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The Founding of the
Relieved of their burden, the primitive miners hurried toward a milder climate, but must have met with some disaster on the voyage, as they never returned for the copper. Generations lived and died, little seedlings on the edge of the pit grew slowly into huge trees, and in the stillness of the primeval forest the buried hoard of the Indians guarded in secret the mighty treasure that lay beneath.
The early French explorers found copper on the Ontonagon River in the seventeenth century. But Keweenaw Peninsula was still a virgin forest seventy-three years ago, when it was ceded to the United States by the Chippeway Indians. After the "copper fever" of 1845 and 1846 had subsided, it left the country still a wilderness, with a few small mines hidden here and there in the forest. Such were the conditions in 1858 when E. J. Hulbert was surveying a state road from Copper Harbor to what is now the southwest limit of Houghton County. Roaming about in the woods he stumbled across the pit where the copper from Isle Royale lay buried. This he mistook for an old Indian copper mine. Looking about in the vicinity for further traces of workings, he found, a few hundred feet to the southwest, near what was afterward Hecla number I shaft, a large block of conglomerate. This rock, weighing many tons, was infiltrated with copper, and was in fact a bit of the Calumet conglomerate. It was evident from its appearance that it was not a boulder transported there by the ice of former ages, and he was convinced that it had been lifted out of the ground by the frost and lay close to its original position. Satisfied that he had made an important discovery, he went about his business, keeping his secret to himself. A secret that was valuable only because the pit happened to be where it would have been had it indeed been the mine for which he mistook it. Taking the greatest care to keep his actions quiet, Hulbert tried to gain possession of the land on which the pit was situated. With his tiny capital he was unable to do this, but he eventually bought the land to the north. So that it was not until August 1864, that he found himself in a position to make an opening. Assuming that the boulder was near the lode, and that the pit was an opening into the lode, he drew a line from the boulder through the pit and extended it to the nearest point on his own land. Here, at what is now Calumet number 4 shaft, he sank a shaft, and by the middle of September he was well into the copper-bearing conglomerate. We must therefore consider 1864 as the date of the actual discovery of the lode.
Hulbert's next move was to ship a quantity of the rock to Boston, where he soon went himself. Here he succeeded in interesting Mr. Quincy A. Shaw in his project. Mr. Shaw assisted him in buying from the St. Mary's Mineral Land Company the land to the south of his original purchase. Finally Mr. Shaw and his friends acquired from Hulbert a controlling interest in these lands and further options on this property, which was already known as Calumet.
The final settlement with Hulbert came in the dark days of the history of the mine, when he chose to exchange his Calumet holdings for an interest in the Huron Mine. The latter went to pieces and other ventures of Hulbert's were unfortunate. But Mr. Shaw, with unusual gen-erosity, pensioned him handsomely and he passed the last years of his life in Italy, where he lived in comfort to a good old age.
Let us now turn back to the affairs of the mine where we left them to follow Hulbert's fortunes. Shortly after Mr. Shaw and his friends purchased Calumet, the same interest bought the adjoining land to the south, which was to become the Hecla Mine. It has not been possible to find any records of the exact dates of these events. Hulbert went back to Michigan to develop the Calumet Mine and began to make openings for the Company early in 1866. No work was done on Hecla until the fall of that year.
Meanwhile Mr. Shaw's brother-in-law, a young naturalist at Harvard University, was eagerly watch-ing the course of these events. Alexander Agassiz, at that time barely turned thirty, was educated as an engineer, but his inherited love of science had drawn him to his father's museum, where he filled the position of an impecunious assistant. In the summer of 1866 Mr. Agassiz took a vacation from the museum and came up to Michigan to judge for himself of the promise of the mine. On his return he was made treasurer of both Companies.
Toward the end of the year it became evident that conditions at the mine were unsatisfactory, that the local management was becoming involved and was not able to make the Calumet Mine pay. The openings on the Hecla property had only just been started. The first rock mined was exceedingly rich and the management seemed to have lacked the knowledge of how to mine the rock or to treat it after it was mined. Large open pits on the lode were made which could not be continued for any depth and which would only permit of a very limited output. An attempt was made to smelt the rock; when this failed Mr. Hulbert leased a mill in Hancock, bought one hundred teams of horses and proceeded to haul the rock in wagons about thirteen miles. Such methods began to bear their natural fruit; things went from bad to worse. The hard, tenacious and finely subdivided conglomerate was found to be a very different thing to mine and mill from any rocks hitherto worked in the district. The best experts of the day declared that the lode could not be operated at a profit, and the enterprise threatened to end disastrously for all involved. But there was one man who insisted that it could be made to pay, and that he could do it; this man was young Mr. Agassiz. Finally, when affairs looked very black, the management in Boston decided to give him his chance, and sent him to the Peninsula to relieve Hulbert in the management of both mines.
