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History of White Pine & Copper Mining

In 1879, Captain Thomas Hooper named the town after a tall White Pine tree that stood out on a hillside.  It was cut down in the 1950s to make way for widening M-64.  The area was discovered when French trapper John Less made his way by bush from Canada.  His son Edward discovered copper in 1865 and sold it for a barrel of pork, flour, and groceries.  Hooper ran the first big mining operation from 1879 to 1881.  Afterwards, it was home to trappers, hunters, and lumberjacks.  Nearby Nonesuch mine closed in 1908 after 40 years of mining and was home to as many as 500 people.

In 1908, Tom Wilcox spotted copper in the Mineral River and decided to pitch Calumet and Hecla for $2 million in exploration money.  Hooper's shafts were deepened yielding copper.  Four new shafts were opened and the first load worth 50 grand arrived by Tug at Houghton and was greeted with wild cheering.  The mine officially opened on April 15, 1915 and grew to include a school, store, gambling hall, dance hall, theater, movie theater and uniformed baseball and basketball teams.  300 men worked during WWI.  It lasted longer than other mines due to its high grade of ore.  Some shafts dropped over 1,000 feet deep.  During its run, it pulled out 18 million pounds of copper and made a profit of one and a half million dollars.  The mine closed in May of 1919 when copper dropped to 11 cents a pound.  It reopened in October and ran for another year before closing in November 1920.  The first school paid teachers $60 to $85 a month and the janitor made from $11 to $22 a month.

The first telephone was hooked up from Ontonagon to White Pine during World War I and went from Dr. W.F. McHugh and Tom Wilcox.  In 1953, White Pine moved to dial telephones and a switchboard was installed in the hospital basement with 300 lines.  The copper mine also put in a switchboard and was one of the most sophisticated in the country at the time.  During World War I, the semi-pro baseball team heralded one important player who went on to play at Notre Dame:  George Gipp of "Win one for the Gipper".

In the 1930s, so many forest fires were burning that White Pine was surrounded.  Food and provisions were moved into the mine and the town was ready to head underground to avoid the fires, but rain saved the day.  The old mill burned down in 1937 (Frank Zugel took pictures of it).  In January of 1929, the land and rights were sold at a Sheriff's sale on the steps of the county courthouse.  William Schacht bought it for $119,000.  Tom Wilcox said "They sold my baby".

World War II brought interest in the mine and testing began but Schacht died and the war ended before serious plans could start to open it.  With the outbreak of the Korean War and the buildup of the Cold War, planning began again.  $70 million was invested and the news even made the New York Times with the headline "Boon or Boondoggle?"  Ground was broken in March of 1952 and soon a cafeteria, dorm, and staff house was opened as the first train arrived from Duluth.

On March 3 at 2:30 pm in 1953, the first ore was brought to the surface and Edward Murray, Gervase Smith and Bernard Chaput hauling the ore up.  By 1954, over 1,200 people were working there, most on construction.  On January 17, 1955, the first refined copper began and on January 26, 130 copper cakes were shipped to CG Hussey Company in Pittsburgh.  June 9-11 saw the town celebrating "Morris F LaCroix days" with parades, dances, dinners, and a visit from the governor.  Copper was at 25.5 cents a pound.  In 1970, an expansion plan was revealed which was expected to increase the population to 10,000.  By the mid-70s, the town had 1,800 and over 3,000 workers and a weekly newspaper.  A change in the economy caused the population to drop to 1,300 and over half the work force was let go.  In 1977, the mine became a division of Louisiana Land and Exploration.

History Information provided by Chris Chabot