Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

This is the first page of the letter urging the eviction of men living in company housing but supporting the strike that Haller sent to MacNaughton on this day in October 1913. (Photo is courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

This is the first page of the letter urging the eviction of men living in company housing but supporting the strike that Haller sent to MacNaughton on this day in October 1913. (Photo is courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

On this day in the strike Frank Haller, superintendent of the Osceola Consolidated Mining Company, sent the above letter to James MacNaughton, General Manager of the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, the firm that owned Osceola Consolidated. The letter is a list of men from the Osceola mine location who were living in company housing while participating in the strike. Haller urges MacNaughton to evict the strikers: “Herewith please find lists of tenants who have made themselves obnoxious and undesirable since the strike began and should be evicted.”  A second page of the letter says “there are others at each location who are not working and may have to be evicted later; it would be well to start action on this list as soon as possible.”

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Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

C & H replacement workers eating and enjoying their coffee. Imported men brought in to work during a strike were often referred to as scabs. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archives)

C & H replacement workers eating and enjoying their coffee. Imported men brought in to work during a strike were often referred to as scabs. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archives)

Despite the strike continuing on for over a month, many mines were experiencing some degree of operation by the last days of August 1913. This was in no small part to local miners deciding to go back to work as well as the dedicated recruitment of scabs by large companies like C&H. Regional recruitment in local states, particularly urban areas like Chicago, became increasingly popular toward the end of summer and into the fall of 1913. Hundreds of workers came north to supplement those local workers who were not a part of the strike and wished to return to work. The past month had been one of constant demonstration (peaceful and not so much), frequent parades, rioting, violence, and the loss of life. Yet, underground and surface work had been roaring back to life by the end of summer in Michigan’s copper district.

Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

Soldiers and mine workers go underground in C&H's #5 shaft, during August of 1913. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

Soldiers and mine workers go underground in C&H’s #5 shaft, during August of 1913. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

According to mining officials from the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company the strike situation has been improving. As of this day in the strike, 4 shafts are hoisting copper on C&H properties and management expects to open more shafts and rockhouses soon. There are roughly 3500 people reporting to work at C&H on this day. All shops and offices are fully staffed and more underground employees are coming to work.  Tomorrow’s Daily Mining Gazette reports that “as far as the C&H property is concerned the strike is ineffective at the present time.”[1]


[1] Daily Mining Gazette, August 17, 1913.

Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

This telegram, from Calumet & Hecla General Manager James MacNaughton to financier Quincy Shaw, describes MacNaughton's views on the initial days of the strike as well as alludes to his belief that the strike would not endure very long.  The closing line, "Absolutely no cause for worry" seems to indicate that everything will be under control thanks to the dispatch of the guard.

This telegram, from Calumet & Hecla General Manager James MacNaughton to financier Quincy Shaw, describes MacNaughton’s views on the initial days of the strike as well as alludes to his belief that the strike would not endure very long. The closing line, “Absolutely no cause for worry” seems to indicate that everything will be under control thanks to the dispatch of the guard. This telegram, and others, can be found online here as part of a Michigan Tech student project. The original telegram is part of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Copmany Collection (MS-002, Box 350), which is part of the collections at the Michigan Tech University Archives.

On this day in 1913 Michigan Governor Woodbridge Ferris ordered the dispatch of some 2,500 state troops to ensure order in Calumet during the initial days of the labor strike. According to the Daily Mining Gazette, the previous day saw mobs attacking deputy sheriffs and non-union mine employees who had tried to report to work. General reports of rioting in the district also reportedly alarmed residents who sent telegrams to the governor. How severe the rioting was is up for historical debate. One example of violence, according to the Gazette, stems from strikers being provoked by metal lunch pails or law enforcement star badges:

“A common occurrence was to observe a group of strikers mob a man carrying a dinner pail [assuming he was reporting for work]. Any man who might be suspected of being a deputy sheriff was subjected to a personal examination. If the star was found inside his coat he was pounded upon and beaten up without further ado.”[1]

Another example of the violence, separate from the headline, is in a small snippet on page 2 of that day’s paper, noting a union man presented himself at Tamarack hospital stating he was shot by a deputy. Despite claims of violence throughout the day, the evening of July 24 ended peacefully with a large parade of strikers marching to all of the shafts in the C&H properties. Upon seeing mine operations shut down, the parade continued to the next shaft. In a July 25th telegram to Quincy Shaw, a Boston-based C&H financier, C&H General Manager James MacNaughton reported on the violence, but made no mention of peaceful demonstrations. MacNaughton welcomed the arrival of the Michigan National Guardsmen and felt their presence would put a damper on violent outbursts by strikers as well as allow those men who wished to work to be safely escorted to their duty locations.


[1] Daily Mining Gazette, “2,500 Militiamen on Way to Put Down Riots in Copper Country,” Vol. XIV, Friday, July 25, 1913.

Research Interest: The C&H Library

Calumet & Hecla Public Library

Calumet & Hecla Public Library Exterior (Photo Courtesy of the Keweenaw Digital Archive, Michigan Tech)

One thing I have long found very interesting is the idea of the company town.  Corporate paternalism seemed to be a solid fact of life in the Copper Country with towns under some type of control from big mining company operations.  Companies such as the Calumet and Hecla (C&H) Mining Company have often been charged as being very paternalistic operations.  In the early 1900’s the employee roster is documented to have been above 5,000 employees, including superintendants (known as captains) and miners.  The swelling ranks of employees led the mining administration to further develop community buildings and local businesses that ensured employees spent time in company spaces, shopped in company stores, and lived in company housing.

The company-provided building I find most interesting is the C&H Public Library which, I believe, was built some time in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.  In its heyday this space, now the Keweenaw History Center in Calumet, served the families of mining company employees.  It provided reading rooms for adults and children, a smoke room, and public baths on the lower levels.  Eventually the lower level was reconverted into additional stack space.  In 1944 the library collection was transferred to Calumet High School Library and the library became office space.  When I go home to the Copper Country over Christmas break I hope to do some archival research on the C&H Public Library with my intention to get enough information to compile a research paper or a scholarly article on the history of the library and the role it played in the community.  The Keweenaw History Center collections, part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, and the Michigan Technological University Archives both have relevant collections to this project.  The MTU digital archive also has some great images of the library so you should check those out if you get a chance.  I’ll post more about the library at a later date so stay tuned.