Doug Ottke

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Geography & Geographic Information Science


The history of the Marquette Iron Range in the upper peninsula of Michigan is integrally linked to the environment. The natural features of the Marquette Range defined the mode of production on the Range, and conversely, as human systems became more adept in these modes of production they became the most important modifiers of the natural systems.

Settlement on the Marquette Iron Range was closely related to two factors of natural environment: the iron ore formations and the hardwood forest. The distribution of three iron ore formations—principally the Negaunee, but also the Bijiki and other Iron- formations within the Michigamme Formation —determined the locations of the sites of extraction of iron ore in the area. Stands of hardwood forest, particularly maple and yellow birch were the major factor determining the location for processing operations that converted iron ore into pig iron. The location of beehive kilns where the hardwood was converted into charcoal, the early forges, and the blast furnaces were reliant foremost on the availability of hardwood. The iron ore formations and the hardwood forest of the Range defined the physical subdivision of the land into tracts owned by individuals. Because a readily available workforce was needed at the mines, forges, kilns, and furnaces of the area, locations of settlement on the Range were within very close proximity to the sites of extraction and processing operations. Transportation, from the earliest trails to the plank road, strap railroad and the Iron Mountain Railroad completed in the 1857 were defined by the natural location of the ore and the processes involved with extracting it.

In the mid 1850’s, with advances in transportation associated with the completion of the railroad to the mining areas near Negaunee and Ishpeming and the completion of the Sault Locks near Sault Saint Marie, the production of iron ore reached a level of 11,343 tons per year. By 1868 that number had reached a level of 508,000 tons mined. The depression of 1873 caused a sharp drop in production. However, for the year before the drop one million tons had been withdrawn from 40 pits carved into the ore bodies. In 1880 two million tons were mined and that number rose to seven million tons mined during the year of 1890. The quarrying operations progressed deeper into the earth until by the 1880’s shaft mining became a necessity, calling for advancement in technological applications and forcing many of the less wealthy operations out of business. The large amounts of capital involved in diamond drilling exploration, and the operations underground forced industrial consolidation of the many small operations into a few large companies commanding large resources. As mines went underground, the need for timber also increased as supports for the underground workings became a necessity. Between .72 and .92 cubic feet of timber was needed per ton of ore extracted.

In 1868 eleven blast furnaces were in operation on the Marquette Range. Twenty five furnaces total were built in Marquette County. Numerous beehive kilns dotted the countryside. These kilns converted maple, yellow birch and, in some instances, hemlock, pine, and other softwoods into charcoal. The charcoal consumed per ton of iron produced in furnaces varied from 110 bushels to 140 bushels, with a bushel consisting of 20 pounds of charcoal. The Pioneer Furnace, the original blast furnace in the area located in Negaunee, used the timber from 1,500 acres in the year of 1869 to produce 9,500 tons of pig iron. One acre of wood could produce 14 tons of iron. It is estimated that by 1903 thirty acres of hardwood per day was needed to supply the kilns of the Marquette Range. In the first half century of iron production 330,000 acres were cut.

In order to understand more thoroughly how natural and human systems have modified each other on the Marquette Range, the pre-major European settlement natural environment must be delineated. Beginning in 1838, the Michigan Geological Survey and the Linear Survey of the U.S. Land Office created descriptions of the natural environment of the Marquette Range. These descriptions better enable the understanding of the pre-major settlement natural environment. The descriptions contained within these reports of the location of the original outcrops of iron ore and the stands of trees shows how important these factors were to the early settlement of the Marquette Range. The descriptions also allow us to see how influential that settlement was in modifying the natural systems of the Range.

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