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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Superior Copper and the Quincy Mining Company

The small Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula was one of the best places to mine for copper in the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was profitable because the copper of this area occurs in a pure metallic state and because there was a lot of it. Keweenaw is a stretch of land fifty miles long and fifteen miles wide, that lies at the northernmost tip of Michigan as it juts out into Lake Superior. The area is known as “Copper Country.”1

Modern mining started in Keweenaw in the 19th century after explorers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan discovered abandoned American Indian mining sites and investors reopened mines. These deposits were mined in the early 1840s and the mining companies removed all of the copper from these sites, but they created the industry and attracted settlers to northern Michigan.

The Quincy Mining Company formed in the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1846. The company built its own facilities for processing the copper from start to finish. It also built houses and community buildings for company employees and their families. It had a rough start, but the mine was successful and Quincy grew. Maps of the Quincy Mines that were made in 1892, 1902, and 1920 show more development of housing and transportation between the shafts and the various mill buildings owned by Quincy.

Quincy Mining struggled during its first ten years to make a profit. In 1856, the company was saved when a neighboring mine discovered a copper deposit on the Keweenaw Peninsula that was about 12 to 15 feet thick at the surface. This deposit ran through land Quincy owned and the company began to mine it. The Keweenaw mining industry grew and the region became known for its copper. Michigan produced more copper than any other state in the U.S. when the Civil War started in 1861. At that time, almost 90% of America’s copper came from Michigan and over half of Michigan’s copper came from the Quincy Mine.

During the Civil War, production of copper briefly fell but not enough to stop the mining business. People still needed copper. By 1862, the company produced 2.1 million pounds of refined copper. This level of production allowed the mining company to start paying back the investors who first supported the business. Mines like Quincy supplied the raw material that was shipped to factories and then used to make brass buttons, copper canteens (small containers that hold water), bronze cannons, and ship-building materials. Between 1862 and 1868, the Quincy Mine produced more copper than any other mining company in the country.

After the war, American factories demanded copper more than ever before. One reason for this was the invention of electricity-powered technology, like electric lamps and telephones. These inventions needed copper parts and electrical wires.  Electrical wire mills switched from making iron wire to making a new kind of copper wire in 1877. This copper wire was strong enough to be strung overhead for new telephones and the older telegraph system. The copper industry boomed throughout the United States. On the Keweenaw Peninsula, about 400 mining companies operated between 1872 and 1920.1

People at Quincy Mine called the company “Old Reliable” because it was so successful. The company paid stockholders every year between 1868 and 1920. When the mine peaked in 1910, it had produced about 458,000,000 pounds of copper.2 Part of the success of the mine was the advancement in technology. Copper mining technology improved over the years since the mine opened in 1846. Mining at Quincy began with men using drills powered by hand and black powder (gunpowder). By the 20th century, a single man could operate a drill by using air pressure, explosives, electric locomotive hauling tools, and steam-powered tools. In 1930, the mines at Quincy were the deepest in the Western hemisphere. The deepest mining shafts -- measured on the incline, not surface to bottom vertically -- went over 9,000. The No. 2 Shaft was the deepest mine in the United States by 1931.

The price of copper began to fall in 1920 and the company’s profits fell, too. Quincy stopped producing copper in 1931 because of the Great Depression. During the Depression, industries all over the country slowed down. This meant that factories did not need to buy as much copper as they did before the economic crisis. The Quincy Mining Company reopened in 1937 when prices rose and Quincy stayed open to supply Allies with copper during World War II. Even though it reopened, its boom years were over. By 1943, Quincy opened a reclamation plant to process “stamp sand.” Stamp sand is gravel created when workers mill ore. It contains small pieces of copper. Because less copper could be mined from underground by this time, Quincy Mine workers began to turn this sand into copper ore. When the war ended, the mine had paid out $27 million back to its investors and produced 848,000,000 pounds of copper. Quincy stopped mining copper in 1945, but the reclamation plant continued to produce copper until 1967.

Questions for Reading 1

1) Why did people need copper in the late 1800s? What did Americans use it for?

2) When did copper production take off for the Quincy Mine Company?

3) What nickname did the Quincy Mine receive? Why was it called this?

4) List ways new technologies affected Quincy Mine. How do you think these new technologies might have affected the people who worked at Quincy Mine?

 

Reading 1 was adapted from “Quincy Mining Company,” Library of Congress, HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) collection for Quincy Mining Company, Hancock, Houghton County, MI; National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Quincy Mining Company Historic District, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1988; National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Quincy Mining Company Stamp Mills Historic District, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2007; “Copper in the USA: Bright Future Glorious Past” Copper Development Association, Inc.

1 National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, “Quincy Mining Company Historic District”, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1988.

2 Lankton, Larry. Cradle to Grave: Life, Work, and Death at the Lake Superior Copper Mines. Oxford University Press, 1993.

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