Timeline of Michigan Copper Mining 1851 to 1900
Cliff Mine in Keweenaw County installs a 45-ton steam engine for stamping rock and pumping water out of the mine. While this increases output, miners still have to climb nearly 1,000 feet of ladders to get in and out of the mine. Once underground, they work in teams of three, boring holes into rock with only a drill bit and hammers. Drill holes are filled with black powder and exploded to clear waste rock away from the copper masses.
With the opening of the St. Marys Falls Ship Canal (today known as the Sault or Soo Locks) ships can now travel directly from harbors on Lake Superior to ports in Chicago and Detroit.
The Quincy Mining Company begins work on the profitable Pewabic lode. Quincy soon becomes an important copper mine, and earns the nickname "Old Reliable" for its nearly constant profits.
Surveyor Edwin J. Hulbert finds an ancient copper cache that leads him to the mineral-rich Calumet conglomerate lode. By 1864, he secures financing for two mining companies: the Calumet Mining Company and the Hecla Mining Company. Hulbert is replaced by Alexander Agassiz in 1867 who will serve as president of the consolidated company until his death in 1910.
The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina starts the American Civil War. Demand for brass buttons, copper canteens and munitions increases. Despite the need, copper production at many older and profitable mines in the region actually decreases as new, speculative mines open, causing labor shortages.
"The value of the mines, both Calumet and Hecla is beyond the wildest dreams of copper men, but with the kind of management many of the mines have had, then even if the pits were full of gold, it would be of no use."
The Calumet & Hecla Mining Company forms after the Calumet and the Hecla mining companies merge. In just one year, C&H produces 16.2 million pounds of copper and pays $2,400,000 to its stockholders.
"Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you," heralds Alexander Graham Bell’s successful telephone experiment. Two years later, the first North American telephone exchange, which uses copper wire, opens in New Haven, Connecticut.
New technologies are sought to make mining easier. The Rand drill, powered by compressed air, is introduced and adopted at most mines. Until now, most miners still drilled by hand. Nitroglycerin explosives begin replacing black powder.
On September 7th, a fire breaks out in C&H’s Osceola mine, spreading more quickly and producing more smoke than workers anticipate. The fire claims the lives of 30 men and boys. While this remains the deadliest single accident in the history of Keweenaw mining, men continue to be killed or seriously injured from cave-ins, misfired explosions, and other mining accidents almost daily.
As more American homes are lighted and run on electricity demand for copper wire jumps. U.S. copper consumption increases by nearly one third in a single year.
Did You Know?
The Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan was home to one of our nation's first mineral rushes. Prospectors seeking copper travelled there in the middle 1840's, a few years before the "49'ers" sought gold out west. The story of this rush is told today at Keweenaw National Historical Park.