Author: Lindsay Hiltunen

Guest Post from Travel Grant Researcher Matthew Liesch – Circling Superior’s Shores: Rephotography to Document Changing Landscapes of the Lake Superior Circle Tour

A 1960s-era roadside mom-and-pop-style motel, which may or may not still be taking reservations.

Cords of firewood orderly stacked in advance of a long winter and lake-effect snows.

An 1800s lakefront street now inland, separated from Lake Superior by dredge spoils, sawdust, or other (non)toxic materials, afterthoughts dumped in a different era.

1920-era bungalows transitioning to newer housing styles, larger yards, and garages facing the highway heading away from downtown.

Small aspens shooting upward, their roots expanding cracked pavement within a formerly-used logging road.

These descriptions are of a few common landscapes on the amalgam of American and Canadian highways now known as the Lake Superior Circle Tour route. Today, we take for granted the ability to drive around Lake Superior’s shoreland communities on a connected system of paved roads, designed to the exacting specifications of modern engineering. Glossy tourism brochures and travel guides showcase selected scenes to cultivate romanticized impressions of the lakeshore and nearby communities.  Travel writers in Midwest Living, Lake Superior Magazine, and other publications hype up the Lakeshore’s natural and built environments alike.

Landscapes are inherently suited for visual methodologies. Rephotography helps scholars to trace the evolution of landscape tastes, and a small yet growing group of geographers, historians, and artists have conducted rephotography as part of constructing case study narratives that inform theory about social, environmental, geological, technological, or legal changes. In this vein, I am conducting rephotography of roads around the Lake’s edges to investigate the roles of culture, technology, and policy in guiding landscape change. Photographs can help illuminate landscape change provided that other spatial and historical data are available to researchers to piece together portions of the past, or the landscape’s “backstory.”

My visits to the Michigan Tech Archives and other museums and archives have been to find photographs and textual documents to construct landscape backstories of coastal communities and connect them with theory. Planning and zoning documents, park management plans, media reports, and correspondences between grassroots activists and decision-makers are some examples of the kinds of documents necessary to explain how Lake Superior’s coastal landscapes look the way they do today.

I am selecting photographs from the Copper Country Archives Photo Files, rephotographing them, and connecting their changes to theories of wayfinding and land use classifications. The late David Lynch popularized categories of paths, edges, corridors, nodes, and districts in his classic The Image of the City (MIT Press, 1960, still in print). Other images I am considering highlight change in notable land-use classifications such as public space, civic space, residential, commercial, and industrial land uses.

The photo above is a 1960 view from Hancock of the old and current bridges from the John T. Reeder Collection, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.
The photo above is a 1960 view from Hancock of the old and current bridges from the John T. Reeder Collection, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.

As the only bridge connecting the Copper Country across Portage Lake, the present-day Portage Lake Lift Bridge serves as a prominent node. Residents’ and tourists’ cognitive images of the Copper Country most likely include this landmark. Accordingly, the Bridge serves as a key node for photographs, parades, and political rallies. Given the traffic and raising/lowering of the bridge deck to allow ships through, this iconic landscape element is arguably the closest the Copper Country gets to traffic jams today.  Owing to the traffic, a variety of alternate methods have been used in the past, such as ice roads, and correspondences housed at the Archives’ Vertical Files mention ideas floated for the future, such as ideas for a second bridge to alleviate traffic as well as bypass Houghton to the East.

Headline about road construction to Lake of the Clouds. Image from the Roads (Pre-1979) folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.
Headline about road construction to Lake of the Clouds. Image from the Roads (Pre-1979) folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.

Likewise, the Archives’ Copper Country Vertical Files have been a good starting point for finding content on landscape-oriented issues. These include information with broader impacts outside the Copper Country, such as correspondence documenting disagreement between the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and communities hoping to lower speed limits on stretches of state and federal highways.

