Iron Ore

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Winning Nomination

Discovery of iron ore on the Vermilion Range and subsequently on the Mesabi and Cuyuna Ranges created an impetus for the settling of northern Minnesota and great economic wealth. Iron from those ranges fed the industrial revolution and America during both world wars.

I nominated iron ore because I am descended from Minnesota iron miners. My grandfather Hans William Johnson was born in 1895 in Soudan, Minnesota, and worked for the Oliver Mining Company at what is now the Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
~William Smith, Bemidji, MN



Runner-up Nominations

Without taconite we would not have been able to produce steel for our industrial part of the early 20th century. The jobs that the taconite industry created stretched well beyond our state's borders. It indeed established Duluth as a major world shipping port. It helped to industrialize the cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Toledo, etc. Without taconite, would the nation and Canada have worked so hard to develop and create the St. Lawrence Seaway?

Taconite may only be a small pea-sized pebble of iron particles baked to form a round ball the size of a marble, but that small ball has certainly made Minnesota a very important asset to the world and its need for steel.
~Mark Freeman, Minneapolis, MN

The Merritt brothers The use of iron ore as a resource in Minnesota.
~Julie A. Sanders, Detroit Lakes, MN

The Hawkins Mine in Itasca County The Hawkins Mine was the first mine in Itasca County, shipping out 25 million tons of iron ore between 1902 and 1962. It represents, to me, the real heart of Minnesota's iron and taconite industry. The small town with the big pits and bigger-hearted people.

The town that borders the Hawkins mine today, Nashwauk, was actually moved at one point during the mine's heyday, because the ore located under Nashwauk's main street was more valuable than the town buildings. Nashwauk's main street still ends at the edge of the pit today.

The timber industry may have opened northern Minnesota to the rest of the world, but the iron and taconite industry is what brought people from all over the world to settle and build towns that are still a testament to what Minnesota is really all about - family, community and working hard to build something for the future. The small towns and mines of the Iron Range are an integral part of the Minnesota story and deserve to be featured in this exhibit.
~Susan Krouse, Hastings, MN

Open pit iron ore mines in Hibbing and other Iron Range cities. This was and still may be the largest hole dug in the country, certainly in the state. The iron ore taken from these mines became the steel used for the many supplies of World War II for the USA.
~Frank Dolinar, St. Paul, MN

Bob Dylan? No, it's the pits. The iron ore mines of northern Minnesota gave the U.S. the iron we needed to help win WWI and WWII!
~Paul Dieterle, IL

The passing of the Taconite Amendment in 1959 The passing has brought billions of dollars in revenue to the state and provided countless good paying jobs to its citizens.
~Jerry Kachmarzinski, Willow River, MN

How mining transformed a hostile, frozen northern Minnesota wilderness into a community of small villages from 1890 to 1925.
~George Robert Rekela, Brooklyn Park, MN

Built this country, won the war and provided an economic boom for Minnesota.
~John Gross, Minneapolis, MN'

I am not sure of any great details other than the fact of all the jobs that it brought to northern MN in the past. Now a revitalization plan is in the works to bring this part of Minnesota back to life.
~Kelsey Gustafson, Rush City, MN

Northern Minnesota Miners Overcoming hardships, they left their homeland for America. Once in Minnesota they became the picks and shovels that built this country's industrial backbone.

These were the same miners that built our military strength during World War II. Their strength and tenacity should be heralded the world over.
~Mary Lou Voelk, Iron River, WI

The Mesabi, Vermillion, and Cuyuna Iron Ranges The economic importance of these iron ore mining regions have had an immense effect on not only the economics of the state, but also the welfare of the United States. Much of the steel used for equipment and materials in World War II was made from Iron Range ore, and I think our success in that war would have been much less rapid if we had not had that resource available. Even now, the Iron Range is still a very important source of iron ore. Iron ore has been mined in Minnesota for most of the state's history, and I would challenge someone to find an industry other than milling and forestry that has continued for so long and have been such an influence on the economics of the state.
~Chris Bovitz

Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway DMIR Byproduct of a 1940 merger of the Duluth, Missabe and Northern and the Duluth and Iron Range, The Missabe Road and its predecessors were an essential component of the iron-mining industry on the Mesabi and Vermillion ranges, carrying raw ore and, later, taconite ore from the mines to the docks in Duluth with mile-long trains of nothing but, hauled by massively-powered Mallet 2-1212-2 steam locomotives in their twilight and, more recently, by diesel power.
~Larry Ellis Reed, Winona, MN

Because MN was the top miner of iron in the USA and iron was used for all kinds of things.
~Erik Ubel, St. Paul, MN

The Iron Range supplied most of the raw iron ore for the prodution of materials that were essential for the victory of the USA in World War II. this fact has not been known or celebrated as well as it should be. I hope you consider this nomination.
~Dan Salin, New Hope, MN

The development of the taconite process helped redefine the American steel industry and also the state's economy
~Kevin Kajer, Edina, MN

The Minnesota Iron Range has been felt across the world from the shores of Duluth to the Port of Rotterdam. It has made millionaires and sent people to the welfare lines. It has had movies made about it and now it has some pretty great golf courses carved right out of the history.
~Kristofer J. Tuttle, Apple Valley, MN

Every state and country needs steel for a variety of products. I believe the powers that be are familiar with Minnesota because of this need.
~Muriel Wallgren, Saginaw, MN

For one thing - World War II would have been lost without steel from the Iron Range -- and more.
~Jerry Nylund

Supplied iron ore to the state and world. Im sure it was used during WWII.
~Marilyn Blackney, Plymouth, MN

Without the production and extraction of Minnesota iron ore resources, this region and nation would be less developed and prosperous. These ores helped build our nation, and provided steel products for nearly a century. Railroads, cars, ships, machines and other goods came from Minnesota mines.
~Jill F. Peterman, Duluth, MN

Taconite and E.W. Davis Without taconite, who would live in NE Minnesota? Prof. E.W. Davis of the University of Minnesota, so I understand, developed the taconite process in about 1956. The exhaustion of high-grade ore on the Mesabi Range would have meant the end of mining in northern Minnesota. Taconite revived and prolonged it. What would Hibbing, Two Harbors, Silver Bay and the other Range towns be without taconite?
~Paul Nelson, St. Paul, MN

Extended the life of iron mining in Minnesota. Also the subject of a landmark judicial decision on our environmental topic when Miles Lord ruled that taconite tailings could not be dumped into Lake Superior.
~Mary Tingerthal, St. Paul, MN

First Shipment of Iron Ore from Soudan Mine On Thursday, July 31, 1884, the first shipment of iron ore left the Soudan Mine. This was a major undertaking. The mine had opened two years earlier, but there was no means of transporting the ore until the railroad was completed in 1884. That first shipment of ore initiated the industry of iron ore mining in Minnesota.

Iron ore mining has continued to play a vital role in the economy of Minnesota by providing thousands of jobs and infusing billions of dollars into the economy.
~James Pointer, Soudan, MN

Possibly the most significant event that happened in Northern Minnesota was the discovery of iron ore at Soudan in 1865. A humble beginning for an iron mining industry, which would eventually grow into one of the state's largest employers supplying the world with a constant supply of top quality ore. Visit the spot where it all began at Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Minnesota's oldest, deepest, and richest iron mine can be experienced by visiting the open pits and mine buildings or by taking an underground mine tour. Venture with us half a mile into the Earth and experience a trip that you will not soon forget.
~Kevin Malmquist

World Largest Open Pit Iron Mines in Hibbing One-time iron ore supplier to the world.
~Susan Latto, Duluth, MN

Gold Rush/Iron Range Reports of gold in the Lake Vermillion area in the 1850s and the 1860s resulted in roads being built into the area. When the gold didn't pan out financially, reports of the presence of iron ore were pursued. This led to the iron mining industry of Northeastern Minnesota. Many immigrants arrived to work in the mines and the Iron Range became a melting pot of ethnic groups.
~Marge Skala, Burnsville, MN

