Digitization Project: Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Mining Company

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The Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Mining Company Digitization project, funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, will focus on three record series from the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Mining Company collection. The three series include over 70,000 historical documents contained in lumber, land, and mining annual reports and over 235 maps dated 1893-1960. The final project will also included a blog documenting the progress of the project; photographs pertaining to or contained within the collection; a website constructed to maintain all digitized documents for public access and use; and lesson plans utilizing the source materials to meet Michigan educational standards.


The Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives[edit]

The Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives is located on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. Northern Michigan University is a public, four-year liberal arts institution.[1] The Archives houses the historical records of Northern Michigan University and the five-county region of the central Upper Peninsula including: Alger, Delta, Dickinson, Marquette, Menominee and Schoolcraft counties. Consisting of approximately eight-thousand square feet of University records and manuscript collections, the Archives offers a comprehensive research facility for on and off-campus communities and “seeks to identify, collect, preserve, and encourage the use of records that tell the story of Michigan's North Country.”[2]

History of Iron Ore Mining[edit]

In 1844, a surveyor for the United States, William A. Burt, embarked on assessing the vast wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When his compass began malfunctioning, Burt investigated and found the source of the disturbance to be immense iron deposits.[3] Thus set in motion the beginning of the iron industry on the Lake Superior Iron Region. The Lake Superior region includes three separate iron ranges: the Marquette, the Menominee, and the Gogebic.

After 1844, companies formed en mass to mine and sell the ore located in the Upper Peninsula. In 1861 there were only three active mines; by 1873, when production on the Marquette range exceeded one million tons, there were forty.[3] Among those companies was Cleveland Iron Company, founded by eleven men from Cleveland, Ohio in 1847.

The iron industry in America has been marked by economic turmoil. In 1873, a national depression caused small companies to merge into powerful conglomerates. The partnered companies “formed subsidiaries; built short-line railroads, massive loading facilities, and charcoal-fired iron smelters; and operated fleets on Great Lakes ore carriers.”[3]In fact, as the production of mines increased so did the number and size of lake vessels providing service to iron companies. Many also purchased lumber companies to supply their mining operations in housing, timber, and charcoal operations. During the 1920’s, the Cleveland Iron Mining Company alone “produced over 22 million board feet of lumber,” which increased to over 75 million after World War II.[4]

The laborers on the Lake Superior region consisted mainly of immigrants of Cornish, Irish, Canadian, Swedish, and Finnish descent. Employment in the region peaked in 1917 with over 18,000 employees.[3] Employee relationships with companies in the mining industry were marked by corporate paternalism policies. As one mining executive described, “Whatever is a benefits to the mining industry, is a benefit to the community, and all the things which tend to the advancement and improvement of the mining town are bound to result in good to… the mining business.”[3] Many companies developed, built, and operated company towns where employees lived and utilized company hospitals, schools, and stores. Because of the economic climate and the industry’s vulnerability to fluctuations companies often developed “iron money,” which could be used in company towns just like traditional currency.[4]

Another aspect of corporate paternalism was safety regulation. Cleveland Iron started one of the industry’s first safety departments. Despite safety regulations, mining was and is a dangerous profession. The main causes of fatalities were premature blasts, collapses, materials dropped, and defective equipment. Many of these accidents were attributed to immigrant workers' misunderstanding and carelessness. Paternalism efforts and policies were successful in reducing labor unrest, at least until the 1890’s. Even when labor strikes occurred the issues at hand were usually related to higher wages and wages due.[3]

Technological innovation is another defining factor in the American mining industry. When companies began mining iron deposits the open-pit method was utilized. The open pit method had four main steps: removing overburden, drilling shot holes, blasting, and loading. The next phase in mining was underground. With underground mining came the first lasting impacts of scientific and technological influence. The introduction of electricity had a significant impact through the use of fans and water for ventilation in underground shafts. Mather Mine was the last operational underground for Cleveland-Cliffs; by the time of its closure Mather Mine alone had produced over 56 million tons of ore.[4]

