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Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey - William Sproule

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  1. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    A New Hockey Book on Houghton, Michigan

    [​IMG]

    136 pages, 8” x 10”, softcover, $20 US

    a story for all hockeyists, puckeys, rooters, hockey enthusiasts, and historians

    The story of how a Canadian-born dentist and Houghton entrepreneur changed hockey by openly paying players to come to Michigan’s Copper Country to play hockey. In the early days of hockey it was a game for amateurs, however there were rumors that some players were secretly paid. It was not until 1903 that Jack “Doc” Gibson and James R. Dee decided to recruit the best players from Canada and pay them to play for the Portage Lake (Houghton) hockey team. The team won the 1904 U.S. Championship and defeated a team from Montreal for what was billed as the World’s Championship. Following this successful season, Gibson and Dee began promoting the idea of a professional hockey league and in December 1904 play began in the International Hockey League (IHL). The league had five teams – Calumet, Pittsburgh, Portage Lake, Sault Ste. Marie Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, and although the league lasted only three seasons it was the start of professional hockey. The book explores the early hockey history in Canada and the United States, the Stanley Cup, early hockey in the Copper Country, the original International Hockey League, the teams and players in the league, and what happened after the league folded.

    One can order copies of the book on-line through the Michigan Tech bookstore. HOUGHTON THE BIRTHPLACE OF PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY | Michigan Tech University Images

    Contents
    Preface

    Chapter 1 – Early Hockey History
    Chapter 2 – Houghton and the Copper Country
    Chapter 3 – Gibson Comes to Houghton
    Chapter 4 – Professional Hockey Begins in Houghton
    Chapter 5 – The Original International Hockey League
    Chapter 6 – Three Seasons of Professional Hockey
    Chapter 7 – International Hockey League Players
    Chapter 8 – After the International Hockey League
    References

    The book has recently been included on a list of notable U.P. books: January 27, 2021 | Tech Today | Michigan Tech

    From a Book Review by Victor Volkman, UPPAA President (Houghton – The Birthplace of Professional Hockey by William Sproule – UP Book Review):
    "Sproule’s book excels in detail in the second half of the book where he dissects every game of those early seasons 1904, 1905, and 1906 where Copper Country teams ruled the professional leagues. Statistics for all the International Hockey League teams are provided, including teams from Calumet, Portage Lake, Michigan Soo, Canadian Soo, and Pittsburgh. Player-level detail shows Top Goal Scorers, Top Goalies, and even Penalty-Minute Leaders.
    A detailed biographical section provides player portraits and bios of all Portage Lake players and Hockey Hall of Famers. A complete IHL player roster provides career details that you won’t find all together in any other book about early hockey history. Sproule also provides archival quality pictures of all the local area hockey venues including the evolution of Houghton’s Amphidrome, the Calumet Glaciadom, and Calumet Colosseum. Last, but not least, a history of the Stanley Cup and MacNaughton Cups provide historical backgrounds for these unique hockey award traditions. Sproule even covers rulebooks and rule changes from the original one-pager to more sophisticated rules which evolved surprisingly quickly."

    Author:

    William J. (Bill) Sproule is a Professor Emeritus, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan, where he taught transportation engineering, public transit, airport design, and hockey history. He is a member of several associations including the Historical Society of Michigan, the Houghton County Historical Society, and the Society for International Hockey Research. Bill is a co-author of the fifth edition of the airport textbook, Planning and Design of Airports, and author of Copper Country Streetcars.
     
    Last edited by moderator Theokritos: Feb 10, 2021
    SotasicA, Sanf, sr edler and 3 others like this.
  2. Theokritos Moderator

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    Great to have you!

    First impression: this looks like a very well-sourced book. Which sources were you able to use beyond contemporary newspapers?
     
  3. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    There were several papers in the SIHR's Hockey Research Journal but a thesis by Daniel Mason was extremely helpful to get me started. The title is "The Origins and Development of the International Hockey League and its Effects on the Sport of Professional Ice Hockey in North America," University of British Columbia, 1998. Dr. Mason also authors a couple of papers that evolved from his thesis. There is an extensive List of References in the book.
     
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  4. tarheelhockey Offside Review Specialist

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    Any plans for a digital version? I will probably buy this one way or the other, but prefer the digital for note-keeping purposes.
     
  5. Sanf Registered User

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    This sounds very interesting! Have done quite some research myself and Daniel Mason´s work is familiar to me.

    You are probably familiar with local star Joe Linder. Born in Hancock, selected to US Hockey Hall Of Fame and by them claimed to be “first great American-born hockey player.” Personally I have found very little information about his early career. I have found nothing about the time when "Doc" Gibson took him to Portage Lake team in 1904 (according to USHHOF). Do you have any insight on him?
     
  6. kaiser matias Registered User

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    Here's a direct link to the book on the university site: HOUGHTON THE BIRTHPLACE OF PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY | Michigan Tech University Images

    My only concern is that it's asking me for $50 in shipping (to Canada). Is there anyway I can get this without paying twice the cost of the book in shipping fees? I've always found this topic neat, and would love to get a look at the book, but that's a bit much.
     
  7. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    I am not planning to produce a digital version. Sorry.
     
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  8. Theokritos Moderator

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  9. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    Yes. I have uncover a lot on information on Joe Linder and I am finalizing a paper that I hope will appear in a future edition of SIHR's Hockey Research Journal. He is a fascinating individual.
     
  10. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    I am surprised by the mailing costs to Canada but I am not sure how to overcome it. Sorry.
     
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  11. kaiser matias Registered User

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    No problem, not a shot at you by any means. I'll figure a way out to get it, don't worry.
     
