Ocha Potter papers: 1898-2008 (bulk 1923-1965)
Summary Information
Title: Ocha Potter papers
Creator: Potter, Ocha, 1878-1950
Inclusive dates: 1898-2008
Bulk dates: 1923-1965
Extent: 0.6 linear feet (in 2 boxes)
Ocha Potter was a copper mining engineer and adventurer who also played an important role in the promotion of Keweenaw County, Michigan as a vacation destination during the 1930s and 1940s. Over the course of his career, Potter made important contributions to the field of copper mining, including the development of a safer, more efficient method of stoping and advocacy for the use of the lighter "one-man" alternative to the ubiquitous two-man drill. He also led and undertook many travels and expeditions both for work and leisure, which he documented in photographs. This collection contains three photo albums, documenting Potter's travels to Alaska (1905-1908), Africa and Europe (1930), and national parks in the American West (1923, 1934 and 1936). It also contains a manuscript of his autobiography, family correspondence about the manuscript, and newspaper clippings and ephemera related to Potter's life, career, and involvement with the Copper Country Vacationist League.
Call number: 2016081 Aa 2
Language: The material is in English
Repository: Bentley Historical Library
1150 Beal Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2113
Phone: 734-764-3482
Fax: 734-936-1333
e-mail: bentley.ref@umich.edu
Home Page: http://www.bentley.umich.edu/
Finding aid created by Nicco Pandolfi, October 2016.

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by Julia Fairchild (donor no. 11595) in September 2016. One additional photograph donated in November 2016.

Access Restrictions:

This collection is open without restriction.

To protect fragile audiovisual recordings (such as audio cassettes, film reels, and VHS tapes), the Bentley Historical Library has a policy of converting them to digital formats by a professional vendor whenever a researcher requests access. For more information, please see: http://bentley.umich.edu/research/duplication/.


Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.

Alternate Format:

Materials in this collection have been digitized and are available online; please see the Contents List.

Preferred Citation:

[item], folder, box, Ocha Potter papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

[item], [URL], Ocha Potter papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.


The collection is arranged into two series: Photo Albums, and Biographical Material.


Ocha Potter was a copper mining engineer and adventurer who also played an important role in the promotion of Keweenaw County, Michigan as a vacation destination during the 1930s and 1940s. He was born on March 1, 1878 in Sherwood, WI. After attending school in Fond du Lac and later Appleton, WI, where he met his future wife Julia Silverfriend, Potter taught for a brief period at a country school 20 miles outside of Appleton. In the spring of 1898, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish American War, but a case of typhoid fever prevented him from traveling to the front and he spent the next several months in a series of military hospitals.

In 1899 Potter moved to Ishpeming, MI in search of work. Shortly thereafter, he secured a position as a laborer at a copper mine near Houghton, MI. This began a stint of logging and mining-related jobs that provided Potter with the opportunity to gain experience with diamond drill mining, a relatively new technique at the time which was in high demand. This experience led to many more opportunities in the field of mining, which constituted Potter's primary employment over the next several years. He enrolled at the Michigan College of Mines in 1904 to pursue a career as a mining engineer shortly after eloping with Julia Silverfriend in Denver, CO.

During the course of his studies, he led several mining expeditions that interrupted the progress of his degree, including multiple trips to Alaska, one of which he undertook in 1908 in the company of his wife, Julia and three-year old son, George. Upon his return, the college conferred upon him the degree he had almost enough credits to earn, in recognition of all of the field work he had completed on his various expeditions.

Over the course of his career, Potter made important contributions to the field of copper mining, including the development of a safer, more efficient method of stoping and advocacy for the use of the lighter "one-man" alternative to the ubiquitous two-man drill, an industry shift that was a major factor in the 1913 strike by the Western Federation of Miners. Potter served as the superintendent of the Ahmeek Mine for Calumet and Hecla Copper Company from 1921 until his retirement in 1948.

Outside of his mining work, Potter served on the Keweenaw County Road Commission from 1922 to 1950, and was a leader in the effort to make the Keweenaw Peninsula a vacation destination. In 1934 he became the first president of the Copper Country Vacationist League and took a month-long automobile trip to California with Julia, stopping along the way to study famous golf courses and tourist resorts. He returned with the results of this recreational field survey intent on implementing some of what he had observed in service of the mission of the newly formed Vacationist League.

Potter undertook two other major trips during the 1930s. One was a journey to Africa to visit his son George who was working as a mining engineer in Rhodesia. On this trip, which lasted several months, Potter and his son visited South Africa, the Belgian Congo, Portuguese East Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania Kenya and Zanzibar, Yemen, Egypt, Italy and France before returning to New York. The other trip was a tour of several national parks in the American West with his children, Betty and Billie, in 1936. They visited the Black Hills, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Salt Lake, Bryce Canyon, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Mt. Zion Park, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert and Pike's Peak.

