Chapter 18: the mining boom.
If one excludes the relatively small-scale mining of copper by the prehistoric Indians and the abortive English copper-mining venture of the 1770s, the first significant mining activity dates from the mid-1830s when the mining of soft coal deposits found in south-central Michigan began at Jackson. In his report of 1840, state geologist Douglass Houghton stated that nearly fifteen hundred bushels of coal had been dug out in Jackson County for local use. Other outcroppings of coal were mined before the Civil War in nearby Ingham and Eaton counties, where one farmer near Grand Ledge claimed he could get six thousand tons of coal per acre on his farm and had shipped substantial amounts to Detroit, Ionia, and Grand Rapids. (1) Michigan's plentiful supply of wood, however, provided a cheap source of fuel which limited the demand for coal for many years. By 1881 only two coal mines were active, one in Jackson County, and the other near Corunna in Shiawassee County.
The major development came in the 1890s in the Saginaw Valley with mines at Saginaw, Bay City, and St. Charles soon accounting for the great bulk of the Michigan production. Coal output peaked in 1907, when 2,035,858 tons of coal were produced by thirty-seven mines, but the normal figures in the first two decades of the century were around a million tons annually. Higher coal prices during the era of World War I caused the value of the coal mined in the years from 1917 to 1920 to exceed that of any previous period, but beginning in the 1920s production figures dropped drastically. The difficulty of mining much of Michigan's coal, combined with its generally poor quality, made it increasingly unprofitable to continue operations in the face of the competition from neighboring coal-producing states. In 1952 Saginaw County's Swan Creek Mine--the last one in production--shut down. A total of 42,248,404 tons of coal had been mined in Michigan since accurate records began to be kept in 1860. (2) After a lapse of over twenty years, a strip-mining operation near Williamston, where coal had been mined as early as 1852, initiated a brief and modest resumption of coal mining in Michigan in the mid-1970s, with annual production of approximately ten thousand tons.
Another southern Michigan mineral is gypsum, with deposits in Kent County having been discovered as early as 1827. A mill that was built near Grand Rapids in the early 1840s to process this gypsum launched an underground mining operation that has continued to the present. By 1840 a second area of gypsum deposits had been found across the state in the Saginaw Bay region, where a surface quarrying operation began in 1861 at the newly established and appropriately named town of Alabaster, the name of one of the varieties of gypsum. Gypsum continues to be shipped from there over an unusual trestle system that carries the mineral out to vessels anchored offshore in Lake Huron. More conventional methods are used to ship gypsum obtained in other parts of Iosco County. Michigan's annual production before 1890 never exceeded 70,000 tons, but beginning in 1901, Michigan became one of the leading states in gypsum output, with the construction boom of the 1920s pushing production to a peak of almost 900,000 tons in 1929. Unlike some of Michigan's other natural resources, gypsum has not been exhausted, and by the 1970s annual production levels were averaging around 1.5 million tons. This established Michigan as the number one or two producer, with the figure in 1977 approaching the two-million-ton level, worth $10,899,000. (3)
Another resource of far greater consequence than either coal or gypsum but likewise concentrated in the more southerly parts of the state is salt. The presence of salt brine had been known to the Indians, who had discovered numerous salt springs. When Michigan became a state, Congress had granted seventy-two sections of salt spring lands to the state. In his first year as state geologist in 1837, Douglass Houghton had concentrated his efforts on locating these springs, which he found at a number of points in southern Michigan. In addition, salt is found in crystallized form in deposits in the St. Clair River-Detroit River area and at one or two locations in western Michigan. Studies have estimated that Michigan's reserves of salt are so immense that they could supply the world's needs for thousands of years.
State action was needed, however, to stimulate the first efforts to exploit these salt deposits. In 1859 Senator James Birney of Saginaw, son of the one-time Liberty Party candidate for president, sponsored legislation to pay a state bounty of 10 cents a barrel to producers of Michigan salt. As a joke, some lawmakers who scoffed at the idea of salt being produced commercially in Michigan amended the bill to read 10 cents for each bushel, a measure one-fifth the size of a barrel. The bill was passed in this form. The East Saginaw Salt Company promptly sank a well that tapped an underground pool of brine and after evaporating the water it produced the equivalent of 58,860 bushels of salt the first year and tripled production the next year. The legislature hastily acted to stave off the threat of state bankruptcy by repealing the salt bounty, and without this state subsidy the further development of the salt industry was delayed by the high costs of extracting the salt from the brine. But sawmill operators in the Saginaw Valley and at such West Michigan sites as Manistee soon became aware that they could supplement their income from timber production by using their scrap lumber as the fuel needed to evaporate the salt brines that were found in these areas. By the early 1870s, therefore, the production of salt was booming as a by-product of the lumber industry. Using the exhaust steam from their operations to heat the pans of brine, the mill operators by 1879 had reduced the cost of producing a barrel of salt to 40 cents. By 1880 Michigan was producing almost 2.5 million barrels of salt a year, more than 40 percent of the entire national production.
