The Calumet and Hecla Company, which was formed in about 1866, was one of the largest mining operations in the Lake Superior region of Upper Michigan. Over 3 billion pounds of copper were removed from its extensive mines by the time operations ceased in 1939. To facilitate the work in both the mines and smelting plants, the company installed some the largest steam engines ever built. The aggregate amounted to over 55,000 horsepower.
Noted 19th century steam engineer Erasmus Darwin Leavitt was hired to design the series of huge multi-cylinder engines. Each had sufficient power to support several operations at one time. While an engine drove one of the hoists, it might also power pumping, conveying, and air compressing machinery. At the peak of operations there were at least 50 steam engines of all sizes providing power to Calumet and Hecla. Falling copper prices during the 1920s and the economic depression of the 1930s ultimately forced the mines to close. The engines were of no further use and their countless tons of cast iron and steel ended up in the scrap drives of World War II.
Erasmus Darwin Leavitt was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1836 and died in 1916 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was educated in the Lowell public schools, entered the machine shop of the Lowell Manufacturing Company in 1852, and served three years as an apprentice. He spent one year with Corliss and Nightingale and was later assistant foreman of the City Point works in South Boston, where he was in charge of building the engines for the flagship "Hartford." From 1859 to 1861 he was chief draftsman for Thurston, Gardiner & Co., of Providence, Rhode Island, leaving to enter the United States Navy in the summer of 1861.
Leavitt served during the Civil War and he was detailed to the Naval Academy at Annapolis as instructor in steam engineering. Resigning in 1867, he resumed the practice of mechanical engineering, making a specialty of pumping and mining machinery. He was consulting engineer of the Calumet and Hecla Mining compan from 1874 to 1904 during which time he designed the equipment. He was also consulting engineer for Henry R. Worthington, the Dickson Manufacturing Company, City of Boston and City of Cambridge, and designed the pumping engine for the City of Louisville, Kentucky. He was advisory engineer and designed machinery for the Bethlehem Steel Company and for South African mining companies. He was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and formerly its president; the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Institute of Mining Engineers, Boston Society of Civil Engineers, American Society of Naval Engineers, an honorary member of the British Society for the Advancement of Science, life member of Franklin Institute, and member of Institution of Civil Engineers and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers of Great Britain. He was also a fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1884 Mr. Leavitt received the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology of New Jersey. Leavitt retired from active practice in 1904. He married Annie Elisabeth Pettit in 1867, and had three daughters, Mary, Margaret and Annie.
, March 18, 1916