesses from a few tens of micrometers (µm) up to several centimeters. The thicker the wire, the larger the electrical current it can withstand. If the current exceeds the rating of the wire, it can overheat or even melt. This results in a short circuit or fire hazard.

Did you know that:

  • copper is an essential nutrient, needed to keep you healthy?
  • copper is found in many different foodstuffs, in drinking water and even in the air you breathe?
  • the main source of copper in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels?
  • Indonesia has become one of the fastest growing producers of copper in recent years?
  • hydrated copper sulphate is used for pest control in agriculture, in water treatment plants and as a blue dye in (printing) ink?
  • dichloride of copper is used such as a wood stain?
  • copper is traded in stock markets all over the world, including those in London, New York and Shanghai?
  • copper is often associated with the goddess Aphrodite in Greek mythology because of its enchanting sheen?
  • copper wire is also used in e-bikes and hybrid cars?
  • clothing firm G-star uses one type of our copper wire in labeling their articles?
  • chocolate shop De Bonte Koe in Hilligersberg seals their boxes of chocolate using our copper wire?

Did you know that copper is one of the surest indicators of the state of the economy?

The price of copper can tell you a lot. In October 2011 copper traded at a modest USD 6735 per tonne. At the beginning of 2011, when the world economy was still in good shape, the going price was in excess of USD 10,000. So you see, the relationship between copper price levels and the economy is evident. At the beginning of 2012 prices rose again, reaching a level of USD 8200 per tonne. Is there a relationship between copper prices and the growth of the economy?

Characteristics of copper
Chemical symbol Cu
Atomic number 29
Color red/yellow
Melting point 1083˚C
Boiling point 2595˚C
Discovery Prehistoric times
Sources Chalcopyrite, chalcocite, covellite, azurite, malachite and bornite.
Occurrence Chili, Peru and the United States, to name the most important countries
Largest producer Peru
Largest purchasers China, Germany and the United States
Characteristics Bendable, easily malleable, good conductor of electricity and heat
Conductor of Electricity and heat
Main applications Copper wire, electromagnets, coins, vacuum tubes, microwave ovens, electrical circuits, musical instruments and cooling equipment
Alloys Bronze and brass


Usable life of copper wire at various temperatures

Click here to download the PDF file

* Usable life / temperature established in accordance with DIN-EN 60172

Copper stocks

At the end of 2011, 370,900 tonnes of copper were in warehouses globally. 77% were in the United States, 13% in Europe and 10% in Asian countries. Below you will find a small overview of global stocks.
Click here to download the PDF file


Countries Warehouse stocks in tonnes
Antwerp 425
Baltimore 625
Bilbao 1025
Busan 17675
Chicago 48675
Gwangyang 6250
Hamburg 7800
Incheon 1075
Johor/Klang 2300
Leghorn 6475
Liverpool 75
Mobile 3250
New Orleans 128375
Rotterdam 29525
Singapore 9850
St. Louis 104350
Trieste 1425
Flushing 1725

Sources Wikipedia, De Kritische Belegger, NOS, Kennislink, Lenntech, Isodraht, Südkupfer