At the beginning of the second decade of the 20th century, the Copper Country, like the rest of the United States, was making a rapid transition to modernity. The region began to have more in common with 1950 than with 1880. Between 1870 and 1900, as the Smithsonian Institution states, the United States experienced “a wave of technological innovations and inventions, such as Thomas Edison’s light bulb and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, fueled economic growth.”
In the summer of 1910, the Copper Range telephone crew was erecting posts and stringing wire between the railroad depot on Eighth Street in Calumet and the depot at Champion Mine, near Painesdale, passing through Mill Mine Junction and South Range. The new private telephone service was intended to send Copper Range trains faster and more efficiently than the telegraph system it replaced. The new system would soon be extended to the mill towns of Redridge, Edgemere, Beacon Hill and Freda to serve the trains running on those routes.
Telephones also found their way into private homes. In 1910, the Daily Mining Gazette began advertising “Shopping by phone,” a listing of several companies, along with their phone numbers, eager to conduct business through the increasingly popular telephone system.
In some respects Copper Country was ahead of many other parts of the country in that many homes were connected to electricity a decade earlier than other regions. Electricity really increased efficiency in homes as modern appliances large and small appeared on the market. Some, such as irons and washing machines that first appeared in the middle of the first decade, caught on quickly.
The flood of technological innovations and inventions created new industries, new investment opportunities, and a growing percentage of the American population moving into the upper economic class. It was largely due to this expansion of the upper class that the automobile’s popularity permeated American society.
When the automobile initially started to rise in popularity, they were a new toy reserved for the wealthy class. In 1910, a Ford Model T touring car cost about $950. Compared to the Pierce Arrow, that was a bargain. That same year, a Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau cost more than $8,000.
In 1900, three Dodge brothers founded the Dodge Brothers Company machine shop in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Initially, the Dodge company supplied precision parts to the Ford shop that supplied Ford with the entire chassis for its 1903-1904 Model A vehicles. Ford simply added the body and wheels. The strange collaboration led the Dodge brothers to believe that Ford’s Model A was not a genuine Ford car. John Dodge is credited with having commented once, “Just think of all those Ford owners who want a car one day.”
While many initially thought that moving pictures were a novelty and a passing fantasy, the same view held true for the automobile. But like moving pictures, the car didn’t disappear from the public eye; rather than just holding on, they came to revolutionize American culture. This was as true in Copper Country as it was anywhere in the US
Although the Houghton County Road Commission’s website states that there were fewer than 1,000 cars in Houghton County at its founding in April 1901, evidence suggests the estimate is quite low.
On April 6, 1910, the Daily Mining Gazette reported that Calumet Township had voted overwhelmingly to approve the ballot that established the Houghton County Road Commission.
“The motorists of Calumet and the surrounding area, and there are almost 300”, the Gazette stated, “are unanimously in favor of the country road network -.”
The article went on to say that Ontonagon County is the “provincial road network” and would tie its system into Houghton County’s.
Three months later, on July 16, the Gazette published an article outlining the best route for motorists to take from Calumet to Chicago, submitted by John Macauley, manager of the Superior Motor Company, of Laurium.
“From Watersmeet the road splits into Michigan to Rockland, Baraga, Houghton and to Calumet,” the article stated, “and is very good.”
While the mining companies in the Copper Country were already complaining about a shortage of men to work underground, the Gazette published another article on July 18, 1910, about the burgeoning car craze.
The Northern Garage and Supply Company (in Houghton), according to the article, had a large group of men who “are constantly repairing cars and the indications are that summer will bring persistence [sic] performance in that line.” The garage had hired a man from Minnesota to work exclusively on car tires.
As if the local mining companies needed another clue to the growing labor shortage, the three-month-old Houghton County Road Commission placed an ad in the Daily Mining Gazette on July 22 for a “Road Engineer.”
“Applicants must fully state their technical education,” the advertisement determined, “and technical experience.”
Regardless of the state of the roads, or lack thereof, motorists increasingly chose Copper Country, especially Keweenaw Point, as a tourist destination. In July 1910, businesses throughout Houghton reported a surprisingly brisk trade in souvenirs from tourists entering the town on passenger ships.
Mining and lumber sawing were soon challenged by the new and emerging hospitality, tourism and automotive industries, created by the economic prosperity that the companies had bought into themselves. More and more opportunities presented themselves for employees of mining companies who found work with road workers, or for electric companies, repair garages and similar fields. Maybe jobs in those industries paid less in some cases. But at the same time, these expanding fields gave more and more men the opportunity to work above ground, in safer environments, while at the same time being able to get out from under company roofs, in company neighborhoods in company residential clusters. .
Like bicycles and passenger ships, the automobile was an early indicator of the American spirit seeking independence and a world beyond corporate paternalism and the claustrophic environment of daily living in the same residential blocks of the same residential towns and high rises and offices.
American culture went through a rapid transition at the beginning of the second decade of the 20th century. Power pylons carrying power and telephone lines lined newly constructed roads that began to spider web the Copper Country, transforming the landscape just as innovation and invention began to transform society.