  12. Theokritos Moderator

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    @Bill Sproule

    My question would have been: Why Houghton? But the review linked in the presentation already provides an answer:

    "It turns out that the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) dominated the sport and their insistence on amateur teams eventually created the economic opportunity for Houghton. The town was ideally situated with rail links, courtesy of the copper mining industry, to move players from Canada into the US and from that vantage being able to field a team to challenge American teams as far away as Pennsylvania."

    So I get that. But today, Houghton is very far down the list of the most populated places in Michigan. I assume it ranked a lot higher in the early 20th century and had some kind of economic significance and wealth it doesn't have today?
     
  13. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    Copper mining made the region a prosperous area of the country and over 80% of the nation's copper was produced in the region that became known as the "Copper Country" and the demand for copper was growing during this time as the electrical industry developed. The 1900 census recorded the population of Houghton County at over 66,000 and it grew to almost 100,000 by 1910 (today the County has a population of about 30,000). Houghton County had more millionaires per capita than any other county in the United States. The Copper Country was as cosmopolitan as New York or Boston with shopping, theaters, saloons and bars, and so on. There was streetcar network that connected area communities and several daily intercity trains trains connected the area with Chicago and Minneapolis. Chapter 2 provides an introduction to Houghton and the Copper Country to help the reader get a sense of the area during the era.
    Copper mining declined after World War I as copper was discovered in other parts of the country and it was cheaper to extract (open-pit mining) and as mines closed many of the mine workers moved to the Detroit to became auto workers. Today, Michigan Tech University and tourism are the main draws to the area.
     
  14. Theokritos Moderator

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    That goes a long way to explain it.

    One of the other places that participated in the IHL was Pittsburgh, where prior to the IHL the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League used to be located . I've read the WPHL went professional as early as 1901-1902, wouldn't that actually predate professional hockey in Houghton?
     
  15. MarkusKetterer Shoulda got one game in

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    My understanding was that teams then were *wink wink* professional, whereas this league was openly professional.
     
  16. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    I believe that the WPHL of the early 1900s was really a semi-pro league and Canadians were attracted or invited to Pittsburgh for good jobs and they could also earn some money playing hockey. Gibson and Dee wanted to attract the best Canadians to Houghton to play hockey for the winter months (mid-December to mid-March) but they couldn't offer good jobs. They indicated that the players would be openly paid to play hockey and contracts would be negotiated and the better players would receive higher salaries. A few players did get part-time jobs while they were in Houghton and a few players would commute from Canada by train to weekend games.
     
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  17. MarkusKetterer Shoulda got one game in

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    That’s the difference. WPHL was *wink wink* professional. Whereas the IHL (sometimes called the CAHL or CAHA) was all “yea, we pay our players a lot”.

    Crazy thing is back then, Soo Mich was bigger than Soo Ontario was. Now the Canadian side is 7x bigger.
     
  18. Theokritos Moderator

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    Looking through an article by Kevin Slater in the last SIHR Journal at the moment. He says that accusations of cloaked professionalism kept occupying the Ontario Hockey Association in the 1890s, but nothing could ever be proven. In 1897, the OHA enacted a drastic new rule: from now on, an accused player had "the burden of proving his innocence". He was considered guilty until the had he proved the opposite.

    So that's the situation the WPHL poked into with its offers of jobs and some money. And then the IHL followed with contracts that offered money for play.

    @Bill Sproule:
    How big was the impact on the OHA? I guess we can quantify how many players the IHL managed to pull away from Canada?
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2021
  19. GreenBubbleRaincoat Registered User

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    Really nifty to see this book coming out. And really cool to see some inquisitive responses in this thread. I'm from that area, and hockey is truly loved there. The first game I ever played (house league) was at the Dee Stadium in late 1998. The last goal I scored (This may change..) in an organized league was also at the Dee. Copper mining definitely dictated the proceedings in the late 19th century and into the 20th century....but the strike of 1913 hurt the industry. WW2 somewhat revived what was left of the great Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, but by 1968, with another strike put on by the workers.. neither side came to a conclusion. We still have a lot of copper up this way, but the tracks were torn out back in the 90's, and with what Mr. Sproule eluded to...open-pit mining is more economic than the shaft mining that every company did here in their heyday. Will copper ever be mined here again? I know hockey will always be played here, no doubt about that.
     
  20. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    I included a little background on the five cities in the original IHL with populations in 1904: Pittsburgh - 320,000; Calumet - 35,000; Houghton/Hancock - 10,000; Soo Michigan - 11,500, and Soo Canada - 6,000. It is interesting to note the populations of other cities in the Midwest at the time too: Marquette, MI -10,000+; Duluth, MN - 50,000; Minneapolis/St. Paul - 350,000; Detroit -300,000, and Chicago 1.7 million.
     
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  21. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    Thank you... a lot of copper is still buried in Copper Country. Whether any will be extracted in the future depends on the world price of copper and demand.
     
  22. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    Virtually all of the players in the IHL were from Canada. I have included a list of all of the players that played in the IHL, their hometowns, and the teams that they played for, in the book.
     
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  23. MarkusKetterer Shoulda got one game in

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    That’s crazy. Soo MI has stayed roughly the same. Soo ON is about 74,000 and Calumet now has 750 people. Houghton only has 7,500 people, but double that if you take the student population of Michigan Tech into account.

    Amazing what can change in 100 years.
     
  24. Theokritos Moderator

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    How much is known about the background of those players? Did all of them have a working class background (and thus didn't have much reason to care for the amateur principle to begin with)? Or were there also players of an upper-class/bourgeois background who choose to go against the grain of what the mainstream opinion on professionals was in their own social circles back home?
     
  25. Bill Sproule Registered User

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    I am not sure but my sense that based on their hometowns most were from working class families. There are several players that played in the original IHL and returned to Canada when the league folded and were later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. You can probably read more about these players on the Hockey Hall of Fame website.
     

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