In 1882 businessman Crockett McElroy bored an experimental well at Marine City along the St. Clair River. At 1,633 feet he struck rock salt and discovered that the deposit was 115 feet thick. To extract the salt in this deposit, which it was subsequently determined extended along the southeastern fringe of the Lower Peninsula to the Detroit area and beyond, McElroy made an artificial brine by pumping water down into the rock salt and then pumping out the resulting solution and evaporating the water. This method became the principal one used to produce salt in Michigan, with the Michigan Chemical Corporation's operation in St. Louis, Michigan, being the only one still producing salt from natural brines.
The other method of extracting the underground rock salt deposits was to mine them. Efforts that were made in Detroit early in the twentieth century to sink a shaft down to the deposits found beneath that city were hampered by the necessity of cutting through a thousand feet of limestone which contained pockets of gas that killed or blinded a number of workers on the project. Finally, however, in 1910 a shaft was successfully sunk to the level of the rock salt near the West Fort Street crossing of the River Rouge, and a huge underground salt mine, operated by the International Salt Company, was actively engaged in extracting salt beneath the streets of a city better known for other products. This operation lasted until 1983, when competition from cheaper sources of salt found elsewhere caused it to be terminated.
Between 1905 and 1958, Michigan was first in salt production in all but four years, and it ranked second on those occasions. The peak year of production came in 1956 with an output of 5,548,178 tons (by the old method of computing production, this would have been close to 39 million barrels of salt). With the increasing production of salt in other states, particularly Louisiana, and declining production figures in Michigan, the state lost its dominant position after 1958, although it still ranked in the top five salt-producing states. In the 1970s salt production averaged slightly more than 4 million tons annually, with a peak of 4,818,000 in 1973 and a low of 3,859,000 in 1977. Higher salt prices, however, increased the value of Michigan salt from an annual figure of around $50 million at the start of the decade to a high of $79,740,000 in 1976. (4)
Only about 2 percent of Michigan's salt becomes table salt. The rest is used for snow and ice removal in the winter, meat packing, and a variety of other uses, including the production of chemicals. Associated brines, known as "natural salines," have been an even greater contributor to the rise of a chemical industry in the state.
Michigan's most widely scattered mineral resources are its stones, gravel, and sand, which generally have a combined annual value that exceeds that of any of the state's other mineral products. Limestone found in Monroe County was being used as building stone in the very early days of statehood and was being burned to produce lime at an even earlier date. Similar use would be made of the limestone found elsewhere in the state, with the most important deposits being located in northern Michigan. Sandstone that was being quarried in Hillsdale and Jackson counties by the mid-nineteenth century and at various points along the south shore of Lake Superior by the latter decades of the century contributed building stone of brown and red colors that made distinctive contributions to the urban landscapes of numerous towns in the Upper Peninsula and in such cities in the lower Great Lakes area as Cleveland, Detroit, Jackson, and Chicago. Grindstone City on Lake Huron at the tip of the Thumb received its name from how the stone quarried at that location was used for many years until the development of carborundum around the time of World War I killed the market for this product, leaving the beaches littered with abandoned grindstones.
Although quarrying of northern Michigan's limestone began in the nineteenth century, its major development came in the twentieth century with the emergence of the cement industry in Michigan, an industry which turned to limestone in the manufacturing of cement after initially relying on marl, which is also found in the state and is still produced for agricultural use. The location of much of Michigan's limestone in areas with ready access to the cheap water transportation facilities of the Great Lakes also led to its use in blast furnace operations in the lower lakes mill centers. United States Steel's Calcite Quarry at Rogers City became the world's largest limestone quarry. A final stimulus to the expansion in the use of limestone came by the 1920s with the inauguration of this century's enormous road-building programs. This also was the major factor in the growth of the state's sand and gravel industry. In 1974 Michigan ranked second in the nation in the value of this product while it was third, behind Alaska and California, in terms of the volume produced.
The presence in parts of lower Michigan of oil and natural gas had been noted as early as the 1830s in the course of geological investigations and as the side result in some cases of the drillings for water or salt. At the time, however, such petroleum finds were an annoyance when no commercially useful way of exploiting this resource had been developed. The beginnings of the commercial oil industry in western Pennsylvania around the time of the Civil War, however, aroused new interest in developing petroleum deposits in other areas. The first such efforts in Michigan centered around Port Huron, beginning in 1886, and were sparked by an oil boom across the border in Sarnia. Some twenty oil wells were drilled to the west and northwest of Port Huron, but the field never developed into an important oil producer, and all the wells had been abandoned by 1920. Not until the mid-1920s did Michigan's important sources of oil and gas begin to be discovered, making the story of the development of this particular mineral resource more a part of the story of twentieth-century economic developments in the state than is the case with most of the other mining-related activities, which were firmly established in the nineteenth century.
