Scott Turner Collection, 1838-1972

Turner, Scott, 1880-1972


91.0 cubic ft. : 95 boxes.
Collection, 1838-1972, of Scott Turner, an alumnus of the Michigan College of Mines (now Michigan Technological University) in Houghton, Michigan. Through his long career, Turner worked around the globe in various mining jobs, including managing the Arctic Coal Company in Spitsbergen (now known as Svalbard) and director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines as well as surviving the sinking of the Lusitania. He received many awards during his career, including the first-ever Distinguished Alumni Award from Michigan Technological University. Collection includes personal and business correspondence, reports, minutes from various companies, financial records, records from various clubs, diaries, notebooks, articles, professional and fraternal association records, clippings, and photographs.
Scott Turner began his mining career in a somewhat ordinary manner, completing his BS and Engineer of Mines degrees at the Michigan College of Mines in 1904 at the age of 24. A native of Lansing, he had completed an associate's degree at Ann Arbor before taking up the mining trade as his life's passion. Yet from these humble Michigan roots, numerous mining jobs and work as an assistant editor for the Mining & Scientific Press took him to the four corners of the globe within the first few years of his career. A chance meeting with John Longyear in London in 1911 directed a major change in Turner's career. The Marquette, Michigan, lumber and mining man was interested in potentially profitable iron and coal deposits in Spitsbergen, an unclaimed arctic island north of Scandinavia. Turner accepted the position of manager for Longyear's European interests, an assignment that would keep his attention focused on Spitsbergen for nearly six years. In addition to a "small fixed annual salary," he received a bonus of 5 percent of the company's net profits. His work in Spitsbergen was marked by many unusual feats. The mines proved particularly difficult to develop; only 750 miles below the north pole, the Arctic Coal Company was the first company to successfully implement modern mining methods at so high a latitude. In addition, the land was "terra nullius," meaning that no single nation had ownership of the place. Through permission of the U.S. government, Turner represented American interests in the region - perhaps the only time that a civilian engineer has been enlisted to maintain American sovereignty overseas. It was on one of Turner's many trips across to Spitsbergen that he became a participant in another of history's infamous incidents. On May 7, 1915, as it neared the coast of Ireland, a German torpedo struck Turner's ship, the S.S. Lusitania, just a few decks below the engineer's cabin. Turner grabbed the life preserver hanging over his berth and immediately proceeded to the boat deck, where he found complete chaos. Only four of the ship's fifty-eight life boats were prepared for use, so he and another passenger used their pocket knives to cut loose ropes tying them to the deck. Frightened passengers jumped into the newly-freed lifeboats and floated away. Jumping into the water, Turner swam away from the sinking ship. In all, it took less than 20 minutes for Lusitania to sink from the initial torpedo blast (several subsequent investigations would suggest that the ship carried military ammunition). Yet the turmoil was far from over for Turner and other survivors of the initial blast and sinking. In one account, Turner claimed that he floated in the water for five hours, fending off three seamen from the ship who "tried to take away my life preserver in order to give it one of their own number who was being supported by floating wreckage." Although nearly 800 survivors were plucked from the cold waters, more than 1200 lives were lost in the tragedy. Turner was eventually rescued and transported to a hospital in London, though Lusitania's owner, the famed Cunard Line, was far from helpful. For many subsequent years, Turner would vocally admonish the line's officials and British court of inquiry. Their whole purpose was to "whitewash the whole affair," he claimed. "You cannot go too far in criticizing and blaming the Cunard company, its officers, and crew, for their conduct throughout this disgraceful and wholly unnecessary affair." Turner's injuries weren't purely psychological. He had broken his nose, dislocated his left arm, wrenched his right knee, and was covered with cuts and bruises. Documents submitted to the "Mixed Claims Commission" following the war indicated that he was unable to use his left arm for nearly a year as torn ligaments healed. Although the war reparations board worked slowly, the official Treasury Department umpire ruled that his trauma was severe enough to warrant compensation. In May 1928, a few days after the thirteenth anniversary of the sinking, Turner received a total $25,000 for his injuries and loss of income. The mining engineer's work continued in earnest. Following his discharge from the hospital, he continued his journey to Scandinavia and arranged for the sale of Longyear's Spitsbergen properties to Norwegian interests (on his trip from England to Norway, his ship narrowly missed destruction by bombs dropped from raiding German Zeppelins) -- Looking to escape the growing European turmoil, Turner headed south, pursuing work in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. He completed a two-year stint in the Naval Reserves at the tail end of World War I and then spent the next seven years of his life as "Technical Head" for the Mining Corporation of Canada. This work took him to various parts of that country - as well as China, Mexico, Russia and South America - on exploratory and mine development work. He often traveled with his new wife, the former Amy Pudden, whom he had married in Lansing in 1919. In 1926, he received a call from the United States government requesting his service as Director of the Bureau of Mines. Although an important federal appointment, many noted its added significance under then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, one of the nation's most prominent mining engineers. Turner spent eight years at the helm of the BOM, overseeing difficult changes associated with the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing onset of the Great Depression. During this period, Turner returned to Houghton to receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree in 1932. He received similar honorary degrees from the University of Michigan, Colorado School of Mines, and Kenyon College. Following his departure from the Bureau, he pursued a variety of consulting work. At one point he was an officer or director of nine mining companies. He even returned to Spitsbergen to review the progress of mines he developed decades earlier. His life work was capped in 1957 when he received the Hoover Medal, a special honor commemorating civic and humanitarian achievements of engineers. Recipients are selected by a special board with representatives from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME). In August of 1966, Turner returned to Houghton for the annual alumni reunion (the college had recently attained the name Michigan Technological University) and was presented with the first-ever Distinguished Alumni Award. In presenting the award, MTU president Ray Smith noted that Turner's career had taken him to all 50 U.S. states and more than 21 countries. "It was the golden age of minerals exploration and Scott Turner crammed into the first 22 years of his professional life a variety of experiences that read like fiction." The trade magazine Mining Engineering decreed that Turner's career "would put Walter Mitty's dreams to shame." Scott Turner died in July 1972, just one day shy of his 92 birthday. In his later years, when not hunting or fishing, Turner would talk regularly of his life's adventures. But it was his spot on the Lusitania that always singled him out for the most attention. He responded to endless requests for interviews and completed dozens of questionnaires about the incident. In the mid-1950s Turner donated the Boddy life belt that had saved his life to the museum at Michigan State University. It is not clear what became of a cast iron medal he owned, minted in 1915 by the German government to celebrate the sinking of the Lusitania. The medal had been uncovered during some road construction in Washington, D.C. and had been presented to Turner as a survivor of this historic event. (Nordberg, Erik. From the Arctic to the Aztec: Adventures of Michigan Tech's First Distinguished Alumnus. MTU Alumnus, Summer 2002).
Digital scans of some items from this collection are available in the Keweenaw Digital Archives. Contact the staff at the Michigan Technological University Archives & Copper Country Historical Collections for further assistance.
Inventory is available. Contact the staff at the Michigan Technological University Archives & Copper Country Historical Collection for assistance.

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