The third major technological transformation in the processing of iron ore was pelletization. Low-grade taconites found in iron deposits were once considered an “uneconomic resource” because of difficulty to mine and low iron content. When higher grade ores were in immediate danger of being completely diminished, companies began to research ways to convert the low-grade taconites into useable iron ore. Finally, a three stage pelletization process was developed: grinding, concentrating, and pelletizing. Difficulties arose when transferring research from laboratories to use for large scale production, “enormous multi-million-dollar equipment,” and “new skills and practices” were essential to complete pelletization. In the 1950’s at the Humbolt Mine, Cleveland-Cliffs opened its first successful pellet plant. Not soon after companies preferred the pellets because they allowed for easier production in blast furnaces, producing about 50% more, with no clogging versus iron in its natural, large state. In 1997 [and possibly today], three tons of crude ore makes one ton of pellets which can be used to make 0.7 tons of steel and every mine has a custom “flow-sheet” prepared based on its ore body.[4]

The American iron industry has been clearly marked by the influences of economic rise and fall, corporate paternalism, and technological advancement. At the forefront of the industry are companies that were able to adapt to the economic and technological hurdles inherent in iron-ore production. The Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company has been a leader in the industry for most of its existence, in large part, for its ability to adapt. The collection being digitized for this project includes information on all of these major points regarding the iron industry, as well as valuable information about geology, wildlife, culture, and transportation.

Grant Application Process[edit]

This digitization project is funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) though their Digitizing Historical Records grant. The application process is detailed, specific and takes over six months to complete. The process begins with writing a project proposal and gathering all related documents. Requirements for the grant proposal, as well as others, and all related documents are explained in great detail on the NHPRC website, http://www.archives.gov/nhprc/.

After the first application draft is completed, it can be submitted for review. The applicant then has the opportunity to make the recommended corrections and clarifications and resubmit by the final deadline. Next, the final application may be reviewed by any corresponding state boards to ensure its applicability to state plans. It is then sent to be evaluated by five to seven peer reviewers.

The applicant then has the opportunity again to respond to peer review concerns, usually in letter-form, before the Commission staff makes its final decisions for recommendation to the Commission itself. “After reviewing proposals, the comments of peer reviewers, the applicants' responses to the reviews, and evaluations by the Commission staff, Commission members deliberate on proposals and make funding recommendations to the Archivist of the United States who” makes the final decision regarding award recipients.

Project Staff[edit]

The project had specific staffing requirements. A project archivist, Rachael Bussert, was hired to oversee the completion of the project; Bussert has a B.A. in History from Ohio State University and a M.A. in History, with a specialization in Public History, from Wright State University. Three grant assistants were also hired to assist in completing the project: Christopher Kern, an art history major experienced in large scale digitization projects; Miranda Revere, a former archives employee experienced in digitization procedure and file management; and Megan Warnos, a digital cinema major experienced in Adobe software and digitized materials. The Archives Digital Resources and Technology Coordinator, Olivia Ernst, is also worked on the project developing and updating the website containing the final project materials.

As a component of the grant, a project advisory committee was formed. The function of the advisory committee is to “advise the director on technical and content issues during Phase I and conduct evaluation and assessment during Phase III.” The committee is composed of the following individuals: Marcus Robyns, C.A., Northern Michigan University Archivist; Krista E. Clumpner, M.A.L.S., supervisor for the Technical Services & Systems unit of Olson Library, Northern Michigan University ; and Dr. John Anderton, Northern Michigan University Geography Department.

Digitization Process[edit]


To complete the digitization of the annual reports a multi-step process was used. First, the books needed to be prepared for digitization. Volumes were not all compiled in the same way and required several preparation methods with various levels of difficulty. A majority of volumes were held together with brass fasteners; a few were held together by means of a threaded screw; and for bound volumes a utility knife was used to separate pages from the binding. Fasteners, screws, and bindings were removed to allow for more accurate, single page scanning.
After the volumes were separated, each page from every volume was scanned using two Plustek OpticPro A320 scanners and Adobe Photoshop for editing. Most pages within the volumes were able to be scanned using only one scan; others, such as large maps and financial documents, had to be scanned in sections and pieced together in layers with Adobe Photoshop.
Scanned in groups of about twenty-five to thirty pages at a time, pages were then subject to quality control including cropping out blank space and edges, ensuring color quality and readability, and the inclusion of all pages within that volume.
The scans were then saved as TIFF files within a file management system designed specifically for this digitization project. A hierarchy of file folders was designated separating each type of annual report (mining, lumber, or land); the volumes within that type; and the sections within that volume. Filenames of each scan included the type of annual report, the series call number, the volume number, the corresponding year, and a number representing the original page’s place within the volume. The following is an example of a file name:
Annual Report_Mining_MS86100_2024_1953_01.tif
After all files within a section were scanned, quality controlled, and saved they were then converted to multi-page PDF documents using Adobe Bridge's “Output” function. The completed PDF’s are the final products placed on the website for public access.
The digitization for these 70,000 plus documents took almost eight months at varying levels of activity.