Douglass Houghton's report in 1841 that his first geological survey of the Upper Peninsula had located traces of gold and silver helped to arouse hopes that these most recognizable sources of mineral wealth could be found in commercial quantities in Michigan, as they were soon to be found in areas farther to the west. These hopes were to be fulfilled only to a limited extent, however. Silver City, now a virtual ghost town in Ontonagon County, was the site of a flurry of attention from prospectors when silver was discovered at the site in 1872. Claims were staked out over a large area, but there was only sporadic mining before all such activity ceased in 1876. Although no significant separate deposits of silver have ever been discovered, considerable amounts of silver have been found associated with the copper mined in the Upper Peninsula. Even though the copper miners pocketed many of the nuggets of silver that they found, the mines were reported to have produced $3.5 million of silver by 1887. Small amounts of silver continued to be recovered in later copper-mining activity, but in recent years the White Pine mine in Ontonagon County produced a surprising amount of silver along with the copper for which the mine was famous. In 1973, for example, over 850,000 ounces of silver added more than $2 million to the mine's income, while in 1974, although silver production dropped by some 200,000 ounces, inflation increased the income from this source to over $3 million.
The largest gold-mining venture was the Ropes Gold Mine, near Ishpeming, which produced $647,902 worth of gold bullion between 1883 and 1897. With an increase in gold prices during the Great Depression, individuals working over the tailings at the abandoned mine sometimes made a day's wages from the gold they found. The Callahan Mining Corporation of Phoenix, Arizona, acquired the Ropes property in 1975 and spent a great deal of money on exploratory work before concluding the gold that could be obtained was not enough to make the venture profitable. The equipment was removed from the mine in 1991 and put up for sale. (5)
If gold and silver failed to make the western Upper Peninsula one of America's great mining areas, the vast copper and iron ore deposits of that area made these Michigan's most famous and, in most years, most valuable mineral resources. The mining of both copper and iron ore had begun at the same time in the mid-1840s, but the developments up to the 1860s were simply the preliminaries to the great burst of activity and production that was to follow.
The Civil War at the start of the 1860s had had an unsettling effect on both copper and iron mining. For six years following the war, Michigan copper companies were operating unprofitably, mainly because the older mines were exhausted. In 1869 Congress imposed a protective tariff of 5 cents per pound on copper to help the domestic producers. In 1870 all the copper mining and smelting companies in the United States formed a "pool," the purpose of which was to export and to sell enough copper on the world market to keep up the domestic prices. The tariff and the pool enabled the companies to operate profitably and to make many technological improvements. Shafts were sunk deeper to reach the rich conglomerate lode, and air drills and high explosives were introduced. Between 1860 and 1880 the output of refined copper per worker tripled. Local railroads were built to move the copper. In 1872 the Portage Lake and Lake Superior Ship Canal, begun over a decade earlier, was completed, permitting vessels to pass through the Keweenaw Peninsula. The federal government provided a land grant of 450,000 acres to finance this project--more than half the amount granted to build the Soo Canal in the 1850s. By 1884 the Copper Country was linked with Chicago by rail. (6)
From the total of 12 million pounds of copper produced in 1860, Michigan copper output had risen to 25 million pounds in 1872. By 1885 the Copper Country was producing 72 million pounds, and it hit the 100-million-pound figure in 1890 and topped the 200-million-pound level by the turn of the century. Thereafter the advances were not so spectacular. A plateau was reached in the period from 1905 to 1912 when annual production fluctuated between 216 million and 233 million pounds each year, before dipping precipitously in 1913 and 1914 because of a prolonged strike. During the war years copper production reached 258 million pounds in 1915, and in 1916 it reached an all-time high of 266,839,000 pounds.
From 1847 to 1887, Michigan produced more copper than any other state, sometimes producing 90 percent or more of the national total. In 1884, however, Michigan's output slipped to 47.8 percent of the nation's copper production as new deposits in Montana and Arizona began to be exploited. Michigan climbed back to 51 percent in 1886 but then dropped down to 41.7 percent in 1887, and from that time on its proportion of the national total declined steadily, falling to 25.6 percent by 1904, even though overall production in the state had tripled since the mid-1880s. Although the annual production figures in the Copper Country maintained a boom atmosphere during these years, the causes of the even more spectacular rise in the output of the western mines foreshadowed problems that would ultimately prove disastrous to the Michigan mining economy in the twentieth century.
