Skip to main content

Great Lakes Minerals

There are hundreds of different minerals found in the Great Lakes basin. Minerals have played an important historical role in human development of the region and continue to play a role in the economies of the Great Lakes states (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York) and the Canadian province of Ontario. 

Native Americans used minerals in their lives. In Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula they dug surface pits to recover native copper that they formed into spear points, knives, scrapers, and other tools using stone hammers. The first major mining rush of North America was to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula in the mid 1840s in search of mineable native copper. By 1846 iron ore was being exploited from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, later to be exploited from Minnesota and Ontario—all part of the Lake Superior iron district. After iron, in the 1800s, gold fever in Minnesota, Ontario, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula further fueled human development of the Great Lakes region. Mineral resources continue to make a significant contribution to human development in the Great Lakes basin. Precambrian bedrock hosts concentrations of minerals mined to recover elements such as iron, copper, and gold while Phanerozoic sedimentary bedrock contains mines for limestone and salt. Sand and gravel are an important resource in the Great Lakes region.



When visitors first lay eyes on the varied and beautiful specimens in our collection, some will ask, “What is a mineral?” A mineral is an element or chemical compound that is normally crystalline and which has been formed as a result of geological processes (International Mineralogical Association).