In 1944, the State of Michigan created Porcupine Mountains State Park as a solution to concerns of proposed clear-cutting. Over a decade earlier, State of Michigan Highway Commissioner Murray Van Wagner worked to create a road west from Silver City to Lake of the Clouds. This 1936 article, “Porcupines Road Nearly Complete” provided an update on the gravel road, flanked by a 400-foot right of way buffer zone obtained to for the purposes of guiding the appearance of landscape aesthetics. Two decades later, Michigan Governor George Romney (Mitt Romney’s father) sought to prevent the extension of lakeshore road west from Lake of the Clouds to Gogebic County. The Lake Superior Circle Tour Route today would presumably have a different route if paved roads exist along that stretch of lakefront, in place of the present expanse of a contiguous wilderness area for outdoors enthusiasts, flora, and fauna alike. Although newspaper articles cannot tell the full backstory of landscape changes themselves, they are helpful for me to provide context, to serve as leads on the potential availability of laws and management plans, and to compare with other evidentiary sources.

Daily Mining Gazette article on installation of the first “Lake Superior Circle Tour” reassurance shield signage, from the Roads – US 41 folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.
Daily Mining Gazette article on installation of the first “Lake Superior Circle Tour” reassurance shield signage, from the Roads – US 41 folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.

The now-ubiquitous “Lake Superior Circle Tour” green and white signage program is only a generation old. On the eastern shores of Lake Superior, sparse population, limited commerce, and rugged topography diminished funding priorities for blasting a highway route through granitic bedrock. Not until September 17, 1960 could the touring public feasibly circumnavigate the lakeshore on wheels. That day, Ontario Prime Minister Peter Frost and a motorcade of other dignitaries cut a ribbon to commence the official opening of a Lake Superior Circle Route. Afterward, North American media hailed the completed road through a variety of monikers, such as the “Lake Superior International Highway” and “Lake Superior Circle Route.” (The present-day label of “Lake Superior Circle Tour” derives from then-Michigan First Lady Paula Blanchard’s 1985 efforts to promote tourism.) The Circle Tour sign shown here is an example of a “reassurance marker” to symbolize the route for travelers. The Daily Mining Gazette article of July 3, 1986 mentions that signs were being installed that week at 10-mile intervals.

Although the Archives serves as a regional repository for the Western Upper Peninsula, its holdings contain useful documents of interest to scholars working on other areas of Lake Superior as well. The Keweenaw Historical Society Collection appears as if it would exclusively focus on the Keweenaw Peninsula, but holds a wealth of documents from seemingly disparate lakeshore locales. One example is the collections on Silver Islet. Due north of Isle Royale, Silver Islet is the site of a short-lived silver mine, once led by William Frue of Houghton. Shareholders’ Meeting Reports and other records help piece together the story of strategies to modify the landscape at Silver Islet, with regard to both lakeshore development at the Silver Islet community on the mainland, and expansion of the island’s size using leftover rock from the silver mine. Other far-flung files in the collection include photographs of Marquette, updates of roadbuilding through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and documents about the Soo Locks.

This Spring, I will rephotograph key places and landscape elements in order to examine landscape change along Lake Superior’s shores and settlements. Incorporating these photos with geographical and historical data into a book will interest both scholars of cultural landscapes and segments of the general population interested in seeing how Lake Superior’s landscapes have evolved. I will share some of these images at a Michigan Tech Copper Country Archives Speaker Series talk in June.

Editor’s Note: Matthew Liesch is Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Central Michigan University. His publications range from iron and copper mining heritage to use of GIS in archaeology to conservation easement modeling. Other current research includes a Mott Foundation-funded project integrating interview data into economic modeling to examine return on investment of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative program. Liesch is a former Chair of Main Street Calumet’s Economic Restructuring Committee and is a Planning Commissioner for the City of Mount Pleasant.

2018 Travel Grant Program Call for Proposals

francis jacker

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections is currently accepting applications for its annual Travel Grant Program, which brings scholars and researchers external to Michigan Technological University to work with the archives’ collections. Financial support for the Travel Grant Program is provided by the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library, a support organization for the library and archives of Michigan Tech. Grants are awarded for up to $750 to defray the costs of travel to visit and conduct research in Houghton, Michigan. In addition, graduate students applying to the program may request up to an additional $200 to help defray any duplication costs incurred during a qualified research trip.