The mines near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula around Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor were the first to open, and by 1870 they were also the first area of Michigan copper resources to be largely worked out. Copper Harbor became almost a ghost town, and Eagle Harbor's population declined. The second major copper area around Ontonagon, where mining had started nearly as soon as that at Copper Harbor, was productive somewhat longer, but by 1890 its fissure veins were almost exhausted. It was the third area--around Portage Lake in the middle of the Keweenaw Peninsula--that forged ahead to become the major center of mining in the area. It was here that the Calumet and Hecla Company originated. Edwin J. Hulbert, the prospector who in 1859 had discovered the great copper deposits that would become the basis for this most famous of Michigan's copper-mining companies' development, had formed the Calumet Mining Company in 1861. The company began mining operations in 1864, and in 1866 Hulbert had also opened the Hecla mine. Unfortunately, Hulbert was totally lacking in managerial skills, and in 1867 the Boston investors had replaced him with Alexander Agassiz, son of the noted naturalist Louis Agassiz. In 1871, under the younger Agassiz's direction, the Calumet and Hecla mines were combined under one corporate organization, and the resulting company was immediately the giant of the industry. Its production in 1871 of 9,660 tons of copper contrasted not only with the exhausted Cliff mine's anemic production of 90 tons, but also the figures for such existing healthy mines as the Central, with 905 tons shipped, and the Phoenix with 879. It was the enormous success of the Calumet and Hecla in the following decades and the dominance of Boston investors in the company that have led to an emphasis on Boston as the investment center for the mining of Michigan copper, as symbolized by the title of William B. Gates's authoritative history, Michigan Copper and Boston Dollars. In the early phases of development, however, Pittsburgh investors were more important, but with the exhaustion of their major interests at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, they were overshadowed by the Bostonians with their investments in the immensely more valuable copper deposits in the central region of the peninsula. (7)
As Michigan copper production increased, so did the profits. Dividend payments between 1885 and 1904 totaled $90,316,000. The more than $12 million paid to stockholders in 1899 was four times the yearly figures of the previous decade. During the World War I era, profits made by Michigan copper companies ranged from 16 to 31 percent. Even larger sums were realized from the appreciation of the price of stocks. Calumet and Hecla stock, which at one time could be bought for a dollar a share, brought a thousand dollars a share in 1907. As late as 1923, Calumet and Hecla paid a 700 percent stock dividend.
It was not simply a few lucky investors who profited from the sustained boom in Michigan's Copper Country. The number employed by the mining companies increased from 4,188 in 1870 to 21,014 in 1907. Besides the miners and other company employees, many thousands more earned their living as merchants, farmers, clerks, manufacturers, or in the professions. These all depended indirectly on the continued prosperity of the mining industry. Houghton County, which in 1860 had had a population of 9,234 (including 279 Indians), had grown to 66,000 by 1900, making it the fourth most populous county in the state.
Several flourishing cities grew up in the Copper Country. Oldest of these was Houghton, named after the first state geologist, whose report had attracted prospectors to the area. Through the efforts of Jay Hubbell, a resident of Houghton, the state legislature established the Michigan School of Mines in that city in 1885. Hubbell donated the land for the first building, which was named in his honor. Classes started in 1886. By 1891 the school was already the leading producer of mining engineers in the country. By 1897 the school had attained the status of a college and was renamed the Michigan College of Mines. Enrollment increased to 266 and the faculty numbered 30 members by 1909. The college provided courses in metallurgy and mining engineering, and was an important asset to the Copper Country.
Houghton's neighbor across the Portage River to the north was Hancock, which was the site of brass foundries and factories where mining machinery was manufactured. Here, too, the Finns, who came to the Copper Country in large numbers, founded Suomi College in 1899 as a cultural center and as a unique Finnish-language institution of higher education. Hancock, however, was best known as the site of the famous Quincy mine. One of the great mines of the Copper Country, the Quincy was nicknamed "Old Reliable" by its grateful stockholders. Its mining operations, which began in 1848, continued until 1945, after which time reclamation of copper from waste mill sands maintained the company's record of copper production until these were closed down in 1967. The Quincy Mining Company remained in business, however, with real estate investments in New York City enabling it to be financially strong and to pursue periodic efforts to resume mining, which, when they ended in 1945, had reached nearly a mile and a quarter straight down into the earth. (8)
Other sizable towns and cities grew up. If the cluster of villages, headed by Red Jacket, that had developed around the Calumet and Hecla's operations had been incorporated as one city at the end of the nineteenth century, it would have ranked as the fifth largest city in the state. Schools and churches were built, and newspapers were established. In 1910 Houghton County had nine weekly newspapers, five dailies, one triweekly, three monthlies, and two quarterly publications. The number included an Italian daily, and publications in Slavonic, Finnish, and Swedish. There was an amazing amount of enthusiasm for the theater in the Copper Country. Red Jacket, Lake Linden, Laurium, Hancock, and Houghton all had their opera houses or theaters. For the opening performance in the Kerredge Theater at Hancock in 1902 box seats sold for forty dollars and seats in the orchestra section for ten dollars. First-class theatrical troupes played the theaters in the Copper Country between 1900 and 1917, with such famous names as Fritz Kreisler, Alma Gluck, Sarah Bernhardt, and Maude Adams among the performers who appeared on these stages. (9)
By 1904, in spite of consolidations, there were still nineteen producing companies in the Copper Country. The stock in nine of these, however, was controlled by the Copper Range Consolidated Company, while four others were controlled by another holding company. These, together with the Calumet and Hecla and the Quincy, produced 95 percent of the state's copper. Furthermore, these companies had obtained control of smelting operations. One of these was also engaged in copper manufacture, and some of them invested heavily in timber and sawmills. All of them owned short railroads, and the Calumet and Hecla had its own fleet of lake vessels. In the years immediately following the turn of the century, copper prices were high, large profits were earned, and shares of the companies skyrocketed on the stock market. Low-cost mining fields in the West, where much of the copper located close to the surface could be mined by the less expensive open-pit technique, were hurting Michigan's competitive position, but this was partially offset by speeding up technological change, and by the higher cost of living in the West, which forced the western companies to pay their miners a substantially higher wage than was paid to the Michigan miners.
