Who Mined Copper in Michigan in Ancient Times?

Copper mining in Michigan has a rich and fascinating history that dates back thousands of years. The region is known for its vast copper deposits, which were first discovered by Native American tribes who used the metal for tools and weapons. But who were the first people to mine copper in Michigan, and how did they do it?

The Ancient Copper Miners

The earliest known copper miners in Michigan were the prehistoric Hopewell culture, which emerged around 200 BCE. These Native Americans mined copper from the Upper Peninsula using stone tools and fire-setting techniques. They would light fires against the rock formations to heat them up, then pour water over them to create fractures that could be chipped away with stone hammers.

The Old Copper Culture

Around 3000 BCE, a new group of Native American miners emerged in Michigan known as the Old Copper Culture. These people mined copper from the Keweenaw Peninsula using similar techniques as the Hopewell culture but on a much larger scale.

Unlike other ancient societies, such as those in Europe or Asia, the Old Copper Culture did not smelt their copper into ingots or bars for trade. Instead, they created intricate tools and ornaments directly from the raw copper ore. Some of their most impressive works include spear points, knives, fishhooks, and decorative beads.

The Early European Explorers

The first European explorers to reach Michigan’s shores were French fur traders in the 1600s. They quickly noticed that native tribes were using large quantities of copper in their daily lives and began trading for it with other tribes further inland.

One of these traders was Étienne Brûlé who was sent by Samuel de Champlain in 1620 to explore Lake Huron where he reported seeing “great pieces of brass” being used by native peoples there.

European Colonization

In the 1800s, European settlers began arriving in Michigan and quickly realized the potential of the region’s copper deposits. The first commercial copper mine opened in 1845, and by the turn of the century, Michigan was one of the world’s leading producers of copper.

Today, mining operations in Michigan have become much more advanced, using modern technologies such as drilling rigs and explosives to extract copper from deep within the earth.


The history of copper mining in Michigan is a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance. From ancient Native American cultures to modern-day mining operations, people have been extracting copper from this region for thousands of years. Whether it was for tools and weapons or for industrial purposes, copper has played a vital role in shaping Michigan’s past and present.