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Mining in Michigan

Iron Mining

Go to:  On September 19, 1844, William Burt's survey team noticed erratic fluctuations in the needle of their magnetic compass near Teal Lake. The team found many specimens of magnetic ore at the site (near today's city of Negaunee) and completed their survey using Burt's solar compass.

In 1845 Chippewa chief Marji-Gesick (photo) guided Philo M. Everett and others of the Jackson Mining Company to this site of rich ore deposits. The company—originally founded for copper mining—set out in 1846 to mine and forge iron instead. It established a forge along the Carp River in Negaunee in 1848. Today this is the site of the Michigan Iron Industry Museum.

Map of the Michigan Iron and Copper Ranges

Michigan's Iron Ranges

Hand Drilling or Double Jacking Three other companies joined the Jackson Mining Company on the Marquette Range before 1860. The Marquette Iron Company, the Cleveland Iron Company, the Lake Superior Iron Company and the renamed Jackson Iron Company all struggled for survival. Inadequate capital, poor transportation, the high cost of materials and supplies and the failure of early forges made for slow progress in the infant industry. Life was hard for miners, too, with long hours and manual labor such as drilling (shown in this photograph from the gallery), rock breaking and rock hauling.

One-man Drill New technology—such as dynamite and power drills—and the opening of the two more iron ranges spurred production. Mines such as the Champion, the Michigammee and the Republic joined the Jackson on the Marquette Range, the only range still producing ore. The Menominee Range opened in the 1870s, reached peak production in 1920 and ceased production in 1978. Important mines on the Menominee Range included the Vulcan, Chapin, Cyclops, Breen, Quinnisec, Norway, Garfield and Caspian.

Production on the Gogebic Range began at the Colby Mine in 1883, and by 1887 the Gogebic boasted 24 mines. Significant Gogebic mines included the Wakefield, Ironton, Jackpot and Yale, the Norrie-Aurora-Pabst complex and the Anvil-Palms-Keweenaw group.

Jackson Mine The Jackson Mine and other early mines began as surface—"open pit"—mines. By the late 1870s, they had exhausted the surface deposits and Michigan iron mining went underground. (Mining on the other ranges was underground from the start.) Mining became more expensive as additional equipment was needed to sink shafts, transport men and ore, and dewater the mines.

Mine Headframe In 1890 Michigan mines produced 80% of the nation's iron ore. There were three powerful companies. The Cleveland and Iron Cliffs companies merged to form Cleveland-Cliffs in 1891, and added the Jackson Iron Company in 1905. Pickands, Mather, which was formed in 1883, became the nation's second largest producer of iron ore. In 1885, Marcus Hanna and other investors formed the M. A. Hanna Company, which became the most important firm on the Menominee Range. These companies owned extensive tracts of mineral and timberlands in the Upper Peninsula, as well as short-line railroads, loading docks and fleets of ore carriers.

Iron Industry Problems

Unlike miners in the western United States, Michigan iron miners were not organized into unions. As they looked for better wages, shorter hours, improved safety, and a way to guarantee jobs threatened by technological change, they tried to organize. In 1895, workers in Ishpeming formed an independent local union, the Miners of Marquette County. They staged a general walkout in the Marquette region that summer after management dismissed their requests for wage increases. The companies refused to recognize the union, although they offered wage concessions. The governor called up the National Guard for fear of violence against strikebreakers brought in by management. By fall the strike was over. The union, having failed to win recognition from the companies, soon collapsed.

Michigan lost its lead in iron production Minnesota in 1900, even though output was still increasing. Minnesota's Mesabi Range, whose rich surface deposits were easily open-pit mined, overwhelmed the older, deep mines in Michigan. Yet, Michigan remained a significant iron producer. The mines increased production during both world wars. During World War II, mining companies explored new methods of processing large reserves of low grade ore. These deposits, mined from open pits and then processed to concentrate their ore content, constitute Michigan's ore production today.


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