Looking at Calumet today, it may be hard to imagine that not long ago
this was a gritty, smoky, industrial area teeming with the sounds of
men and machines hauling copper deep from the Earth.
At the beginning of the Keweenaw Peninsula’s mining rush there was
little indication that this area would develop into the region’s largest
and busiest industrial town. Covered with forest, evidence of the rich
copper lode underground was not identified until 1858, when
engineer Edwin Hulbert found signs of prehistoric mining activity.
Along with investors in Boston, Hulbert formed the Calumet and
Hecla mining companies in 1866.
Difficulties with transportation, cave-ins, and poor management
caused problems for Hulbert. Investors removed him as
superintendent of the mines in 1867 and turned over management to
Alexander Agassiz, a Swiss immigrant, college professor and
president of a coal mining company. Under Agassiz’ leadership the
companies prospered. By the 1870s, the mines were responsible for
nearly half of total United States copper production.
At its peak, the Calumet and Hecla mining company, also known as
C&H, employed over 4,000 people and operated day and night for
310 days of the year.
The 1900s brought increased challenges for the company. C&H’s
dominance in the copper industry waned as it struggled with
changing copper prices, economic recessions competing mines and
labor issues. In 1968 after 100 years of operation, the mine closed its
Though much has changed since its boom days, many features from
C&H remain. Mine Street still follows the direction of the copper
lode below. Walking along this street takes you past mine shafts,
smokestacks and other industrial remnants.
The office building for the company’s management and technical staff
today serves as the headquarters for Keweenaw National Historical
Park. Inside is staffed information desk; and for those who want to
explore the area in more depth, self-guided tour booklets of
Calumet’s former industrial site and the historic downtown are
available for purchase.
A walk through the now quiet landscape still offers a chance to
experience the history of an industrial giant.