Spencer Penrose (1865–1939) was a businessman, miner, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and investor who worked primarily in the Pikes Peak region. Penrose had assets in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Kansas, including mines and real estate properties. He is most notable for owning the C.O.D. mine in Cripple Creek and for building the Broadmoor Hotel.
Penrose was born in 1865, one of four brothers in a prominent Philadelphia family. Penrose came from a very accomplished household; his brothers were a US senator and Republican Party leader, a noted geologist, and a successful medical doctor. Penrose graduated last in his class at Harvard University in 1886. An adventurer and a playboy, Penrose refused a traditional job offer at a bank in Philadelphia and headed west with no clear intentions or any idea of what might be in store for him.
Armed with his $2,000 graduation gift, Penrose initially went south to visit his brother, Richard A.F. Penrose, who was conducting mineral deposit surveys in Texas. Spencer continued on to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he invested in a series of unsuccessful business ventures; among them was the Mesilla Valley Fruit and Produce Company, which sold produce, grain, hay, coal, agricultural products, and tools. He also tried his luck at fruit farming, cattle ranching, real estate, and silver mining.
In 1892, Penrose sold his land interest in New Mexico and headed north to Colorado. After a series of failed business ventures in Colorado and Utah, Penrose’s boyhood friend Charles L. Tutt invited him to join a real estate firm in Colorado Springs and sold him a half interest in the company for $500. Together, Tutt and Penrose struck it rich during the Cripple Creek gold rush with one of the most successful deep-lode mines in Cripple Creek history, the C.O.D. (Cash on Delivery) mine.
In 1895, Tutt and Penrose expanded their operations, creating the Cripple Creek Sampling and Ore Company, which bought gold ore from small-production miners. Later that year the two men sold the C.O.D. for $250,000, the largest sum paid for a Cripple Creek mine up to that point, and used the capital to start the Colorado-Philadelphia Reduction Company. Within seven years, Penrose, Tutt, and Charles McNeil, the company’s mill operator, owned seven mills and processed the majority of ore coming out of Cripple Creek.
In 1902, with the Cripple Creek gold rush slowing down, the three miners hired Dan Jackling, a well-known mineralogist and prospector who had been working on the possibility of processing porphyry copper in Bingham Canyon, Utah. Jackling believed that if bulk-mined, this low-grade copper could be profitable. In 1903, Tutt and Penrose created the Utah Copper Company, which ultimately proved to be one of the most successful business ventures in Penrose’s career. Penrose remained the company’s largest shareholder until it was sold to Kennecott Copper in 1923.
With his immense fortune, Penrose contributed to virtually every prominent landmark in Colorado Springs. Penrose built the world-famous Broadmoor Hotel, the Pikes Peak Highway, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and the Will Rogers Shrine. He also started the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and along with his wife, Julie, was central in the founding of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, the rejuvenation of Central City Opera, and the expansion of Colorado College.
The legacy of Spencer Penrose still exists today through the generosity of the El Pomar Foundation. Spencer and Julie Penrose founded El Pomar in 1937 as a way to serve the people of Colorado. Since its inception, the foundation has given over $426 million in grants to better the lives of Colorado citizens. El Pomar’s assets grew from $21 million in 1937 to over $570 million in 2014.
Spencer Penrose’s character was best described in his obituary on December 15, 1939: “He was more than a capitalist, community builder and philanthropist . . . he was a personality, a spirit, a being such as the Pikes Peak region had never seen before, and will never see again.”