The Michigan Tech Archives houses a wide variety of historical print, graphic and manuscript resources related to the Copper Country and Michigan Technological University. Subject coverage includes university and campus life, regional towns and cities, local industries and businesses, as well as social organizations, events and personalities of the Copper Country and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Primary topical research areas include the western Upper Peninsula, industrial history, particularly copper mining and its ancillary industries, social history, community development along the Keweenaw Peninsula, transportation and the environment. Finding aids for some of the collections can be found here:

To apply for funding through the Travel Grant Program please visit the program website:

Applications are due on March 16, 2018. Award recipients will be notified by late April. The successful candidate must complete their travel by December 7, 2018. Electronic submission is preferred.

For further information, please contact:

Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI  49931
Phone: (906) 487-2505

A Calumet & Hecla Rosetta Stone: Reading a C&H Employment Card Part 2

The following post is part two of a two-part series, which was researched and authored by Emily Riippa, Assistant Archivist. 

Welcome to the second part of a discussion on deciphering Calumet & Hecla Mining Company (C&H) employment records held by the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. This post will concentrate on the back page of a C&H yellow employment card, which emphasized a worker’s job history and relationship to the company. If you missed the initial part of the series or would like to refresh your memory of the card’s front page–where the employee’s personal traits and family connections were in focus–you may find it valuable to reread the prior post before perusing this one.

We’ll continue our exploration of the yellow C&H employment cards, which the company used from about 1915 through at least 1957, by once again examining the sample record of Peter Gasperich, my great-great-grandfather. As a reminder, Peter was a Slovenian immigrant and resident of Osceola who worked for C&H at the time of his death. From the front page of his card, we learned that he was married and the father of seven children, that he had previously been employed by the Osceola and Champion copper companies, and that he was a literate man of modest height and solid build. On the reverse of the card, we will find the bulk of the information related to job titles, the divisions of C&H in which the employee worked, and rates of pay. Parsing this data is often the most complicated part of interpreting an employment card, both due to its density and the number of abbreviated, specialized terms used–enough, it seems, to fill a small book rather than a blog post. Still, with the space we have, let us try to unravel the mystery of the back page, piece by piece.

The back page of Peter Gasperich’s Calumet & Hecla employment card, which looks at his relationship to the company and the finer points of his job history.
The back page of Peter Gasperich’s Calumet & Hecla employment card, which looks at his relationship to the company and the finer points of his job history.

In the upper left corner of this page, C&H set aside a section that can best be described as a General Notes field. Here, the company documented matters like the date and cause of a worker’s death or information about his pension if he received one; here, too, were any explanations for why he left the company–willingly or involuntarily–including times when he and his boss had butted heads. As with the results of the worker’s physical exam on the front page, these remarks were consistently blunt, if not outright brusque: “losing time,” “lazy,” “no good,” to name a few. For Peter, the card’s most prominent note was that he had left the company’s employ permanently with his death on June 14, 1923 from bronchitis. Keep in mind that C&H did not always accurately record causes of death, either deliberately or from lack of knowledge, so it is wise to cross-reference this information with official death certificates whenever possible. In Peter’s case, the state’s explanation–stomach cancer–seems far more likely in light of clues given in other areas of his employment card.

We see those clues as we move clockwise around this part of the card to look at Peter’s financial relationship with Calumet & Hecla. Next to General Notes, the company recorded a list of dates and amounts of cash. These figures indicate money that Peter withdrew from the C&H Aid Fund, a benefit society of sorts operated by the company. A set deduction was taken from each paycheck of employees who agreed to participate, and C&H matched their contributions. Later, if, like Peter, the worker were laid low by illness or injury, he could draw on the aid fund to keep his family housed, clothed, and fed until he could be back on the job. Though generous by contemporary standards, C&H also kept a sharp eye on its aid fund and monitored the frequency and duration of use by each employee. Distrust fell on men who seemed overly dependent on charitable moneys. The company’s observation, however, and its recordkeeping can provide interesting insight to genealogists in particular. From Peter’s employee aid record, I was able to see that he had called upon the aid fund on several occasions, including one string of withdrawals that began in February 1923. It seemed likely that the fatal illness must have begun around this time, and picturing those last few months in the Gasperich house as Peter declined added a new dimension to my understanding of my ancestors.

