Named for John Hancock, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock was platted on the north shore of Portage Lake in 1858 by Samuel W. Hill, agent of the Quincy Mining Company. This eastern-based company had opened a mine and office on land on the hill just north of Hancock that it acquired from Columbus Christopher Douglass. Douglass was a geologist who had speculated in mineral lands after assisting Douglass Houghton on the scientific survey of the region in 1844.
Hancock developed after Douglass established a store here in 1859. The community incorporated as a village in 1875 (and as a city in 1905). In 1869 a disastrous fire destroyed three-fourths of the growing settlement. Rebuilt with brick and stone structures, wherever possible, Hancock enacted a fire ordinance as a safeguard against future fires. Hancock grew as a commercial and social center for the neighboring residential enclaves that sprang up at the Quincy, Pewabic, Franklin, and Hancock mine shafts on the hill. It also served as a waterfront center for copper processing, lumber milling, and shipping. Hancock reached its peak in growth and development with the culmination of productivity at the Quincy Mining Company around 1900.
A strong ethnic identity, especially Finnish and Cornish, still characterizes Hancock's population. The first Finns arrived in 1864, after the Quincy Mining Company recruited miners from northern Europe; they were followed by Cornish and Italian immigrants.
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