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Since the 1840s, Upper Peninsula mines fueled Michigan and the nation with iron ore. Almost all of the iron ore mined was converted into steel.  In the beginning, miners blasted and broke up high-grade iron ore on the surface of the ground.  Starting in the 1870s, mining iron ore moved to underground mine shafts.  Underground mining continuing for almost a hundred years. Today, iron mining is at the surface, using heavy equipment in deep pits to mine low-grade ore.  Each phase of iron mining had workplace dangers. Miners protected themselves with a variety of clothing and equipment.  This is a visual timeline of personal protection equipment miners used.

Timeline of Mine Safety


Hand Drilling

Nineteenth century miners drilled into surface ore outcrops by hand. This process is known as “double jacking.” Very little protective equipment was used, although the miner holding the drill has a pipe between his teeth to protect them from the strong vibrations from the sledgehammer blows.

Three men with hammers and drill.

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82


Surface Mining

Surface miners in the 1860s used raw human and animal power to break up and transport surface outcrops of iron ore.

Group of men in open pit

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82


Mine Helmets

Underground miners in the 1890s pictured wearing soft helmets with candles for a light source. The candles slid into a ring on “sticking tommys,” which were metal devices designed to hold candles and hang on loops on the front of helmets.

Group of men in mine

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82

Early 1900s

Helmet Lights

Underground miners in the early 1900s drilling and moving ore. Soft leather helmets provided little protection against falling rock, but they did serve to fasten carbide lamps, which provided light in the underground mines.

Two men in mine

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82


Wet Conditions

Miners drilling into a drift of iron ore. Miners often wore high rubber boots to combat the wet conditions of underground mines due to ground water seepage into the drifts.

Three men in mine

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82


Safety and Rescue

After the passage of the Michigan Workmen’s Compensation Act in 1912, some mining companies developed safety and rescue teams in the event of a mining cave in or flood. Miners demonstrate the equipment used to for rescue operations. Mine safety crew with hard enclosed helmets designed for breathing in unsafe condition

A group of men in helmets standing by man in stretcher

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82

Safety and Rescue Equipment

Mine safety crew with hard enclosed helmets designed for breathing in unsafe conditions.

Group of men in breathing helmets

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82


Underground Mine Safety

Steel and timbers supported the roof of a drift where miners work. By the 1930s, most miners wore hard shelled helmets for protections. To see underground, they carried battery packs that powered a light on their helmets.

Three men in mine

Archives of Michigan, RG 2018-82


Modern Surface Mining

Modern surface miners operate heavy equipment to blast and transport ore in large open pits. Hard helmets, reflective vests for visibility, and steel toed boots are commonplace.

Large yellow truck with man standing in front of it

Image: Cleveland-Cliffs

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