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James MacNaughton becomes superintendent of C&H

When James MacNaughton accepted the position of superintendent of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company in 1901, both he and the mine were in their prime. In fact, MacNaughton and the mine were actually the same age.

Edwin Hulbert had discovered the Calumet Conglomerate Lode in 1864 while surveying a section of the Mineral State Road from Clifton to Portage Lake. It was the same year MacNaughton was born at the Bruce Mine in Ontario. Both the mine and MacNaughton were still infants when James’ father moved the family to Calumet, where his father, went to work for the Hecla mine.

It could be viewed from the perspective that MacNaughton and the C&H company grew up together. James was 12 years old in 1876 when he went to work for the company as a water boy on the smelter dock in Hubbell, five years after the Calumet and Hecla Mining Companies merged to become one entity. He then went to work as an engineer on a stationary engine on the tram road.

Like the company, James grew up quickly. James left the company a couple of times, but circumstances always seemed to call him back to the mine. He went away to college, but spent his vacations going home to work for the company to continue his funding for his education. After graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree, he again returned to C&H where he went to work in the Engineering Department.

A few years later he left again, this time accepting the position of superintendent of the Chapin iron mine in Iron Mountain, Michigan. That did position did not last long, however, because in 1901, the C&H company again called him home, this time for good.

It is difficult to say who needed whom more in this strange relationship at this point – the mine or the man. The company history, though, suggests they needed each other.

MacNaughton was in his maturity at age 37 when he returned in 1901, but the company was still growing.

By 1906, the Calumet and Hecla company had some 5,000 employees on the payroll, more than half of them working underground. Beneath the neighborhoods of Red Jacket, Yellow Jacket, Blue Jacket, and a host of others that comprised the housing and business area, there were over 200 miles of shafts, drifts, winzes, cross-cuts and other passage ways. The company owned over 2,750 acres, including a stamp mill on Torch Lake in Linden, a smelter in Hubbell, as welll as a smelter near Buffalo, New York. The company owned its own short line, the Calumet and Torch Lake Railroad, with over 20 miles of trackage. In 1907, the company aqcuired controlling interest in the La Salle Copper Company south of the Osceola mine, and purchased the Tecumpseh mine, south of the La Salle.

Among the vast acreage the company owned was forestland, from which came logs to be cut at the sawmill at the head of Torch Lake. The company consumed 30 million feet of lumber and timber annually. Fifty tons of drill steels per day were sharpened.

While MacNaughton and the mine had grown up together, the man was not once intimidated by the size of the company. He immediately went to work when hired, and quickly demonstrated he was no more intimidated by the mine than he was by the Board of Directors. He wasted no time in taking charge of the entire venture and in a very short time (as the 1907 Outing Magazine phrased it), “..began to tighten up the screws.”

By keeping a close accounting and personally overseeing each department, MacNaughton succeeded in cutting the cost of mining and milling copper ore nearly in half. He accomplished that without cutting wages, extending hours, or reducing any of the paternalistic services offered to employees and their families by the company.

In doing all of this in under six years, it is safe to assume that “Big Jim” MacNaughton made few, if any, friends at the mine or mill sites. Back at the corporate office at Number 12 Ashburton Place in Boston, if the directors did not like MacNaughton, they at least respected him. Reducing operating costs is always a good thing, but cutting them by half was more than impressive. For that reason, it is likely that at least the shareholders felt warmly toward MacNaughton.

Alexander Agassiz, who hired MacNaughton, was certainly pleased. MacNaughton was not afraid of stepping on toes, neither at the mine nor at Boston. MacNaughton certainly did not seem to concern himself with making, keeping, or losing, friends. His devotion was to the company and to the mine.

No matter how one views MacNaughton, most would agree that he was driven. Maybe he had to prove something to himself. Maybe he had to prove something to the mine, or maybe even former school mates he had grown up with.

At any rate, James MacNaughton was born the same year as the mine. He was seven years old when the C&H was organized. He and the company had grown up together, forming a strange relationship that would carry the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company through the most glorious years of its life.

Editor’s note:?Graham Jaehnig can be contacted at gjaehnig@mininggazette.com.

James MacNaughton becomes superintendent of C&H

When John Hays began mining in Copper Harbor in 1844, the workings visible today indicate tow methods of ore extraction: trenching and deep-shaft mining.

At Eagle River, Col. Charles Gratiot directed his miners to access the copper vein by sinking shafts. Shafting, drifting, stoping, were all conducted using similar methods: by hand-drilling and blasting with black powder wrapped in a waxed paper.