The competitive problems faced by the Michigan companies, however, intensified their problems with their workers as the drive for greater efficiency caused some workers to feel they were working too hard. These workers began to object to the control that the companies had over their lives. The copper companies owned the land on which many of the miners lived and in most cases owned the houses as well. The rent was generally reasonable and the services provided by the companies, such as schools, hospitals, libraries, and health insurance, were often extraordinary for that day. But at best the companies were benevolent despots, expecting loyal obedience for the services they provided. The earliest strike of miners occurred in 1872, and labor troubles were common thereafter. The companies staunchly resisted labor organizations, but by 1911 many of the miners had joined the Western Federation of Miners, which became affiliated with the American Federation of Labor in that year. A strike began on July 22, 1913. The workers demanded an eight-hour day, improvement in working conditions, a minimum pay of $3.50 per day, and recognition of the union. A "Citizens Alliance" was formed to maintain order, but the sheriff of Houghton County appealed to Governor Woodbridge N. Ferris for help, and the state militia was sent into the Copper Country. Efforts at negotiation failed because the operators refused to recognize the union. A tragic incident occurred during the strike when someone cried "Fire" in a hall at Calumet that was filled with miners and their families attending a Christmas party. In the rush for the exits seventy-three women and children were trampled to death. The strike lasted until April 14, 1914. The miners won an eight-hour day, a minimum wage of $3.00 a day, and some other benefits, but the operators successfully resisted the demand to recognize the union. The economic hardship resulting from the long strike and the hard feelings that it created on both sides would not soon be forgotten. World War I broke out in Europe later in 1914, and during that conflict copper production soared to new heights, but this was to be only a temporary recovery. The great strike of 1913-14 marked the real end of the Copper Country's days of glory. (10)
The development of iron mining in other areas of the western Upper Peninsula during these years followed much the same pattern as that of the Copper Country. During the half century that followed the Civil War, the United States experienced its greatest period of economic expansion. Railroads spanned the continent and threaded their way to almost every town and hamlet. Iron ships were built to ply the Great Lakes and the oceans. Manufacturing grew under the wing of protective tariffs, requiring thousands of factories to be built and equipped. Skyscrapers rose in the cities. Much of this expansion in transportation and industry depended on iron and steel. Michigan was the leading producer of iron ore during much of this period, until the output of Minnesota's great Mesabi range pushed that state ahead of Michigan in 1900. But Michigan's production of iron ore, although not keeping pace with Minnesota's, continued to rise during the early years of the twentieth century, with the peak reached in 1920.
The great increase of ore production in Michigan was made possible by the discovery and exploitation of two additional iron ranges, following the start of mining on the Marquette range in the 1840s. By the 1850s government surveyors had reported traces of ore in the area that later became the city of Ironwood in the extreme western part of the peninsula and in areas near the Menominee River. Lack of transportation facilities was the main factor in retarding the start of mining in these areas. With the coming of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad to the Menominee River area, the Breen and Vulcan mines near Iron Mountain shipped their first ore in 1877, while the mines around Crystal Falls began production in 1882. During the following century, the mines on Michigan's side of the sprawling Menominee Iron Range, whose ore deposits extended across the border into Wisconsin, produced nearly 300 million tons of iron ore, making it second only to the older Marquette range in total output.
