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CALUMET, MI – Copper Country and the Keweenaw Peninsula… the two have become synonymous here in the U.P. In fact, the name may go back further than you think.
“The Keweenaw is the sight of the first metal mining in the western hemisphere so copper mining here goes back thousands of years,” says Jo Holt, historian with the Keweenaw National Historical Park. “In the 1840s it was rediscovered, if you will, by Euro American explorers and prospectors and surveyors who then started this copper boom in the first industrial mining in the Keweenaw.”
Copper from the Lake Superior region found its way into everyday appliances that we use today, such as refrigerators and telephones. The Keweenaw copper helped make labor saving devices for a modernizing nation.
The copper boom would go on for about 80 years, right up until the 1920s. By then, labor strikes plagued the industry and signaled the start of changes.
“If we used to be the Copper Country maybe now we’re the Copper Wire Country because there are a lot of high-tech companies that are developing here,” says Brian Donnelly, President of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce. “Many of which you don’t see their names in the local headlines because their customers are national, if not global. They’re capitalizing on the engineering talent that’s here in town and they’re putting them to work. A lot of people come up, they go to Michigan Tech and they want to stay here so that’s lead to a lot of formations of start-up companies in the Copper Country.”
Remembering the past is just one step toward building the future.
“I think people here have a history that they have every right to be proud of,” said Holt. “This copper mining history is full of ingenuity, innovation and people adapting to often a harsh environment being far from home- the legacy of the immigrant groups that came here and sacrificed a lot and just built a life here.”