Michigan State University

“…an inexhaustible supply of iron ore of the best quality.”

Kathleen Weessies

Negaunee area 1851 and 1872

The United States was eager to learn more about rumors of a potential vast wealth in iron to be had in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Copper mining was well underway and iron mining was just beginning when the Department of the Interior charged John Foster and Josiah Whitney to take a crew up there and complete a hasty geological survey of the 100,000 square mile area.

This image on the left is a small detail from a map which accompanied the 1851 report of the Iron District and it sketches out suggestions of the most prominent iron outcrops.  The vast reserves deep underground were yet to be discovered.  Once the locks at Sault Ste. Marie made it possible to move ore in quantity, the mines were poised to play a major role in supplying the United States military with the steel it needed in the U.S. Civil War.

The image on the right is of the same area taken from a 1872 map from a more systematic and thorough review of the area published in 1873.  You can see that in the intervening 21 years the area had sprouted numerous rail lines and whole towns (such as Negaunee).

The 1851 map was a generous gift of Ron Dietz.  It will be on exhibit in the MSU Map Library beginning December 28, 2018.


Geological Map of the District between Keweenaw Bay and Chocolate River, Lake Superior, Michigan. By John W. Foster and Josiah D. Whitney. Printed in New York by Ackerman Lithography, to accompany the Report on the Geology of the Lake Superior Land District, Part II. The Iron Region, Together with the General Geology. Published in Washington, DC by Foster and Whitney in 1851.

Map of the Marquette Iron Region. Upper Peninsula Mich. 1872. By T. B. Brooks, in Atlas Accompanying Reports on Upper Peninsula, 1869-1873. Published in New York by Julius Bien in 1873.


Annual Report of the Commissioner of the Government Land Office to the Secretary of the Interior. Published in Washington DC in 1849.



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