In 1871 Raphael Pumpelly, a Harvard geology professor, after studying the original survey notes of William A. Burt, found traces of iron ore between the Montreal River and Lake Gogebic in the extreme western portion of the Upper Peninsula. With the financial aid of Alexander Agassiz and Quincy Shaw of the Calumet and Hecla copper-mining company, Pumpelly purchased five square miles of what came to be called the Gogebic Iron Range. The Colby mine, first to produce ore in this area, was the result of the discovery of a lump of rock in 1873 by N. D. Moore, who was exploring for timber. This mine, located at what became the city of Bessemer, started shipping ore after the opening of a railroad into the district in 1884. Other mines were opened in rapid succession. The deposits of the Gogebic range, even more so than those of the Menominee range, extended well over into Wisconsin, and if one considers the production of the entire range as a whole, it was in its heyday a greater producer of iron ore than either of the other iron ranges in the Upper Peninsula. If one considers only the production of the Michigan portion of the Gogebic range, however, its output, although amounting to a quarter of a billion tons of iron ore, places it behind Michigan's two other iron ranges. (11)
The earliest iron-producing mines in the Upper Peninsula were the Jackson mine at Negaunee and the National mine at Ishpeming, three miles away. After 1865, however, many additional mines were opened in the Marquette range. Several towns take their names from these mines. The Republic mine produced ore that was 88 percent pure iron oxide. Opened in 1871, it continued to produce until 1927. The Champion mine was worked from 1867 to 1910, and the Michigamme mine from 1872 to 1905. There were many other smaller mines. In the Menominee range scores of mines, large and small, were opened, worked for various periods of time, and then abandoned. Among the more famous was the Vulcan mine near Norway, opened in 1877 and worked until 1946. Iron Mountain grew up around the Chapin mine. Other heavy producers around Iron Mountain were the Pewabic, Ludington, Hewitt, Indiana, Calumet, Cornell, Garfield, and Hancock mines. Crystal Falls, so named for its location near a cascade on the Paint River, grew up around the Bristol mine, opened in 1882. Iron River and its sister city, Stambaugh, were the last of the large communities in the Menominee range to be developed. The largest producer in this area was the Caspian mine. In the Gogebic range twelve mines were opened between 1884 and 1887, and twenty others up to 1925. Ironwood is the principal city in the Gogebic range. The site of the city was platted by a railroad company in 1885. Other towns and cities that grew up around mines in the Gogebic range were Wakefield, Ramsay, and Bessemer. The Norrie-Aurora-Pabst mine at Ironwood outproduced any other mine in the Upper Peninsula. The Chapin at Iron Mountain in the Menominee range was the second largest producer.
Over twenty-five forges were built in the Upper Peninsula during the nineteenth century to process the iron ore. The early forges brought lumps of iron ore to a high degree of heat, and they were then "wrought" into iron "blooms" through a process of hammering. Vast amounts of hardwood were required to make the charcoal used in these forges. Fortunately, there were large stands of hardwood as well as pine in the Upper Peninsula. Limestone, another essential material in the process, was available in abundant quantities. It was estimated in 1903 that the furnaces of the Upper Peninsula consumed so much charcoal that thirty acres of hardwood per day had to be cut to supply the kilns. (12) By that time the supply of hardwood was beginning to be exhausted; furthermore, the process was too expensive. It was more profitable to ship the ore in the big ore carriers that were being built and to smelt it with coke in furnaces on Lake Erie and at the southern end of Lake Michigan. One by one the charcoal kilns and blast furnaces in the Upper Peninsula were abandoned until none was in use.
One may gain some idea of this extinct industry by a visit to the ghost town of Fayette, located on the Garden Peninsula, which juts down into Lake Michigan from the Upper Peninsula. The Jackson Iron Company purchased the site of Fayette and some sixteen thousand acres of hardwood forest located nearby in 1864. Charcoal kilns and smelting furnaces were constructed. Limestone at the site provided the flux needed in the smelting process. A narrow gauge railroad brought the wood to the kilns. Docks were built. By 1869 there was a store, office building, carpenter and blacksmith shops, and over forty houses. Subsequently a hotel, post office, and even an opera house were built. The iron ore used in the furnaces was shipped by rail from Negaunee to Escanaba and from there to Fayette by scows towed by tugs. The hardwood supply of the Garden Peninsula was the key to the prosperity of this boomtown, and when it was gone by the end of the century, Fayette, after a brief interlude during which it was a resort town, was abandoned. (13) Many of its buildings and the remains of its kilns and furnaces survived, however, and the site was acquired by the state in the 1960s and has been developed as a historic park by the Department of Natural Resources and the Bureau of Michigan History of the Department of State.
