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The Cornish Pump Museum is a fun upper peninsula Michigan day trip.

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Cornish Pump

The exploration and settlement of the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan was driven by the lumber industry, as well as, the quest for copper and iron. The Menominee Range contained numerous iron mines, several of which were discovered around the “iron mountain” on the Wisconsin border. The Chapin Mine was to become the most productive. In fact, it would become one of the greatest iron mines in the world. The town of Iron Mountain began in 1879 due to the great wealth of the Chapin Mine.

cornish pump iron mountainAs the mine was developed it was discovered that part of the ore was underneath a cedar swamp. Water seeping into the mine shafts became an ever increasing problem, causing a number of accidents. Ground based pumps were installed to remove the constant accumulation of seeping water. This solution handled the problem for many years, but as the miners dug deeper into the earth, the ground pumps were overwhelmed. A new solution was needed. That solution was found in the tin mines of Cornwall where miners had been dealing with deep wet mines for generations.

A new pump was designed to handle the unique conditions in the mine. The steam-driven engine developed became known as the “Cornish Pump”. The pump was and is gigantic. The pump weighs in at 160 tons and is 54 feet tall. The flywheel alone is 40 feet in diameter. In fact, part of the flywheel turns in a trench beneath ground level. It is still the largest reciprocating steam-driven engine ever built in the United States. This enormous pump kept the mine dry enough for mining operations for years. The Chapin Mine eventually produced over 27 million tons of iron ore.

The mine closed in 1932 and the Cornish Pump was donated to Dickinson County. It is currently on display in the Cornish Pump Museum. No written description can prepare the visitor for the first time you see this machine. The size of the pump simply overwhelms. While there are lots of other exhibits in many museums across the Upper Peninsula, the Cornish Pump literally towers over all of them.