Below the General Notes and accounts of Peter’s aid fund use came several additional fields whose meaning is more familiar to modern readers: a tally for dates that he had received workmen’s compensation funds for any injuries received on the job, a list of addresses he had occupied and changes he made to his residence, and the dates that he had been examined by a C&H physician. Individuals joining the company had to pass physicals, which were seemingly required at irregular intervals thereafter; any extraordinary results–described in General Notes–could mean the rescindment of an offer of employment, lest the worker become a threat to his colleagues or a financial drain on the company’s hospital.

The left side of the back page of Peter’s C&H employment card, concerning his death, his use of various company funds, his examination by a C&H physician, and his address history.
The left side of the back page of Peter’s C&H employment card, concerning his death, his use of various company funds, his examination by a C&H physician, and his address history.

Although interesting, these components are not the meat of the employment card’s back page. That honor belongs to the right side, where Peter’s work history was recorded in meticulous detail. This section began with Peter’s typed name and, below it, two identification numbers: an enrollment card number and a pay roll number (which also appeared on the front page). It is not uncommon for the latter of these numbers to be crossed off if the employee had passed away or replaced with digits in the form P-### if the worker had been pensioned. Further information on any such pensions were recorded, as we have already seen, in the General Notes field. Beneath these numbers came several columns designed to capture the nuances of Peter’s time at C&H. Two of them–the first and the next-to-last–simply listed the dates that Peter began his work, whether at the company or in a new position, and the dates that he ceased to hold that job.

Next was given the title of the occupation itself, often in abbreviated form. To most modern researchers, Peter’s having worked as a “tram” or a “pipe” seems nonsensical, but these terms indicate that Peter worked as a trammer–moving heavy cars of mine rock along a shaft level to be raised to the surface of the shaft–and a pipeman, someone who laid and repaired pipe for compressed air, steam, or water. Similarly, as a timberman (or “timb,” as C&H put it), Peter would have placed and maintained wooden mine structures, like ladders and hanging wall supports. Occupational shorthand abounded through the cards, but two other common terms of note were “dry” for “dry man”–often an older or partially disabled man who kept the workers’ change house clean and supplied–or “sfc,” for surface, preceding a job to distinguish employees who did the work on one side of the ground or the other. Keep in mind, as well, that sometimes words that seem straightforward today had nuances at the time the cards were created. It’s easy to think that every underground man at C&H was a miner, but the term was specific in its meaning and referred only to workers who drilled and blasted rock in search for copper.

Under the Rate column, C&H provided the wage paid for each occupation that an employee held. Notice on Peter’s card the word “cont” in several places, indicating that he was paid wages specified in a contract he had negotiated with the company. For other jobs, the amount of pay was given in numeric form: a monthly wage, generally speaking, until about 1918, when a daily rate began to be used. In the 1940s, C&H switched again, transitioning to listing pay in hourly terms. If you see an ancestor’s income listed as cents and fractional cents, that is a good indicator that this pay was hourly. If the card bears a number like $55.00, the rate was monthly.

The Company and Department (Dept) headings can also be a source of confusion. Although it is useful shorthand to think of C&H as a single entity, in many respects it was more of a corporate umbrella containing component companies, including some former competitors. A little history may help to explain this. Calumet & Hecla began life as two related organizations–the Calumet Mining Company and the Hecla Mining Company–that were combined into C&H in 1871. To ensure the company’s continued success, in the early 1900s C&H began to acquire large amounts of stock in some of its local competitors, placing them under C&H’s control. This method brought Osceola into the C&H “family” in 1909 and Tamarack in 1917. Ahmeek, Allouez, and Centennial were purchased outright in 1923, leading to the creation of the Calumet & Hecla Consolidated Copper Company. Other mines and facilities also came under the umbrella over the years, creating a C&H that employed workers in places far beyond the little village once called Red Jacket.

