Northeastern-Minnesota forests were substantially leveled by the start of the twentieth century, but exploitation of the state’s iron-ore deposits had just begun. Three linear formations of rich iron ore were identified in northeastern Minnesota in the 1860s and 1870s. Mining on the Vermillion Range began in 1884, the Mesabi Range in 1892, and the Cuyuna Range in 1911. Production levels rose and fell in response to changing market conditions. Levels peaked during and right after the two world wars, but plunged in the early 1930s, and to a lesser extent in the 1960s as high-grade ores that were economical to  extract became scarce. New technology, however, permitted the processing of taconite, a lower-grade rock found in abundance along the Mesabi.

By the turn of the century, the Iron Range had been transformed from a sparsely-populated wilderness into an industrialized landscape inhabited by immigrants from almost every nation of Europe. When iron-ore production increased dramatically in the early twentieth century, the population of the Iron Range also soared. The advent of collective- bargaining agreements between labor and management during the late 1930s and early 1940s eventually made iron-ore miners among the highest paid blue-collar workers in the nation.

Periods of economic decline and depression have brought disproportionately great hardship to the Iron Range. The finite nature of the iron-ore resource ultimately leads to depletion and the abandonment of mine sites, leaving the miners and their support communities adrift in the ebb and flow of economic change.



Mining industry communities map

Mining industry communities
on the Iron Range and Lake Superior, 1980.

Source: Population size determined from the 1980 census.
From MIACOC, Minnesota Historical Society

Missabe Mountain Mine

Missabe Mountain Mine looking east,
preliminary stripping, 1893.

U.S. Geological Survey Monograph, 1943, and MHS


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