MARQUETTE - Virginia Dawson said she always had her eye on Cleveland-Cliffs.
A corporate historian, Dawson is based in Cleveland, the city along Lake Erie's shore that is the company's home base.
"They did a celebratory history of the company and I had originally asked to be part of that, but it didn't work out," Dawson said in a phone interview. "This is a critical history and I am delighted things turned out this way."
Digging Up History
"Iron Will: Cleveland-Cliffs and the Mining of Iron Ore, 1847-2006," is the book recently published by Wayne State University Press. The 360-page book, with 115 illustrations, tells the story of the only surviving independent American iron mine company, now known as Cliffs Natural Resources, which has been one of the central Upper Peninsula's largest employers for more than 100 years.
Writing the corporate history of a big company covering such a great span of years is a challenge, but when a major center of its operations is hundreds of miles away, it can be even more daunting.
Enter Terry Reynolds, a Michigan Tech University professor of history.
"Ginnie felt the project was too big for her to undertake alone," Reynolds said in an email interview. "While Cliffs' headquarters were in Cleveland, she recognized that its operations had long been centered on the Marquette Range, far from Cleveland. Nonetheless, she had a long-term interest in major Cleveland-based enterprises and did a web search for information on CCI history. That search yielded my name, since I had previously authored several articles on Michigan iron mining history.
"In October 2006, almost by chance, we met at a Society for the History of Technology meeting in Las Vegas and began to discuss the possibility of collaborating on the project if it came to fruition," he said. "In November 2006 the two of us put together a proposal to the company, and Virginia submitted it through her consulting company, History Enterprises Inc."
The pair met with with John Brinzo, who was then Cliffs president, and several other company personnel in February 2007 and had a contract to prepare the history by late April 2007.
They completed a first draft of the manuscript by January 2009 and now the book is on sale.
The work that went into the book was extensive, including reviewing archival materials at the Marquette County History Museum, Northern Michigan University and at Cliffs' properties in Ohio and Michigan.
The pair divided the company's story.
"Because I had already done considerable work on Michigan iron mining history in the 19th and early 20th centuries, I focused on the pre-1945 era," Reynolds said. "She focused on the post-1955 era and both of us worked on the material covering the period 1945-55.
"The collaboration itself went very well," he said. "We read, revised and corrected each others' drafts. We shared documents. I did many of the interviews with company employees who lived in the Marquette area; she did all of the interviews with company personnel residing in and around Cleveland."
Dawson said: "It turned out so well. The solidity of Terry's work is wonderful. I am so thrilled with that."
Both said they found some surprises in the course of their research which will intrigue readers of "Iron Will."
For Dawson, this project turned out to be among her all-time favorites.
"I have done a lot of corporate histories, but this is the first one where everything fell into place," she said. "The company was so easy to work with. We were encouraged to be objective. I am just so pleased with the way things turned out."
So are company officials.
"We are very pleased with the book," said Dale Hemmila, Cliffs Natural Resources district manager for public affairs, Michigan. "It is clearly the most comprehensive and best documented history of the company that has been published. Not only does it reflect the history of Cliffs, but also summarizes how our region came to play such an important part in America's industrial development.
"One thing I think that is unique is that it outlines how and why many of the key decisions in Cliffs history were made in the words of the people who made those decisions.
"People should find it to be interesting reading."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.