In the Upper Peninsula, a sense of Yooper nationalism surrounds the pride natives have for the mining industry, creating a hub of knowledge for times past.
Currently Northern Michigan University’s Beaumier Center is highlighting a powerful exhibit entitled, “Tumult and Tragedy: Michigan’s 1913-14 Copper Strike.” This period progressively shows the dispute between mining workers and management for safer conditions and better wages. This feud set worker against worker and tore some families apart.
Founded in 2006 by Dr. John Beaumier, the center concentrates on bringing the history of the entire Upper Peninsula to the community and to students in this wonderful area. Museum director Daniel Truckey said the center brought the exhibit to Northern with plans to display the history’s ideals. According to Truckey, the exhibit was created by the Michigan Tech Archives and has been to a number of historical venues across the Western Upper Peninsula.
“The aim of the center is to open up a different educational experience for students and the community alike,” Truckey said. “Our goal is to give people a better perspective about the U.P.”
Truckey also said the tragedy shaped how the U.P. looks today.
“Repercussions for those involved in the strike, mostly Finns, are their migration west to farming,” Truckey said. “That is why there are so many farms in the Western U.P.”
The exhibit tells that story of the events that occurred around the 1913-14 strike that tore apart Michigan’s Copper Harbor.
“[This was] one of the most important events in the 20th century,” Truckey said. “There’s a whole story behind it.”
Walking through the exhibit, one will see the story of the strike come alive. The exhibit outlines the history of workers desperate for improved wages and health care, which started the nine-month conflict between the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) union and the strong copper companies in the area. Prior to this, the area had been plagued by traumatic deaths due to the highly intensive work of the mines, such as in 1911 when 63 men died in the Copper Country mines.
When the copper industries introduced the new “one-man drill,” fear grew due to the risk of injury with the machine. This event reached a crescendo into the catastrophic event on Christmas Eve in the Italian Hall, located in Calumet, Mich. Calumet’s Women’s Auxiliary of WFM organized a party that evening for their anti-child labor movements. Someone called “fire,” although there wasn’t one, clearing the room en masse, and caused 73 deaths, 60 of which were children.
Beth Usell from the Michigan Tech Archives, where the exhibit was created, stated how popular the exhibit has shown this significance to the area.
“People are definitely interested,” Usell said. “During the first six months we had questionnaires and received a lot of positive feedback.”
Usell said the mining strike held a lasting impression on people living in the area.
“A lot of relatives remain in the area, the tradition is here. Descendants still come back to visit, come to see records,” Usell said. “It’s a powerful story for the area and nationally, since it happened when labor strikes were becoming a big deal.”
In response, at the time, the governor, Woodbridge Ferris, dispatched the entire Michigan National Guard to the Copper Country to help regain peace. This event had cataclysmic results for the mining industry the next 40 to 60 years. Truckey said the decline after that strike was a “water ship effect” and didn’t directly cause the decline.
Either way the strike caused a reaction that reverberated throughout the United States and even inspired Woody Guthrie to compose the song, “1913 Massacre,” highlighting the events that took place in the Italian Hall.
This exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday until Friday, Sept. 27 in Room 105 of the Beaumier Heritage room.