Mr. Agassiz reached Calumet early in March, 1867. The camp consisted of a collection of shanties, and the so-called hotel in which he took up his headquarters was little more than a cabin on the edge of the forest. Mrs. Agassiz, who joined him later, wore a pistol when she went out walking with her little boy. When she left, the baby's perambulator was passed on to the younger brother of the present General Manager. Her youngest son, now at the head of the Com-pany, was not then in existence.
In order to fully appreciate what Mr. Agassiz succeeded in accomplishing during his residence at Calumet, it is well to remember that the Keweenaw Peninsula was in those days as inac-cessible in summer as Alaska is to-day; and after the close of navigation the region was practically cut off from the rest of the world. For Green Bay was then the terminus of the railroad, from where it was a trying sleigh ride of many days to Calumet.
Mr. Agassiz found on his arrival that practi-cally nothing had been done to develop either mine along legitimate lines. What little had been done had been done wrong. In one of his earliest letters to Mr. Shaw he complained that there seemed to be no supplies of any kind on hand except hay and oats.
Under such trying circumstances, with many hands against him, and looked on with distrust as an inexperienced outsider, all things had to be started afresh, and the mistakes of the former mismanagement corrected. The old letter books, with their faded copies of the correspondence between Mr. Agassiz and Mr. Shaw, reveal in some measure the gallant team-play of the two men, as they strove against what seemed hopeless odds to get the mines on their feet. Mr. Agassiz, with insufficient means, was trying to establish order out of chaos at Calumet; Mr. Shaw, in Boston, loaded with debts, and saddled with the collapsing Huron Mine, was struggling to obtain funds from a community that had lost confidence in the enterprise. On more than one occasion they appear to have been on the point of being forced to give up the fight, and sell out for what they could get. As Mr. Agassiz wrote years afterward: "If Quincy had ever known when he was beaten we should never have pulled the thing off."
All day long Mr. Agassiz rushed from one place to another. "The thing I drive and look after is the only thing that goes," he writes Mr. Shaw, "and just as fast as I pass from one thing to another, just so fast do things move. I ought to have had three good men instead of being compelled to do all I have to do myself. There is not a thing, down to seeing that the cars (This refers to the cars of the C. & H. railroad to Torch Lake. There were, of course, no outside R. R. connections at the time.) get unloaded when they come here with materials, which I don't have to look after my-self, and some days I am in utter despair." After such a strenuous day, he would sit at his desk far into the night writing business letters, straightening out the accounts, and planning how best to make every cent tell. Mr. Shaw meanwhile was financing the mines as best he could in Boston, and receiving substantial aid from Mr. John Simpkins, for many years the selling agent of the Company.
Mr. Agassiz lived nearly two years at Calumet. During that time he succeeded in properly re-opening and equipping two complete mines in the wilderness, besides building and fitting out a mill at Calumet, fed by the little stream that flowed through the village, and a similar mill at Torch Lake for the Hecla Mine. Each mill was provided with two Ball Heads and the necessary foundations and provisions for installing two more. In addition he constructed four and three -quarter miles of railroad through the forest to Torch Lake, besides the various connections at the mines, and dredged a communication with the navigation of the Great Lakes.
By the early summer of 1868 daylight began to appear and the endless difficulties commenced to straighten out. The last serious setback was the cutting of the Calumet dam by some men in the employ of Agassiz's enemies. But by this time the intruder from the East had won the confidence and support of the community and a willing crew was rushed to the repair of the dam, and all was soon running smoothly again. By the end of the summer two prosperous little mines were producing between them about 3-5 tons of ingot a month. And before the close of navigation the conditions were such that Mr. Agassiz felt satisfied to leave the mines in charge of Captain George Hardie.
