New Michigan Historical Museum exhibit pays long-overdue tribute to Upper Peninsula’s greatest inventor

Sen. Casperson introducing resolution to declare Nov. 15 as “Webster L. Marble Day” in recognition of 20th century outdoors gear manufacturer’s genius 

GLADSTONE, Mich. — A resolution to be introduced by state Sen. Tom Casperson would declare Nov. 15 – the start of the Michigan’s firearm deer hunting season – as “Webster L. Marble Day” in the state in tribute to the man recognized as the Upper Peninsula’s greatest inventor and founder of Gladstone-based Marble Safety Axe Company.

MarbleIf adopted, Webster L. Marble Day would come on the heels of the Nov. 7 public opening of the Michigan Historical Museum’s new yearlong special exhibit, “Inventing the Outdoors.” The exhibit will look at the origins of the state’s love for outdoor recreation through the life and times of Webster L. Marble, an early 20th century Upper Peninsula entrepreneur who started a company in Gladstone that would become heralded internationally as an outdoor gear powerhouse, outfitting legions of hunters, anglers, campers and hikers.

“Historians recognize Webster Marble was a genius as an inventor, manufacturer, marketer and one of the Upper Peninsula’s most successful business leaders — yet most people in our state are unaware of his pioneering achievements,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “Marble literally invented the American hunting knife, as well as the knife that all U.S. military blades would be patterned after for most of the 20th century.

“The tribute to his accomplishments by the Legislature is long overdue, and I hope Michigan citizens will embrace the opportunity to learn more about his efforts at innovation and to advance outdoor recreation during the Michigan Historical Museum special exhibit.”

A Milwaukee, Wisconsin native born in 1854, Marble was raised in Vassar and Frankfort before ultimately settling with his family in the Upper Peninsula community of Gladstone in 1889, where he soon became an expert trapper, hunter and fisherman. His natural love of the woods and field sports led him to take up the occupations of surveyor and timber cruiser, which sparked his desire to invent and manufacture outdoor equipment that helped revolutionize the industry, such as safety axes, knives and coat compasses.

“By the time Henry Ford rolled his first Model T off the assembly line, Marble was a household name and his company was outfitting millions of outdoor enthusiasts with Michigan-made products,” said Michigan Historical Center Director Sandra Clark.

He founded the Marble Safety Axe Company in 1899, which continues today as the Marble Arms Company. Marble would eventually own more than 60 patents for outdoor products, including knives and compasses used by Theodore Roosevelt as well as by Charles Lindbergh during his first solo trans-Atlantic flight. Troops in World War I were issued Webster-designed waterproof matchboxes, and both the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of America adopted Marble’s Woodcraft and Sport as their official knives, respectively.

During its heyday in the early 1900s, Marble marketed his products by distributing more than 1 million catalogs annually and placing advertisements in more than 50 national magazines that reached more than 20 million readers. Webster was buried in Gladstone’s Fernwood Cemetery after his death in 1930.

“His designs set the standard for the 20th century in the outdoor goods market and are still influential today,” said Marble Arms Company President and CEO Craig Lauerman. “Among the special artifacts included in the exhibit are his safety folding axes, many models of unique hunting knives, automatic fish gaffs and the famous Game Getter gun. It’s hard to remember that it wasn’t too long ago that the simplest outdoor items were survival necessities. Webster Marble perfected and manufactured the best of them.”

The Michigan Historical Museum exhibit explores Marble’s creativity for innovation, experimenting and improving upon tools that didn’t meet his needs as an outdoorsman, and for marketing his creations across the globe. “Inventing the Outdoors” gives visitors a chance to examine their own outdoor experiences and allows children to experience life in the Michigan woods 100 years ago. The exhibit also includes interactive opportunities for visitors to get creative with activities such as building a lean-to, telling stories around a fire pit, giving shape to their ideas at a “makers” innovation table and sharing their outdoor experiences through drawing or writing.

“When Webster Marble worked as a timber cruiser, the wilds of Michigan provided mainly resources for raw materials. By the start of the last century, we began to see things differently, to manage them differently, and to promote them differently,” Clark said. “That evolution has led to the ethic of leave-no-trace camping, the wisdom of scientific game management and the marketing power of Pure Michigan. It has influenced not only how we relate to the outdoors, but how we position and promote ourselves to the world.”

“Inventing the Outdoors” opens Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Michigan Historical Museum, 702 Kalamazoo St., in downtown Lansing. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/museum.

The museum and visitor parking are on the north side of Kalamazoo Street, two blocks east of M. L. King Jr. Boulevard. Weekend parking is free. General admission fees for the Michigan Historical Museum are $6 for adults 18-64, free for children through age 5, $2 for youth ages 6-17, and $4 for seniors 65 and up. A Michigan Historical Center membership includes an annual pass, and there is no admission charge on Sundays.