His work with the Copper Country Vacationist League spanned from 1934 to 1941 and included his service as the chair of the advertising committee, a role which gave him the opportunity to employ his hobbyist interest in photography, an interest honed on his many travels and expeditions.

Ocha Potter was diagnosed with phlebitis, pleurisy, pneumonia, and bacterial endocarditis in June, 1949. His ill health limited his level of activity, but he lived for another six years before dying of lung cancer on July 15, 1955 in Laurium, MI.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Collection contains three photo albums with photographs taken by Potter on his trips to Alaska, Africa, Europe, and the United States. Also newspaper clippings about Potter, ephemera related to Potter's involvement with the Copper Country Vacationist League, family correspondence, manuscript of Ocha's autobiography, and biographical information about him by his granddaughter Julia Fairchild.

Subject Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the finding aid database and catalog of The Bentley Historical Library/University of Michigan. Researchers desiring additional information about related topics should search the catalog using these headings.

  • Copper mines and mining -- Michigan -- Upper Peninsula.
  • Tourism -- Michigan.
  • Mining.
  • National parks and reserves -- United States.
  • Alaska -- Description and travel.
  • Africa -- Description and travel.
  • Photograph albums.
  • Europe -- Description and travel.
  • Mining engineers -- Michigan -- Biography.
  • Mountains.
  • National parks & reserves -- Arizona.
  • National parks & reserves -- California.
  • National parks & reserves -- Utah.
  • Sleds & sleighs -- Alaska.
  • Tourism -- Michigan.
  • West (U.S.) -- Description and travel.
  • Boats -- Alaska.
  • Potter, Ocha, 1878-1950.
  • Fairchild, Julia M.
Contents List
Request materials for use in the Bentley Library
Container / Location Title
Photo Albums 1905-1936 [series] (1 box (3 photograph albums; 9in. x 12in.))

The Photo Albums series (3 volumes) contains albums of photographs (with annotations) taken by Ocha Potter on his trips to Alaska (1905, 1906, and 1908), Africa and Europe (1930), and the Western continental United States (1923, 1934, and 1936). The three albums were created by Potter in 1950 to accompany his autobiography, "60-Years-Plus 12."

Box   1  
Album No. 1: Alaska 1905-1906 , 1908

This album contains photos documenting multiple mining-related trips Ocha Potter took to Alaska between 1905 and 1908. Photos are primarily of landscapes, people, camps and modes of travel (dogsleds, boats, etc.) It includes some photos of Potter's wife, Julia and son, George, who accompanied him to Alaska in 1908.

[view item]
Box   1  
Album No. 2: Africa and Europe 1930

This album, the largest of the three, documents Ocha Potter's 1930 voyage to Africa, and his subsequent African and European travels with his son George, who was working at the time as a mining engineer in Rhodesia. Countries visited include South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Belgian Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, Egypt, Italy, and France (approximately two to five photos each).

[view item]
Box   1  
Album No. 3: Western U.S. 1923 , 1934 , 1936

This album (the smallest of the three) contains photos from several domestic trips Ocha Potter took, variously accompanied by his wife and his children, Betty and Billie. Destinations include the National Petrified Forest in Arizona, the Grand Canyon, California, the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mt. Zion National Park, the Painted Desert in Arizona, and Pike's Peak.

[view item]
Biographical Material [series] (0.3 linear feet)

The Biographical Materials series (0.3 linear feet, 1939-2008) includes family correspondence regarding Potter's intentions for the manuscript of his autobiography, the manuscript itself, and a timeline of events in Potter's life drafted by his granddaughter (and donor of this collection), Julia Fairchild. It also includes newspaper clippings about Ocha Potter's life, career and civic engagement, as well as ephemera related to Potter's involvement with the Copper Country Vacationist League.

Box   2  
Autobiography "60 Years Plus 12" and related correspondence 1939-1965 [view item]
Box   2  
Family correspondence 1940-1951 (1 folder)

This folder contains correspondence between Ocha Potter and his children and later correspondence among his children, regarding the handling of his autobiographical manuscript and estate. It also contains a biographical timeline of his life created by his granddaughter, Julia Fairchild.

[view item]
Box   2  
Newspaper Clippings and Ephemera 1898-1954 (1 folder)

This folder contains newspaper clippings about Ocha Potter's life and work, both in the field of mining and in service of the Copper Country Vacationist League. It also contains a copy of written remarks delivered by Potter upon his retirement from the Vacationist League.

[view item]
Box   2  
"Ocha Potter: Time Line of Events in His Life" by Julia Fairchild 2008 [view item]
Box   2  
Portrait undated [view item]
Box   2  
Vacationist League meeting remarks 1940 [view item]
Additional Descriptive Data
Related Materials

Michigan Technical University Archives and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Archives house related Ocha Potter collections.