The process of digitizing the 235 maps involved an extensive amount of conservation and preservation compared to the volume preparation. Because of the nature of the primary materials in combination with the hardware used to complete the digitization, maps had to be carefully handled and all tears and folds addressed prior to scanning. Additionally, each map was labeled with its location in pencil on the back. The purchase of a large format scanner was impractical for budgetary constraints. In order to assist in the digitization of the maps, a Xerox 510 Wide Format map scanner was located at another Northern Michigan University office; a Color Enhancement Key module was purchased to ensure quality of map digitization.
Maps were sent directly to an attached computer with Adobe Photoshop as they were scanned. A grant assistant then performed quality control, similar to that required for the volumes, and saved the files as TIFFs according to their location within the Archive’s holdings.
Following scanning and quality control, it was found that many of the maps were too large in file size to post on the website for public access. Each map was reduced by pixel size (usually by about two-thirds) and saved as a JPEG file.
The map digitization process was completed in its entirety in approximately three months, with varying levels of activity.
Maps that were too damaged or too large to be scanned using the large format scanner were identified within the finding aid and were set aside to digitize using a high quality digital camera. These maps underwent the same preparation procedures as those completed with the large format scanner. After being repaired, the maps were photographed by Melinda Stamp, Graphic Artist, at the WNMU television studio. The studio was used for photographing the maps because it provided the most even lighting to capture the large maps. The camera used was a 12 megapixel Digital SLR camera, with interchangeable lenses that was stabilized with a tripod. Digitization was completed by three people in two hours; the digitized images files were saved as JPEGs.
All map JPEG files were given a watermark for the “Archives of Michigan.”


Many of the volumes that were digitized included photographs of laborers, mineral deposits and other various activities performed by the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Mining Company.
All photographs were cropped from the original scanned TIFF files of the annual reports, and saved individually in a new file folder as TIFFs with a linear enumeration.
An excel sheet, too, was developed to maintain data related to the photographs. Each TIFF file was listed with its corresponding Annual Report TIFF file name, e.g. Annual Report_Mining_ MS86100_2024_1953_01.tif, and any descriptive information contained on the photograph or in the annual report.
Each photograph will be posted to Flickr with Dublin Core metadata created by the project team. Metadata includes: title, creator, publisher, contributor, description, type, source, date, format, identifier, repository, rights, and rights holder.

Other Project Components[edit]

Lesson Plans

Four social studies lesson plans have been developed utilizing materials from the digitized collection. All of the lesson plans were developed according to Michigan Department of Education Social Studies Standards. Three of the lesson plans focus on 4th grade curriculum and the fourth focuses on high school students.


A marketing plan was constructed to promote the project. The plan includes a poster series that will be posted around Northern Michigan University’s campus and the local community; a brochure containing more detailed information about the collection and its importance that will also be distributed on NMU’s campus and the local community; a blog detailing the progress of the project and procedures employed; and a Facebook page detailing the project, procedures and the collection.

Conference Presentations

Rachael Bussert, Project Archivist, will be presenting at the 2011 Michigan Archival Association Annual Meeting in June along with Marcus Robyns, University Archivist. Ms. Bussert was also a featured presenter for the session, "Archivists' Show and Tell: An Open Mic Session," at the 2011 Midwest Archives Conference Annual Meeting in St. Paul, MN in April. Both presentations are a summarization of the collections, its importance, the digitization procedure, and other details of the project.

See also[edit]


  1. Northern Michigan University. About Us. 2011. http://webb.nmu.edu/SiteSections/AboutUs/AboutUs.shtml
  2. Robyns, Marcus. "NHPRC Grant Application." National Historical Publications and Records Commission. 2010. 12.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Friggens, Thomas G. Michigan Iron: An Historical Survey of the Michigan Iron Industry. Lansing: Bureau of History, Michigan Department of State, 1986.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Osborne, Richard J. Celebrating 150 Years: Cleveand-Cliffs Inc, 1847-1997. Cleveland: Custom Publishing Group, 1997.