The Michigan Historical Center is part of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Its museum and archival programs help people discover, enjoy and find inspiration in their heritage. It includes the Michigan Historical Museum, 10 regional museums, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, and the Archives of Michigan. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/michiganhistory. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr. 

###

Senate committees adopt resolution, urge U.S. to upgrade Soo Locks

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – At a rare joint hearing of the state Senate Commerce, Transportation, and Economic Development and International Investment committees on Monday, legislators adopted Senate Resolution 105 to encourage the federal government to support plans to upgrade the Soo Locks and approve a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reprogramming request to fund an Economic Reevaluation Report for replacing the Davis and Sabin locks.

Citing the locks’ vital importance to Michigan’s, the U.S.’s and Canada’s economies, resolution sponsor Sen. Wayne Schmidt said modernizing the locks is needed now more than ever.

“A 21st century Michigan economy demands a modern Soo Locks,” said Commerce Committee Chairman Schmidt, R-Traverse City. “Despite the rapid transformation and growth of our economy, the Soo Locks have not kept up with the times. The economy, businesses and jobs all rely heavily on the Soo Locks, and we urge leaders in Washington, D.C. to act to modernize the locks to continue the positive economic momentum.”

SR 105 highlights the necessity to upgrade the locks, particularly the smallest, 100-year-old Davis and Sabin locks. Only one of the four Soo Locks is currently large enough to accommodate the modern vessels that commonly traverse the Great Lakes. Seventy percent of cargo is carried on the large ships that can only pass through the Poe Lock. The remaining cargo goes through the smaller MacArthur Lock, while the Davis and Sabin locks are rarely used.

Approximately 10,000 vessels travel through the locks annually, carrying 80 million tons of iron ore, coal, grain, and other cargo. Nearly 80 percent of domestic iron ore, the primary material used to manufacture steel, travels from mines in the Upper Peninsula and neighboring states through the Soo Locks.

“It is unacceptable that, in 2015, so much relies on so little when it comes to moving vital materials and supplies through the Great Lakes that are needed to support thousands of jobs,” said Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. “With effectively only one useable lock, we are putting serious strain on the system, and are in a vulnerable position that threatens both the economy and the security of our state and nation. The federal government must act to upgrade this integral part of our transportation system and ensure the long term health and safety of the economy.”

Legislators adopted the resolution during the joint hearing, held at the Lake Superior State University Cisler Center. Committee members also heard testimony from industry representatives, including from Lake Carriers’ Association Environmental and Regulatory Affairs Director Tom Rayburn.

“The Great Lakes Navigation System has evolved into the most economically efficient and environmentally friendly way to transport ore, stone, coal, salt and grain,” Rayburn said. “However, the Soo Locks is also the greatest weakness to the system as a potential single point of failure. The current Poe Lock is the only lock that can handle the 13-thousand-foot ships and 19 other U.S.-flag vessels that, combined, represent approximately 70 percent of the country’s capacity on the lakes. In a worst case scenario, 32 U.S.-flag ships would be trapped above and below the locks. Three-quarters of all integrated steel production would cease within two to six weeks. This would impact nearly 11 million U.S. jobs and potentially increase Michigan’s unemployment to 22.5 percent.

“A new lock will provide the secure, redundant, and reliable Soo Lock system vital to Michigan, other Great Lakes states, and the nation. Senate Resolution 105 is critical to moving the process forward.”

The Army Corps study would investigate the possibility of replacing the Davis and Sabin locks with a new, larger lock that can run alongside the Poe Lock. Estimates indicate such a project could cost at least $600 million, but with a new, modern lock in place, shipping between Lakes Huron and Michigan could carry on uninterrupted in the event one lock were to go down. Without a second large lock, presently an unscheduled outage of the Poe Lock could result in the loss of more than $5 million per day of an outage.

“The Soo Locks are a major factor to not only Michigan’s economy but also to our state’s number one trade partner, Canada, and to the rest of the world,” said Economic Development and International Investment Committee Chairman Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth. “If Michigan wants its remarkable economic turnaround to continue, we need to increase access to both import and export opportunities, and a modernized Soo Locks is essential to achieving those goals and securing our economic future.”

SR 105 now goes before the full Senate for consideration.

###

Photo Caption: Members of the Senate Commerce, Transportation, and Economic Development and International Investment committees on hear testimony on Senate Resolution 105 at a joint committee hearing at Lake Superior State University on Monday, Nov. 2. The resolution encourages the federal government to support plans to upgrade the Soo Locks.

Editor’s Note: Click the above photo for a print-quality version of the image.