Given this history, the Company and Department columns seem more logical. “Company” allowed C&H’s clerks to specify which part of the organization an employee belonged to: Osceola, Kearsarge, South Hecla, C&H proper, etc. “Department” permitted greater specificity: a Hecla miner could be said to work in the #9 shaft, for example, or a C&H general laborer could be designated as a smelter employee. For companies that already had subsidiaries at the time of their incorporation into C&H–like Osceola’s operations at Kearsarge–the Department field could also be used to further distinguish among the company hierarchy. At other times, however, the two sections simply repeated each other. On Peter’s card, for example, we can see Company listed as in one place as “Osc. Cons,” referring to Osceola Consolidated Mining Company, and the Department simply listed as “Osc,” not shedding much light on his particular place within the organization. Where greater details than these were provided, these fields in conjunction with the Occupation column offer the genealogist significant insight into the nature of an ancestor’s work.

As with Occupation, abbreviations for Company and Department abound. Decoding the meaning of the more obscure shorthand is an ongoing project at the Michigan Tech Archives. A few basic words of advice are worth sharing at this point, however. Common entries in the Company column–in addition to the ones mentioned above–include LMS & R[ef] Co for Lake Milling, Smelting, and Refining Company; Tam for Tamarack, west of Calumet; I.R.C. and I. Royale for Isle Royale Copper Company, near Houghton; and a dizzying array of options for the Tamarack, Osceola, and Ahmeek mills on Torch Lake. Department abbreviations featured likewise ran the gamut. Rkhs, rchs, and r. hse indicated an employee assigned to the rock house; sm, smelt, and smelts, the smelter; mill or st. m, the stamp mill; or sfc, the surface. Where a number or single letter were given in the Department column, it referred to a particular designated mine shaft at the company in question.

The right side of the back page of Peter Gasperich’s employment card, showing the details of his positions and pay at C&H.
The right side of the back page of Peter Gasperich’s employment card, showing the details of his positions and pay at C&H.

Moving past the Date Left column that was mentioned earlier, we look at last to the Reason column, which provided a rationale for Peter’s departure from each position. Peter’s card included three of the most common explanations: Q for quit (he chose to find work elsewhere), L.O. for laid off (economic factors led C&H to cut his job), and Sett for settled up (he died, and C&H concluded its business with him). This last term also was used to address workers who resigned, possibly in lieu of termination, and sometimes men who had been drafted into the armed forces. If an employee’s reason for departure was given as “Dis.,” he certainly was dismissed or discharged–fired. “Ret” workers had simply retired. Peter’s card also used the word “Strike” in the explanation column. This does not necessarily mean that he was an active part of the 1913-1914 Western Federation of Miners (WFM) copper strike; rather, C&H used it to indicate that the mine at which he had worked shut down during that time. Occasionally, recordkeepers placed numbers in parentheses next to one of these reasons, indicating a more detailed explanation was available next to the corresponding number in the General Notes section. Look to that section, as well, to distinguish men who had joined the union from men whose note of “Strike” simply meant that they were bystanders: if the note indicates that a man burned or gave up his WFM book, he was a union member.

What more can be said about the Calumet & Hecla employment cards? Quite a lot. These documents mirror the organization that created them: they are as broad as the workforce and as deep as the company’s copper mines. The Michigan Tech Archives earnestly hopes that this overview of the C&H records has been useful, limited by necessity as it may have been. If your interest in learning more about your ancestors’ potential ties to C&H has been piqued, if you would like assistance in deciphering a record already located, or if you have any other research questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives. We may be reached via e-mail at or by telephone at (906) 487-2505, and, as always, we are very happy to help.

A Calumet & Hecla Rosetta Stone: Reading a C&H Employment Card, Part 1

The following post is part one of a two-part series, which was researched and authored by Emily Riippa, Assistant Archivist. 

Fall semester is always busy for our department, but October was an especially busy month of outreach for the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. Everyone on our staff had a part to play. It was my honor and privilege to speak at the monthly meeting of the Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society on some of our most popular documents: the employment records from the Calumet & Hecla Mining Companies Collection (MS-002).

