Following Alexander Agassiz to Michigan’s Copper Country

Alexander Agassiz statue, Keweenaw National Historical Park, Calumet, MI


The inscription on the Agassiz statue at Keweenaw National Historical Park describes Alexander Agassiz as “A man of science who developed a great mine and wrought the welfare of his people.”   Those of us at the Museum of Comparative Zoology think of Alexander Agassiz as a scientist and the second director of our museum.   Only a few have heard of his other life as the President of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company.   

Agassiz first visited “copper country” in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 1866, at the suggestion of his brother-in-law, Quincy A. Shaw.  Agassiz had earned an S.B. in Engineering at the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University in 1857; his engineering and management skills were put to great use in Calumet.  After spending all of 1867 and 1868 in Calumet, he travelled there in the spring and fall of every year.  Agassiz was the president of the Calumet and Hecla from 1871 until his death in 1910, while also the director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology from 1873 to 1910.   The extensive correspondence between Agassiz and the mining staff is held by the archives of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Keweenaw National Historical Park in Calumet, MI, and Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI.

Agassiz statue with Keweenaw Park placard

The Ernst Mayr Library’s Mary Sears travelled to Calumet, MI, to participate in a panel discussion on Agassiz, Boston and Calumet Copper on August 18, 2016.  Mary’s talk was “Alexander Agassiz: an academic view of the Man of Science.”  The program on August 18th brought together many aspects of Agassiz’ life and work.   It was part of the  National Park Service’s Centennial celebration and of Calumet Township’s “Big 150” Sesquicentennial festivities.  Speakers included local historian Graham Jaehnig and Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist at Michigan Technological University, as well as Mary Sears and Terry Murphy.   Terence Roche Murphy, Harvard A.B. 1959, is a Washington, DC-based international lawyer as well as a native son of Calumet.  Terry, who organized the panel event, has studied Alexander Agassiz’ accomplishments in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan as well as those at Harvard and beyond.  Agassiz features prominently in Terry’s work Alexandrine and Other Legacies... (Murphy 2014).