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Discovery and Early Mining

William Austin Burt and his surveying crew first came upon Michigan’s iron ore on September 19, 1844.

Within a few years, iron mines opened all across the central Upper Peninsula.  The first mine in Michigan was the Jackson Mine near Negaunee, Michigan.   Iron mines are located in areas known as ranges.  The Upper Peninsula’s biggest range is called Marquette Range.  Two smaller ranges are the Menominee Range and The Gogebic Range. Michigan’s early mines had to deal with a tough environment and difficult transportation issues.  When the Soo Locks opened in Sault Ste Marie in 1855, shipping iron ore was much easier.

Between 1844 and 1890, Michigan produced more iron ore than any other state.  Eventually, Michigan fell from first place because bigger mines opened elsewhere in the country.

New People. New Places.

Mining is a difficult industry, and mines need a lot of people to work in them. Many immigrants moved to the Upper Peninsula for jobs in the mines.  For instance, people from England, Ireland, Sweden and Finland settled in communities near the mines. One person described some of the mining towns as cosmopolitan. This means it had people from all over the world.

Mining is often dirty and dangerous work.  The state’s worst mining disaster happened on November 3, 1926, when the Barnes-Hecker mine near Ishpeming flooded after an underground explosion.  Sadly, 51 miners died that day.  Only one man, Rutherford Willis, survived.

All of the mines on the Menominee and Gogebic Ranges have closed. Today, the Tilden mine in Ishpeming is the only Michigan mine still operating.

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