It would be entirely outside the province of this little pamphlet to attempt any description of the gradual growth of the mines from such comparatively small beginnings to the tremen-dous industry that it has to-day become. An industry which in some months handles the vast output of 1,ooo tons of rock a day.
Hecla paid its first dividend on December 15, 869, and Calumet followed suit on August 5, 1870. In May, 1871, the Calumet Mine, the Hecla Mine and the Portland and the Scott Mining Companies were consolidated into the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company with Mr. Shaw as its first President. In August of the same year he retired to the board of directors and Mr. Agassiz was elected President, a position which he held until his death in Rio. Mr. Shaw and Mr. Agassiz directed the policy of the mine until a few years before the former's death in 1908. As Mr. Shaw had no training as an engi-neer, the development of the mine itself fell to Mr. Agassiz, who always visited the mine twice a year, assured himself of the actual conditions there and the proper execution of all the work planned.
On Captain Hardie's retirement as General Manager he was succeeded for a short period by Mr. T. W. Buzzo, who gave place to Mr. R. J. Wood, elected in the fall of 1871. The next man to fill this position, Mr. James N. Wright, served from his appointment in May, 1873, until his resignation on January I, 1892. Mr. Wright was succeeded by Mr. S. B. Whiting, who resigned in egos. Owing to his ill health, work at the mine was at times directed by his assistant in charge. This position was filled by Mr. J. P. Channing in 1 893-94, and by Mr. S. D. Warriner from 1897 to egos. Mr. James MacNaughton, the present General Manager, who has grown up with the district, was appointed in egos; and the management of the Boston office has fallen on the shoulders of a younger generation.
It is impossible to give here an adequate ac-knowledgment of the work of the many men who have helped to make the Calumet and Hecla what it is to-day. And with full recognition of the able and faithful services of others, it must be recognized that Alexander Agassiz's was the guiding hand that directed the evolution of the mine.
The growth of the Calumet Mine was founded on his policy of looking ahead to see what the conditions would be years later, to make ready for them far in advance, and to keep the mine opened up a long period ahead of the work. For instance, the "Superior," an engine installed in 1883, was designed to hoist six skips, each with a capacity of four tons of rock, from a depth of four thousand feet, and also to run four Rand compressors. As the mine was then hoisting two and a half ton skips from an average depth of about fifteen hundred feet, the engine was greatly in excess of the needs of the day, and was considered by many people a white elephant. In 1911 it was hoisting five ton skips from a depth of six thousand feet!
Mr. Agassiz never hesitated to spend money freely for a future return, and to build not only for the coming years, but for the next generation. A less enlightened method would never have enabled the Company to handle so economically to-day such vast quantities of low grade rock as it is now hoisting from the depths of the mine.
Such a policy naturally incurred great expense, and there has been no little criticism in the past of the extravagant management of the mine, by those who were unable to see the benefits ahead. It is worth emphasizing that many of these complaints came from the very men who had previously declared that the Calumet conglom-erate could not be worked at a profit.
What Mr. Agassiz accomplished was in a great measure due to his ability to handle men, to make them like and respect him. And if they worked faithfully for him, it was with the knowledge that he was working for them. For side by side with his development of the mine he devoted his best efforts to promote the comfort and well being of its employees. He strove that the hospitals, doctors and schools should be the best of their kind. He saw that there were com-fortable houses for all, he established an aid fund, and helped build the churches. It is due to his efforts that the community is looked on as a model to-day wherever intelligent men are striving by sane methods to improve the conditions of American citizens. Some years ago the Governor of Michigan, in speaking of the labor conditions of the State, said that Alexander Agassiz had done more than all others for humane and reasonable conditions of life among its people.
One of the main objects of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the mine is to endeavor in some measure to recognize the great part that the men have played in its successful development. The chief event is the presentation of commemoration medals to those who by long and faithful service have built the Calumet and Hecla.
A few decades ago this country was an un-known forest. At the fiftieth birthday of Calumet we see a prosperous community of some fifty thousand souls dependent for their well-being on a wonderfully successful mine. Such a change was not wrought by a-party of sybarites who drifted into this district in a parlor car. It was hewn from the wilderness by determined men, who, fighting through darkness and gloom, forced their way into the light, brought peace and plenty to thousands of working homes, and created one of the most famous mines known in the history of industry.
JULY 15, 1916
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