Collection Spotlight: The Tsu Ming Han Papers

1948. A young Chinese man braves the ridged and stormy December waves on a long 22-day voyage to America. He embarks with no knowledge of the language or culture, armed only with the belief that America is a beautiful country. As he watches the “Gio-Gee-Shan” (Old Gold Mountain) pass him by he looks forward to the future, not knowing what it will bring.

Recently, the Archives arrangement and description specialist, Glenda Ward finished processing the Tsu-Ming Han papers. Tsu-Ming was a geologist who worked for the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company starting in 1953. The collection includes an autobiography, awards and certificates, pictures, a photo album of his work in the United States from 1948 to 1951 and other materials about his research and life in Ishpeming.

Tsu-Ming Han was born on September 11, 1924, in a small village called Sha-Chu Zin in the Henan Province. His birth name was Shu-Pen and he lived with his large extended family on farms. Growing up in China during this time was difficult due to the increasing problem of bandits stealing food and ransoming family members. When he was a young boy, Shu-Pen was kidnapped by bandits for 55 days until his family was able to pay his ransom. Fearing for their lives, the family fled their ancestral home in an effort to escape the bandits.

Most of Shu-Pen’s family was uneducated; however, his father believed in the importance of education and eventually their family settled down and his father began a middle school. Bandits were still a problem but his father managed to keep them at bay by selling them drugs like heroin and opium.

When Shu-Pen was old enough he left his family to attend junior middle school where he changed his name to Tsu-Ming, a common practice at the time. He applied to a college hoping to study chemistry but was not accepted into the program. However, he was accepted to the Geology program. He didn’t even know what the word “geology” meant. In his autobiography, Tsu-Ming describes the difficulties of college life due to political turmoil and war.

Amid this strife, Tsu-Ming continued his education and eventually applied to schools in the United States. After a year of effort, he finally received his visa card and enrolled in the University of Cincinnati in 1948. There he met his life-long friend and colleague, Dr. John L. Rich, who helped him complete his master’s degree in science. On Dr. Rich’s advice, he spent the next three years at the University of Minnesota and finished his doctoral degree in 1952.

The following year, the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company hired Tsu-Ming as a Microscopist and he stayed there for the next 40 years. For the majority of his career, he researched pellet quality improvement with respect to compressive strength reducibility and low temperature breakdowns. Despite important contributions, Tsu-Ming concluded at his retirement party “My job during the last 40 years was a secure one. It was also a failed one. Secure because nobody knew what my job was, failure because I failed to communicate my findings to most of the people who were involved.” Ironically, Tsu-Ming’s accomplishments won great praise and admiration from his colleagues. He went on to write, publish, and present many of his findings at conferences around the country. Tsu-Ming’s most notable discovery was the world’s oldest megascopic fossil, which he estimated to be around 2 billion years old. By 1992, he published his findings worldwide in newspapers, magazine, and a CD-ROM for distribution to schools.

After retirement, Tsu-Ming continued attending and presenting at conferences. In 1999, he was awarded the Goldrich Medal for outstanding contributions to The Geology of the Lake Superior Region. Tsu-Ming died at the age of 80 on February 3rd, 2004. His wife still lives in Ishpeming. Dennis Han, Tsu-Ming’s son, donated the collection to the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives.Untitled-4

Blog written by Anne Krohn 

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