By Mr. Bill (Mrbill) on Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 08:34 am:
The following is a conclusion of the LSSFC story, made possible by the extensive personal collection of Clarence Monette, now in the Michigan Tech Archive's Copper Country Collection:
In 1872 for no published reason, the Lake Superior Safety Fuse Company is sold at public auction. Joseph Blight purchases the company and re-names it Joseph Blight & Sons; daughter Minnie and sons Richard and Joseph Jr., join the company.
In 1882 fuse production was reported to have increased to 50,000 feet per day, placing sales at $10,000 per month.
In 1894 Joseph Blight Sr. dies, sons Joseph Jr. and Richard take over.
The following is an integrated compilation of various newspaper accounts from various dates: The Daily Mining Gazette’s of January 3 and January 4, 1900, the DMG’s May 8, 1957 and an eyewitness account written in the Copper Island Sentinel in July 2, 1981. Emphasis was given to the more specific and fresher account of the DMG on 1-04-1900 - Author
On January 2, 1900, five horse drawn sleighs were loaded at the Calumet railroad freight depot with supplies bound for the Blight Fuse Factory in Eagle River, Michigan. These supplies included a twenty-two ton boxcar-load, or more accurately 44,250 pounds of black powder in metal kegs.
Two sleighs were hired from Joseph Trudell, two sleighs were hired from Thomas Shea, and the fifth sleigh, was a Company owned sleigh personally driven by Mr. Blight, owner of the Blight fuse factory.
Trudell’s hire sleighs were the first two loaded and departed Calumet on what appeared to be a clear prematurely spring day. Joseph St. Louis,
Thought to be approximately thirty-five years of age, had been especially hired for this trip, while Alex Hammerstrum having worked for Mr. Trudell for about nine months, was thought to be nineteen. Since they were ahead of the other wagons, it was repeatedly suggested in the Gazette that these two drivers stopped at Plant’s Roadhouse in Phenix [sic] for “a nip”.
Shea’s teams, driven by Messrs. Harris and Hall, were the second teams to load and leave the Calumet Depot, each having been instructed by Mr. Blight to overnight at the Plant Roadhouse rather than arrive and un-load at the fuse factory by lamplight. Upon arriving at the Roadhouse at approximately 5 pm, Shea’s men were told that they’d just missed the first team by about fifteen minutes.
At approximately that same instant Peter Hepting at the fuse factory, recalled hearing the “muffled explosion and seeing the lurid red glow in the sky”. He promptly departed the plant heading towards Phoenix location; this about the same time that Harris and Hall having also seen “blinding flash and hearing a deafening report”, left Plant’s Roadhouse, heading towards the factory.
As Hepting neared the end of Cemetery Road he came to a “single gaping hole” near the “ten foot swimming hole”, or “Butkovich’s place”, about one-
quarter mile from town, beating the other team from Phoenix still some three-quarters of a mile away. Peter noted only seeing a piece of horse, while Harris and Hall from the other direction observed horses blown to bits and bits of sleigh strewn about like “match wood”.
Early the next day a sleigh pole, a horse carcass without legs, and a portion of sweater thought to have been worn by St. Louis were found. Later that day Hammerstrom’s silver watch was found along with a piece of arm and shoulder with enough clothing to be identified as Hammerstrom’s. A sled runner and three fingers were found a quarter mile away in the woods.
The source of the explosion was thought to be a leaking keg, as a black powder trail running some two-hundred yards back up Phenix [sic] road was observed. The cause of ignition was thought as either an ash from a pipe, cigar, or match, or possibly that of an iron sleigh runner scraping bare rock. The actual cause was never known.
The story made headlines several states away, all using the headline that the men “were atomized” .
While no mention of any name change is made, in 1915 a trade advertisement in the February 27th, Keweenaw Miner lists the company as The Original Lake Superior Safety Fuse Company, Blight's Sons & Co, Props. The Daily Mining Gazette that same year reports that the plant was running overtime .
In 1921 Joe Jr. dies, followed in 1923 by the death of this brother Richard. Richard’s son Roscoe takes leadership of the company now referred to as the Blight Fuse Factory.
A brief article from the Daily Mining Gazette in 1937 stated that they are still using same formula they began with in 1862.
1943 marked a new annual production record of 11,116,900 feet. In 1945 however, production dropped to 7,455,000 feet due to material shortages necessitating a two month shutdown . 1946 was another problematic year due to strikes at larger iron mines in U.P. and Minnesota. These forced the factory to close from March 22 to July 29. Customers affected by the strikes included Republic Steel, Pickands-Mather, Cleveland-Cliffs, and the North Range Iron Company.
In 1946 the Daily Mining Gazette cited that their only known competitor in the United States is Ensign-Pickford in Finsbury, Conn. The article continues that the company is presently managed by Robert B. Bawden, grandson of Joseph Blight Senior, along with his son R. M. Bawden.
An extensive 1951 Daily Mining Gazette article contained the Clarence Monette Collection states that the “Fuse Plant Gets Publicity in Trade Magazine”; noted highlights include:
•Caterpillar diesel power replaces water power
•A complex of a dozen buildings
•claims to have blow-up more earth than the atomic bombs in Japan
•currently making 33,000 feet daily [858,000 annually]
•product trucked to rail head in Calumet served iron ranges of Vermillion, Mesabi, and Cayuga in MN. Marquette, Gogebic and Menominee and half the copper mines in the UP.
•Ten men are employed – Two are salesmen, plus one girl to sew miles of sheeting.
•still using a jute spooling machine made in 1865 + a foot powered lathe. [ since automated ]
In 1957 the plant burnt without personal injury losing twenty-five jobs and stranding customers as far away as Athens, Bombay, and Paris.
An interesting coda to the long and reliable of history of safety fuse, is that as late as 1974 [black powder based] safety fuses outsold electrically detonated fuse, developed over one hundred years earlier, which remained the largest method of explosive detonation in the world
By dane l. christensen (Danech55) on Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 10:13 am:
What exactly is the Eagle River historic district, and what is it's significance? Nice video Charley, those rocks are slippery enough in the summer,let alone covered in ice and snow.
Here's the State of Michigan listing, although in error they display the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse
By Joann (Packerbacker) on Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 12:12 pm:
Charlie, that bank looks steep and a little tricky. Becareful climbing back up. Nice video. Makes me want to take our spring drive around Keweenaw to see spring changing the landscape.
By Alex "UP-Goldwinger" (Alex) on Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 02:55 pm:
Very cool video Charlie, the sights and "the sounds" of the river are great. Now, as a follow-up, you should take a video while bungee jumping off the bridge. :-)
By Mr. Bill (Mrbill) on Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 03:28 pm:
Eagle River was a waterfront port on Lake Superior for mining supplies, and the "nuts and bolts" of everyday frontier life for six months of the year. In addition to several warehouses, it boasted several amenities such as a hotel, an insurance agent, a brewery, a general store, a fuse factory, and I believe a Post Office and a jail.
By John E. Kivela Jr. (Sgm) on Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 05:30 pm:
Thanks a Million for the photo of my best uncle Matt Laity. This is the only picture I now have of him. He worked many years for Mr. Blight. Thanks again from Blue Ridge Summit, PA.