During the half century following the Civil War, improvements in the methods of mining iron matched those in copper mining. In the early years until the 1870s the production of iron ore was essentially a quarrying operation. The overburden of trees, sod, and soil was removed, and the iron ore that lay underneath was then broken up and carried away. When the surface ore had been secured, however, shafts had to be sunk through the layers of rock that lay on top of the deeper veins of ore. From these shafts, horizontal tunnels were then cut into the ore deposits. Miners descended into the shafts by wooden ladders and the ore was brought to the surface by bucket hoists. But by 1900 steam-powered machinery was employed in the mines. Elevators or "cages," as they were called, took the miners underground and brought them back to the surface. The ore was hoisted by machinery, which also operated the pumps that were required to remove the water from the mines. Electrical power and lighting were introduced around 1895. Dynamite replaced black blasting powder; diamond drills revolutionized the methods used to search for new lodes, while power drills and electric cap lamps represented other improvements. Hard-toed boots, safety hats, and shatterproof glasses became standard equipment for the miner.
As shafts were sunk deeper and as the tunnels or "drifts" were extended further, the iron-mining companies required large amounts of timber to support the overhang. For this reason, and also to obtain hardwood for charcoal, they acquired large tracts of timber. The Cleveland-Cliffs company became probably the largest private landowner in the Upper Peninsula as a result of such purchases. Of critical importance in mining and lumbering was transportation, and the mining companies thus built railroads and ore carriers. All this required large amounts of capital, and as a consequence, the smaller operators were gradually squeezed out. Those that survived included the three big Cleveland-based companies, Cleveland-Cliffs, Pickands, Mather, and M. A. Hanna, who sold the ores they produced to companies that in turn produced iron and steel. Increasingly, however, the latter companies acquired their own mines. The giant U.S. Steel Corporation, formed at the beginning of the twentieth century, had its Oliver Iron Mining subsidiary, controlling important ore deposits on the Gogebic Iron Range and in other areas, while the corporation's own fleet of ore boats carried the ore to ports on the lower lakes for shipment to the corporation's mills. Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Bethlehem, Republic, and other steel producers developed similar operations.
Until the early 1880s, Pennsylvania was the nation's leading source of iron ore, but Michigan's production figures, which rose from a few thousand tons a year in the 1850s to more than a half-million tons by 1867, climbed over the million-ton figure by the early 1870s. The depression following the Panic of 1873 caused a sharp drop in production, but a rise to the two-million-ton level by 1880 marked the beginning of a decade of rapidly expanding production figures that hit seven million tons in 1890, as Michigan became the country's major source of iron ore in this great era in the growth of the iron and steel industry. The growth was proportionately not as spectacular in the years following the 1880s, but by the end of the century, Michigan's three ranges were shipping out nine million tons of ore, an annual production rate that would eventually double during the boom war years and immediate postwar years of 1916 to 1920. Nevertheless, Michigan lost its leadership in iron ore production to Minnesota beginning in 1900 and never regained the top spot. More important for the future of the Michigan iron-mining industry was the fact that the rich ores of Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range, which were mainly responsible for that state's leadership, were mined by the open-pit method, a method that was only rarely used in Michigan by the beginning of the twentieth century. The higher costs of Michigan's underground iron mines would place these operations at an increasing disadvantage competitively with Minnesota's open-pit mines, exactly the same situation that Michigan's copper mines faced in the same period with the predominantly open-pit copper mining operations of the West. By the third decade of the century these effects would begin to show up in sharply reduced production, which would result in severe economic repercussions for these mining areas.
Mining, like farming and lumbering, became one of the major attractions that drew new settlers to the state in the nineteenth century, and in the case of iron and copper mining, it attracted a far higher percentage of foreign-born than any of the other economic opportunities that developed in that century. The proportion of foreign-born in the Copper Country and in the three iron ranges at the end of the century was as high or higher than any other comparable area in the state. From the beginning, Cornishmen from southwestern England were the backbone of the mine workforces. Indeed, a few Cornish miners had apparently been imported from England in the early 1770s during the unsuccessful attempt of Alexander Henry and associates to establish a mine in the Ontonagon region. In the summer of 1844, a geologist visiting the mine that had just commenced operations in the Eagle River area reported that Cornish miners were busily sinking shafts. Most of these early Cornishmen had come up from Wisconsin, where several thousand immigrants from Cornwall since 1830 had been working the lead deposits of the Upper Mississippi. Some of the other Cornish miners that came to Michigan in this early period came from other parts of the United States or Canada where they had found opportunities of employing their mining skills. By 1846, however, the Boston and Lake Superior Mining Association was going directly to Cornwall to enlist the services of tin miners, who were imported to work in that company's mine in the Copper Country.