The Michigan Tech Archives holds more than 54,000 of these records for workers–primarily male but, in some instances, female–hired by the company between 1865 and 1957. Astonishing though that number is, it still does not quite capture the vastness of the workforce under the Calumet & Hecla (C&H) umbrella. Records for an unknown number of employees who left the mines before the mid-1890s or stayed on with C&H until its bitter end in 1969 were lost or destroyed before the collection arrived at Michigan Tech. C&H’s habits when it acquired competitors also weighed negatively on documents from those companies: if a worker was employed by Tamarack Mining Company, for example, only before it ceased to be an independent organization in 1917, C&H apparently disposed of his employment information. If he stayed on when Tamarack officially came into the Calumet & Hecla family, the corporation’s clerks transferred his information to a new, C&H-specific document.

Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.
Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.

Rich with information about such topics as family backgrounds, occupations, rates of pay, and on-the-job injuries, the many cards that have survived are perennially in demand with genealogists, labor historians, and many other researchers. Yet the very wealth of information available often renders the cards challenging to read and decipher. Even more than its biggest competitors–Copper Range and Quincy–C&H created employment cards with a complex structure and devised a collection of information-storing abbreviations as expansive as the workforce it described. For researchers a hundred years later, understanding the C&H language and card structure can be a challenging proposition. In my presentation last October, I provided what I called a Cliffs Notes guide to what a person needs to know to read a C&H employment card, and I am pleased to be able to share a version of that with you. It would be a disservice to the records to abbreviate that discussion too dramatically, so this Cliffs Notes guide will be divided into two posts. The first entry will focus on the information that the cards provide on an employee’s background and personal traits.

When we speak of C&H employment cards at the Michigan Tech Archives, we are, in fact, referring to two distinct styles of record. A small, dense document that resembles a modern index card came into use for documenting C&H employees in the 1890s. A larger, yellow sheet with a more complex structure replaced it beginning in 1915. While the format might have changed, many of the company’s questions and abbreviations remained constant over the years. Understand the newer C&H employment record, and interpreting its predecessor will be simple. For that reason, both posts will examine the yellow document.

It’s easiest to understand yellow cards by looking at a sample record, so I selected the employment card for a relative of my own, Peter Gasperich. Peter was born in Slovenia and came to the United States in the late 1880s, settling near Calumet. He worked in the copper mines for more than thirty years and concluded his career at C&H, where he was employed at the time of his death.

On the front page of the yellow card, C&H employment clerks recorded the aforementioned information about Peter as an individual. The left side of the page began by asking for a substantial number of details of interest to genealogists; name, date and place of birth, current residence, and status with regard to marriage, citizenship, and parenthood lead the list. A genealogist may find that, if the individual’s name was unusual to American eyes or if the worker was an immigrant looking to blend in with his peers, the name given on the employment card varies from what is given elsewhere. Employees may also have misremembered or been motivated to obscure their years of birth, either to inflate or reduce their ages; this information is worth verifying with other sources whenever possible. It is worth noting, as well, that contemporary names were used for places of birth. Peter was born in Črnomelj, Slovenia, a town then part of the Austrian empire. He provided his hometown using its official German name (Tschernembl), which the C&H clerk attempted to transcribe phonetically–with little success. It took quite a bit of additional research to tie “Chernemble” back to Peter’s actual birthplace.

As they moved down the page, the clerks inquired about the name of Peter’s spouse and where she resided. Employees whose parents were still alive also provided information about them to C&H. Unfortunately, the company was not motivated to collect details about deceased relatives and simply recorded them as no longer living, rendering this section a–no pun intended–genealogical dead end. Names and dates of birth were noted for children, albeit with the same caveats as Peter’s name and age. The questions about Peter’s family also requested details about any relatives of his who were also working in Michigan’s copper mines. If the family member were employed at a different mine, both the person’s name and the name of their employer were listed, along with a succinct abbreviation of their relationship; if the person worked somewhere within the C&H empire, the employer’s name was replaced by the individual’s identification number. This portion of the front page concluded with information about Peter’s most recent employer prior to C&H and his reason for leaving that company.