Throughout the copper region, nearly every mining company prized Cornish mining captains, relying on their long years of experience to know how to locate a mineral vein underground and follow it. Most Cornish miners in the Lake Superior copper region had literally grown up in the mines in Cornwall and knew the most efficient ways to place shot holes, blast rock, and were experts with mining machinery such as steam engines, pumps, and stamping equipment.

In just the first four decades of mining in the region, however, things underground and in the corporate offices underwent gradual change. Mechanical man engines began replacing ladders in the 1860s. Twenty years later, air-powered drills began replacing sledge hammers and drill steels, and dynamite began to replace black powder.

But with the introduction of these technological advancements, the prestige and status of the Cornish miner began to continuously decline. So did the importance of the Cornish mining captain.

Mines developing in western states created competition with the Upper Peninsula mines on the copper market and in order to stay competitive, the mines on Lake Superior would need improvements in technology to increase production just when copper content was diminishing as the mines went deeper. Fewer and fewer expert miners in hand drilling were sought as air-powered drills and dynamite were capable of producing far more ore, and faster, than the best Cornish hand drillers using sledge hammers and black powder.

At the same time, companies were relying less and less on Cornish mining captains to locate and follow underground mineral veins, and instead began turning to geologists and college-educated engineers to oversee copper production. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company was no exception.

C&H president Alexander Agassiz was himself a Harvard graduate with a strange combination of educations. Not only was he a zoologist, he was also a mining engineer. When searching for a new superintendent at the mine, Agassiz singled out a young man named James MacNaughton. In James MacNaughton, Agassiz found an ideal combination of old-style experience, local upbringing, and a college education. In addition to all these qualities, MacNaughton was ambitious and not afraid to assert himself.

Although he was born at the Bruce Mines of Ontario, MacNaughton’s family had moved to Calumet when James was a baby. His father was a miner for C&H, working on the Hecla branch of the mine. But James seemed to understand where the future of mining was headed and he wanted more than to be just a miner.

At 12 years old, James became a water boy on the C&H mill dock in Lake Linden. At the same time, he continued his studies and graduated from school at the age of 14. He then became a switch tender and later an engineer on a stationary steam engine, before leaving the company to attend Oberlin College. By working during his vacation, James was able to continue his education earning a degree in engineering from the University of Michigan. After graduating, he again returned to C&H, this time working in the company’s engineering department until he took a job at the Chapin iron mine as a superintendent. It there, in that position, that Agassiz offered him the job of superintendent at the Calumet and Hecla mines.

In his paper collars, Windsor-knotted ties, and double-breasted suit coat and short, sandy-colored hair parted neatly in the middle, MacNaughton was the epitome of the modern, progressive corporate leader that Agassiz was hoping to find to lead his mine into the 20th century.

MacNaughton was confident to the point of arrogance. He had a distinct advantage in his new position as superintendent: he knew the mine, he knew the mill, and he knew the rail connections between them. Having grown up in a miner’s home, MacNaughton knew the stories of the troubles of life underground; he had undoubtedly heard countless stories and tales from his father and his father’s friends. He understood the hardships that mining could place on a family. But he also understood the business aspect of mining.

MacNaughton had come to superintend C&H at a time when labor unrest was steadily increasing. C&H had already withstood two strikes, one in 1893 and another in 1896. Strikes and labor unrest were becoming common all across the Lake Superior copper region during the last ten years of the 19th century. MacNaughton would find himself caught in the middle. While he had family engaged in mining at C&H, he was also in charge there, answering to Agassiz.

One of the many causes of labor tension was the new technologies being used in the mines. While the new man engines saved underground workers dangerous, ladder climbs, new air-powered rock drills required far less mining experience than hand-drilling. The status of the Cornish miner was being eroded and they were now being treated with no more regard than newer, immigrant workers. At the same time, as the new drilling and blasting technology proved far faster than the old methods, company managers were demanding more production from their miners. Tramming, which had always been physically demanding labor became more demanding as the new technology brought down more rock per shift. The number of tram cars men were expected to load and push to the mine shafts was increasing, but the number of men per crew was not. The work was becoming too hard.

If another strike occurred while MacNaughton presided over the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, would he be sympathetic to the strikers, or would he stand behind the company? If Agassiz had had any doubts, he most likely would not have selected MacNaughton for the position, yet only time would tell if MacNaughton was tough as he acted.

Editor’s note:?Graham Jaehnig can be contacted at gjaehnig@mininggazette.com.

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