Cornishmen had been mining tin and copper in their homeland for centuries, and because of their acquired skills they were in great demand by those involved in mining ventures in America. The underground mining operations that would be required to extract most of Michigan's copper and iron ore were particularly suited to the Cornishmen, who had faced similar problems in Cornwall and had become recognized as the best hard-rock miners in the world. By the nineteenth century the growth rate of the Cornish mining industry had slowed down, and although the production of both copper and tin remained at high levels through the first half of the century, foreign competition, declining prices, and the exhaustion of the most readily available Cornish deposits created serious economic problems by the fifties and brought on the near collapse of the industry in the late sixties and early seventies. This came at the very time when Michigan's mining industry was requiring more and more laborers to sustain the increasingly rapid rate of its growth, and the unemployed Cornish miners, who had been kept well informed of these American developments by letters from the pioneer Cornish miners in Michigan and by the reports that appeared in the columns of Cornish newspapers, began flocking to America and to northern Michigan to recoup their fortunes.
How many Cornish immigrants came to Michigan is impossible to say, since the census records list only the country, not the region, from which the immigrants came. The Cornish historian John Rowe estimates that there were never more than a hundred thousand first-generation Cornishmen in the United States at any one time, but the influence of these people and of their children (born in this country) in mining areas such as the Upper Peninsula was almost as great as that of the Dutch in the Holland-Grand Rapids area or the Germans in the Saginaw area. These "Cousin Jacks" and "Cousin Jennies," as they were nicknamed (for reasons that no two people have ever been able to agree upon), were actually closer in spirit to these other immigrant groups, exhibiting the clannishness that was more typical of the continental Europeans than it was of the majority of immigrants from England. Like other immigrants, the Cornish contributed much to the diverse fabric of the developing Michigan society: a love of singing, a strong support for Methodism, and several new foods: saffron buns, scalded cream, which did not survive in America, and pasties--a mixture of beef, potatoes, rutabagas, and onions, enclosed in a pastry crust, that was originally designed to provide a warm meal at work to the miner but that soon became the food for which the Upper Peninsula was known. (14)
Unlike some other parts of Michigan, where one immigrant group remained dominant, the Upper Peninsula's mining areas did not support only the Cornish. During the Civil War the scarcity of labor was so acute that mine owners in the Copper Country contributed to a pool of $90,000 for a young Swedish engineer named Silverspar, who promised to go to Europe and bring back workers. The workers were to be divided among the contributors, and deductions from the wages of the new miners were to reimburse the employers. Silverspar returned with more than a hundred Swedes, Norwegians, and Finns, but lost some of the men to an army recruiter en route to the Upper Peninsula. It was rumored that some of the men were long-term prisoners in Sweden whose release for immigration to America had been secured from the Swedish government. Whatever their origins, the Swedes that came were forerunners of large numbers of this nationality who would become as common in these mining towns as other Swedes were in the lumber towns. (15) The Finns, too, were among the first of a group that would arrive in far greater numbers in later years and would become perhaps the most widely distributed immigrant group in the entire Upper Peninsula.
Adding further to the ethnic diversity of the Copper Country and the iron ranges was the introduction of groups from southern and eastern Europe, beginning with some Slovenians who were brought into the Copper Country in 1866. Their arrival was perhaps aided by the fact that the first Catholic bishop in the Upper Peninsula was a Slovenian, Frederic Baraga. By the end of the century, a great number of Slavic peoples and Italians were common to the populations of these mining towns.
Each immigrant group stuck close together, but the one thing that could unite them was their opposition to the continued preference that was given to the Cornishmen, who, although they no longer constituted the bulk of the mining force, held most of the supervisory jobs--those that entitled them to be called "Captain." The greatest rivals of the Cousin Jacks were other immigrants from the British Isles--the Irish--who also came to be among the most numerous in the mining workforce. The Cornish and the Irish had a traditional and unfriendly rivalry. Numerous stories were told of battles fought between these two groups. In one instance of a fight between Cornishmen and Irishmen in Ontonagon, the outnumbered Irish fled to the second story of a local saloon, which the Cornishmen proceeded to set on fire. In the melee the saloon owner felled a Cornishman from behind with an axe. When word reached the Portage Lake region that the Ontonagon Irish were outnumbered, several hundred Irishmen prepared to march overland to the relief of their countrymen. Wiser heads finally called a halt to the plan, but the word that the "Micks" were coming got to Ontonagon, and Cornishmen by the dozens immediately took passage on a departing steamer in order to escape the wrath of the Irish. (16)
As in the case of the workers in the lumber industry and the stories that are recounted of their hell-raising, many of the reports of rowdyism and wild living in the mining towns must be discounted as exaggerations of the real conditions that existed in the boom times of the late nineteenth century. Most miners were hard-working, law-abiding, religious, family men, and the differences between the numerous ethnic and nationality groups, although real enough, rarely led to outright violence. Nevertheless, the differences that were present, the hazardous nature of the miners' occupation, and the rugged character of the topography and climate of the iron- and copper-mining regions all combined to give the life of the western Upper Peninsula a unique and discernible quality that survives to some extent to the present day, in spite of the great changes that the twentieth century brought to the area's economy.
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|Publication:||Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1995|
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