Iron ore is very important to Minnesota because they made guns in World War II and other weapons. They made tanks and bombs and bullets. They also used them for buildings and cars that were first made. Iron ore still helps today.
~Imeldo Kiheri Broostin, Minneapolis, MN

Admittedly I study Mining so this one was a no-brainer for me, but I certainly think and I suspect that most historians of industrialization would agree that the Mesabi mines played a significant role in the development of the American steel industry, automobile manufacturing in Detroit, etc. The mines could be used as part of several stories: what it's like to live in Minnesota's northern country; regional integration into national and global economies; vertical/horizontal integration within firms in the context of 20th-century big business; and the environmental cost of resource extraction, just to name a few.
~Eric Nystrom


Contents

History

Buried treasure or not?

When you take in the vast expanse of the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine in Hibbing, Minnesota, it's easy to see why it's sometimes called the "Manmade Grand Canyon of the North." The world's largest open pit mine, it spurred the formation of U.S. Steel, once the world's largest corporation. At its peak production during World Wars I and II, the mine supplied one-fourth of all the iron ore mined in the United States. It is no longer a working mine, but the breathtaking sweep of the Hull-Rust-Mahoning site symbolizes the huge significance of iron ore for northern Minnesota. This natural resource drew waves of immigrant workers, led to the development of close-knit Iron Range communities, and drove the region's economy for decades.

Over billions of years, geological forces left behind three major ore deposits--the Vermilion Range between Tower and Ely, which is underground; the Mesabi Range between Grand Rapids and Babbitt; and the Cuyuna Range in Crow Wing and Aitkin counties, both of which are open pit. Prospectors came to Lake Vermilion in the 1860s looking for gold but moved on when they discovered ore instead. Pennsylvanian Charlemagne Tower saw the value in the ore, however, and bought up huge amounts of land on the Vermilion Range. In 1884, he shipped his first ore from the Soudan Mine to eastern ports. In 1890, Duluth's Merritt brothers laid the groundwork for their Mountain Iron Mine, the first on the Mesabi Range. Cuyler Adams opened the Cuyuna Range in 1904.

The rapid rise in Iron Range mining led to large waves of new arrivals in the region--immigrants from Cornwall, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, and Croatia, who joined people from dozens of other countries and created the state's great melting pot. They built churches, synagogues, social halls, and schools in town sites close to the mines. Crosby, Ironton, Eveleth, Gilbert, Hibbing, and, later, model towns, including Coleraine, Marble, and Taconite, all owed their beginnings to the presence of iron ore.

From 1900 to 1980, the Mesabi Range--including the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine--contributed about 60 percent of the country's total iron ore output. Production peaked in the 1940s, when more than 600,000 tons were shipped out and sent to fuel the war effort. But the ore was depleted by the early 1960s. Enter Professor Edward W. Davis and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota, who developed a process to mine taconite, a low-grade ore that could be concentrated into pellets. The region's economy was revived, new towns, including Babbitt and Silver Bay, were incorporated, and by the 1970s taconite was the area's primary export.

But fortunes shifted once again in 1972, when the U.S. government sued taconite processor Reserve Mining Company, alleging that the company was disposing of harmful waste materials, called taconite tailings, in Lake Superior. The case dragged on until April 1974, when Judge Miles Lord, raised on the Iron Range, made the difficult decision that Reserve Mining should be shut down. Just like that, 3,000 jobs were lost. Though the company appealed and production continued for a time, this well-publicized victory for environmentalists spelled disaster for many Iron Range workers. Today, with the bustling mines and processing plants a distant memory, the region is reinventing itself again as a tourist destination--Tower-Soudan underground mine is open for tours, visitor centers have been built at Hull-Rust-Mahoning and other mines, and Ironworld, a living history museum, draws 20,000 visitors a year. And iron ore is once again, as it has been for more than a century, at the center of it all.

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