The left side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which features a range of basic biographical data.
The left side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which features a range of basic biographical data.

Although the structure of the employment cards varied over the years, the right side of this front page here provided a space for C&H to expand on Peter’s work history. In this more detailed inquiry, the company asked about Peter’s employers in the twelve months prior to his hiring at C&H: the name and location of the firm, the dates that Peter worked there, and the position he held were all noted. At times, an employment card might show a smattering of jobs spread across multiple years: when workers returned to C&H after an absence, the company would simply update existing records rather than creating new ones. The genealogist who sees this apparent disarray on an employment card should see it as a clue that their ancestor moved from job to job with some frequency.

Perhaps more interesting to family history researchers, however, is the description of the employee’s appearance also provided. For genealogists who have only black-and-white photographs of their ancestors–or, in the case of Peter, no pictures at all–these details about hair and eye color, height, and weight are a particular treasure. Rest assured that C&H company physicians, who examined all prospective hires, spared no detail. I know more now about the scars and bodily oddities of long-dead family members than I ever desired to know. On the employment records produced in the years immediately following the 1913-1914 Western Federation of Miners copper strike, a paragraph authorizing a rudimentary background check and vowing no affiliation with the union was also included. By the time Peter’s card was created in 1921, this section had fallen by the wayside; its commitment was now implicit.

The new hire signed the card–or made his X mark–on this page, and a representative of the company added his own signature and the date. Updates here were made in much the same way as the employment history section. At the very bottom of the page, clerks wrote Peter’s name again and added one of the two numbers he was assigned within the C&H system.

The right side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which discusses his work history and physical appearance.
The right side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which discusses his work history and physical appearance.

The Calumet & Hecla employment cards offer extraordinary insight into the company’s workforce for a bevy of research interests. Hopefully, this primer will prove a useful orientation to the basic history and purpose of the cards, as well as the information available on their front side. A future blog post will turn to the back page, which shifts its attention away from personal details to focus more on a worker’s relationship to C&H. Watch this space for the second part of the guide. In the meantime, if your interest in learning more about your ancestors’ potential ties to C&H has been piqued, if you would like assistance in deciphering a record already located, or if you have any other research questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives. We may be reached via e-mail at or by telephone at (906) 487-2505, and we are always very happy to help.

Travel Grant Presentation – Documenting the Submerged: Digital Methods and Panoramic Imagery of Shipwrecks within the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Phil Hartmeyer2
Underwater imaging at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Please join us for visiting scholar Philip Hartmeyer at 4:00 pm on Friday, December 1 in the East Reading Room of the Van Pelt and Opie Library on the Michigan Technological University campus. This event is free of charge and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

In this presentation, Hartmeyer will discuss the role, techniques, and applications of advanced digital documentation methods in surveying the shipwrecks within the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Learn about photogrammetry and panoramic imagery and their applications for research, education, and outreach as well as the stories of the submerged cultural resources that line the shores of Thunder Bay on Lake Huron. Hartmeyer has made several trips to the Michigan Tech Archives in order to help document the history of some of the submerged ships in the Thunder Bay region.

Phil Hartmeyer3
Phil about to go to work.

Philip Hartmeyer is a maritime archaeologist currently working at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan. Originally from San Francisco, California, Hartmeyer’s passion for maritime heritage has taken him all over the world to conduct surveys and excavations of shipwrecks. He received his masters in maritime archaeology from East Carolina University, where he wrote his thesis on the passenger/package propeller Pewabic, a middle 19th-century vessel that was instrumental to the copper industry and the settlement of the Keweenaw Peninsula. He received his bachelors in archaeology from Saint Mary’s College of California, and is also a Registered Professional Archaeologist.

Hartmeyer’s research visit and presentation are supported by a travel grant from the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library. Since 1988, the Michigan Technological University Archives Travel Grant program has helped scholars advance their research by supporting travel to the manuscript collections at the Archives.

For more information, feel free to call the Michigan Tech Archives at (906) 487-2505, email, or visit on the web at You can also find us on Facebook or @mtuarchives on Twitter.

