Sunday, September 20, 2009

Upper Peninsula Upventure: A brief history of copper mining

If you look at a map and it seems odd to you that the Michigan lower and upper peninsulas form a state, then your perceptions are correct. The lion's share of the U.P. would've probably ended up as part of Wisconsin had it not been for a border dispute between Ohio and Michigan Territory. Based on their interpretation of the 1802 legislation that led to Ohio's statehood, Michiganders thought Toledo should be part of Michigan. It's hard to believe, but Michigan and Ohio called up their militias to resolve the matter. A cooler head, President Andrew Jackson--well, a slightly cooler head--weighed in and as a reward, Michigan was rewarded the majority of the Upper Peninsula when it became a state in 1837. Toledo of course remained in Ohio.

Until vast copper and iron deposits were discovered a few years later on the U.P., Michigan thought it got the bad end of the deal.

For decades there was a movement to make the Upper Peninsula a state, called Superior, but the construction of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 strengthened the bonds between the two peninsulas.

With the exception of some Green Bay Packer fans clustered near the Wisconsin border, Upper Peninsula residents tend support Detroit sports teams--and this is not a recent phenomenon.

But we were talking about mining. Copper is plentiful in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and unlike other copper regions, its copper is mostly pure--native copper---not ore. On the right you'll see a green strata of rock--that's copper from the Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, east of Keweenaw.

Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula are the only places in the United States where Native Americans mined copper.

As America industrialized in the mid-19th century, demand for copper increased, and until mining operations began later in the century near Butte, Montana, the Keweenaw Peninsula produced most of the nation's copper. But copper extraction on the peninsula didn't peak until 1916.

The Great Depression hit Copper Country hard, most of the mines closed, but many reopened during World War II. But the post-war boom bypassed Michigan's copper mining industry, and the last U.P. mine, west of Keweenaw in Ontonagon County, closed in 1995.

But copper mining may make a comeback in the Upper Peninsula. Mining giant Kennecott Minerals Company has proposed opening a mine near Marquette, the U.P.'s largest city. It will provide jobs, which are scarce throughout "Yooperland." Environmentalists oppose it.

Next: Calumet

Earlier posts:


Greybeard said...

Thanks for this bit of education, John. It reminded me of my first introduction to the fact that "experts" could be dead wrong...
As a kid I was an avid reader of Popular Science magazine. Sometime around 1958 I remember reading that we were in trouble...
likely to run out of copper in the early 1960's. (What would happen to our pennies?!)
Now I take with a grain of salt all the desperate predictions:
We're gonna run out of oil...
Global warming will raise sea levels and inundate the land...
Barack Obama will have the most ethical, transparent administration EVER!

Marathon Pundit said...

Let me add one more...carbon dioxide will block sunlight, and lead to a new ice age.

Thanks GB