• Underground Tamarack Trammer Car

    Keweenaw

    National Historical Park Michigan

Timeline of Michigan Copper Mining Prehistory to 1850

Colton’s 1872 Lake Superior Map
Colton’s 1872 Lake Superior Map
 

 
Partial serpent artifact made of Lake Superior copper found at Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa.

Partial serpent artifact made of Lake Superior copper found at Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa.

   

NPS Photo

7,000 years ago
The earliest known metalworking in North America begins when Native peoples start mining copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Digging pits and using heavy stones to break waste rock away from copper masses, they fashion bracelets, beads, tools, fishhooks and other items for trade. Objects made of Keweenaw copper have been found in archeological sites across the continent.
 
1771
Alexander Henry makes the first English attempt to mine copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula near the Ontonagon River. At the time, the nearest English settlement is nearly 300 miles away at Sault Saint Marie and the region is completely undeveloped and mostly unmapped. Poor planning cripples Henry's adventurous spirit, and in the spring of 1772 his mine collapses after producing little copper.
 

"The copper ores of Lake Superior can never be profitably sought for but local consumption. The country must be cultivated and peopled before they can deserve notice."
-Alexander Henry 1772

 

1776
Delegates to the Continental Congress convene in Philadelphia and on July 4, 1776, adopt the Declaration of Independence.

 
George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

1789
George Washington is elected president of the United States in a vote by state electors. The U.S. Constitution goes into effect, after being ratified by nine states.
 
Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

1801
Paul Revere, who would later be made famous in H. W. Longfellow’s poem "Paul Revere's Ride," creates the Revere Copper Company, the first copper rolling mill in America. This Massachusetts-based company specializes in copper roofing and sheathing for ships. The limited U.S. supply of copper forces Revere’s company to import most of its metal.

 
1803
The United States agrees to pay France $15 million for the Louisiana Territory, which comprises about 830,000 square miles and extends west from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. The addition nearly doubles the size of the country and includes rich copper deposits in the area now within the state of Montana.
 
1820
While leading an expedition through the Upper Peninsula, Michigan Territorial Governor General Lewis Cass visits the Ontonagon Boulder, a large piece of float copper along the Ontonagon River.
 

"One cannot help fancying that he has gone to the ends of the earth, and beyond the boundaries appointed for the residence of man."
- Henry Schoolcraft, describing
the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1820

 
Despite Douglass Houghton's description of the Ontonagon Boulder as "a mere stone, a large pebble," Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's illustration greatly exaggerated the real size of the boulder, making it larger than a six-man canoe.
Despite Douglass Houghton's description of the Ontonagon Boulder as "a mere stone, a large pebble," Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's illustration greatly exaggerated the real size of the boulder, making it larger than a six-man canoe.
 
1837
Michigan becomes the 26th state admitted into the Union. The Upper Peninsula is added to Michigan after the state relinquishes its claim to land around Toledo to Ohio.
 
1840
Douglass Houghton, state geologist of Michigan, publishes a report on the geology of the Upper Peninsula and describes the Keweenaw's copper deposits. Despite his appeal for caution, a land rush would soon start as investors, miners and entrepreneurs attempt to acquire copper-rich real estate.
 
1842
The Ojibwe sign the Treaty of La Pointe ceding their mineral-rich lands in the Upper Peninsula to the United States.
 
1843
The United States Government opens a mineral land agency office in Copper Harbor.
 
1844
The Pittsburgh and Boston Mining Company begins mining near Copper Harbor. The operation is abandoned in 1845 after a $28,000 investment, but only $2,968 returned. Though the company produced little copper, it was the first serious American mining attempt.

Sale of copper wire leaps after the message "What hath God wrought" is sent by telegraph from Washington to Baltimore on May 24th, ushering in the electronic communication era. By 1846, iron wire replaces copper due to its greater tensile strength and lower maintenance costs.
 
1845
The Cliff Mine near Eagle River opens. It is the first large-scale, profitable mine on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Before it closes in 1870, Cliff Mine rewards its investors with $2,519,000.
 
The town of Clifton and Cliff Mine in Keweenaw County in the late 1800s. Keweenaw NHP Archives, Jack Foster Collection.
The town of Clifton and Cliff Mine in Keweenaw County in the late 1800s.
Keweenaw NHP Archives, Jack Foster Collection.
 
1846
The Portage Mining Company and the Northwestern Mining Company resolve a land lease dispute by forming the Quincy Mining Company. After exploring the hillside above Portage Lake, the company digs its first shaft in 1848.
 
Panning on the Mokelumne
From Harper’s Weekly, 1860

Panning on the Mokelumne

Harper’s Weekly, 1860

1848
On January 24, gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California. The Gold Rush will reach its height in 1849

 

Did You Know?

Once the scene of buslting industry, the Quincy shaft-rock house at the number 2 shaft and accompanying hoist house sit silent today.

Despite ups and downs in copper production and prices, the Quincy Mining Company on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula was able to pay its investors dividends nearly every year from 1862 to 1920, earning it the nickname "Old Reliable." The company closed in 1945, but continued to operate the smelter until 1971.