Western Chapter of Michigan History Alliance to be Hosted by Michigan Tech Archives

MHAEach regional alliance meets at least twice a year to bring together representatives from HSM member historical organizations in several counties. The gatherings will feature a speaker to address a topic of interest and allow for conversations among each region’s historical organizations. Attendance at the Michigan History Alliance networking sessions is free of charge for current member organizations of HSM. Membership is required for participation.Michigan History Alliance Districts

Alliance meetings will also offer separate three-hour History Skills Workshops led by authorities in the field. Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist at Michigan Tech, will facilitate a workshop and brainstorming session on All-Ages Archives. The workshop will discuss collaboration with community partners in order to plan, develop, implement, and assess creative outreach and primary source research instruction to K-12 students and community groups. The session will utilize examples to show the power of teamwork and good planning and will showcase successes and address challenges that come up in the planning process. There is a fee to attend the History Skills Workshops.

For more information about the program, contact Assistant Director for Education Programs and Events Robert Myers at (517) 324-1828 or

Archives Month Staff Spotlight 2017 – Allison

Allison at the 41 North Film Festival, Houghton, November 2016.
Allison at the 41 North Film Festival, Houghton, November 2016.

First Name: Allison
Title: Archivist
Where are you from? Born and raised in the Twin Cities (Minnesota), but have spent the majority of my adult years in Madison, Wisconsin.

Where did you work before coming to Michigan Tech? I first cut my teeth in the archives field as an intern with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Prior to coming to the Michigan Tech Archives in July 2016, I worked as a cataloger at the Minnesota Historical Society, working primarily with audio-visual collections. I have to give credit to the Wisconsin Historical Society, University of Wisconsin-Madison Oral History Program and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum for my early career experience in archival work, providing me with the practical experience and knowledge that I’m excited to bring to Tech.

What is your favorite thing about working at the Michigan Tech Archives? My favorite thing about working at the Michigan Tech Archives is seeing our patrons leave the archive with a smile on their face. Whether it’s an academic researcher who found a crucial piece of information for their research or a genealogist who was able to find a tangible connection to their ancestors, the joy on our patron’s faces makes everything worthwhile.

At the Lakenenland Sculpture Park, Marquette, August 2017.
At the Lakenenland Sculpture Park, Marquette, August 2017.

What is the most interesting thing you learned while working here? I feel that I make a new discovery every week, which is why it is hard to narrow it down. I would have to say the most interesting thing I’ve recently learned is that the Atlas Powder Company powerhouse whistle resides on the top of the Central Heating Plant of the Michigan Tech campus. Not only that, but the whistle has been used to mark the beginning of K-Day (Keweenaw Day) on campus. The names of several employees that were working at Atlas when the plant closed in 1960s are engraved on the whistle. What an obscure, but fascinating story, full of local and campus history!

What is your favorite collection? Picking a favorite collection among so many great ones to choose from is hard, but I would have to say the John T. Reeder Photograph Collection (MS-042). It was the first collection at the Michigan Tech Archives that I became acquainted with even before I came to work here. I think I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the beautiful photographs Reeder took of the Copper Country and its people.


What is your favorite photograph in CCHI? So many to choose from! I’m partial to a lot of the animal photos in CCHI, particularly the 1957 photo from the Daily Mining Gazette (DMG) of “Paddy” the deer and “Pudgy” the cat nuzzling each other. Just such a sweet photo!

Allison after a Zumba class at the SDC, May 2017.
Allison after a Zumba class at the SDC, May 2017.

What is one interesting fact about you? One interesting fact about me is that while I’m an archivist by day, by night I’m a certified Zumba instructor for the HuskiesFit program. Come check out my class at the Student Development Complex!

Why are the Michigan Tech Archives important to you? For me, the archives represents a place where the past and present intersect. It’s a place where Copper Country residents can discover their personal family stories and learn how those stories have both been shaped by and have influenced the history of the region. While my story doesn’t have roots here, as a new community member it is an important place for me where I can learn about the history of the land and the community that I’m now a part of.