Iron mining in Northern Minnesota has a rich history and continues to be a very important part of the economy in the region. I thought I would write a little article about this for our guests because not many people know much about the industry and it is impossible to drive to us without seeing the evidence of it all around the “Iron Range.” This isn’t an article for or against mining. I have very good friends on both sides of the controversy and value both sides concerns. My goal is to share some of the interesting parts of the industry from the perspective of a tourist.
Where is the mining?
From your drive from the Twin Cities, you really won’t see much except immediately around Virginia and Eveleth Minnesota. You will see great big hills which are mine tailings and lakes and pits which are the mines themselves. In fact, on the south side of Virginia, you can visit the “Mineview In the Sky” which is a visitors center, gift shop, and attraction. If you are interested in mining, this is a great stop.
From Virginia, the mines generally run ENE and WSW along what is known as the Iron Range. There are also small pockets where mining was done in the Tower Sudan area as well which has been turned into a state park. Here, you can go one mile underground to see the old mines. There are also some physics experiments going on here too. I’ll write a post about this park later.
There is a lot of history to the mines that I want to cover briefly. Iron was first discovered in 1845 the same time the canal at Sault St. Marie opened allowing ships to enter Lake Superior.
In 1890 the Mesabi Range, which you drive through in Virginia and Eveleth was opened.
Between 1941 and 1945 iron ore output from Minnesota surges to 411 million tons supporting the WWII war effort depleting much of the natural iron ore. The pure, rich, deposits of iron were invaluable to the allies.
By the 1950’s domestic production of iron ore can’t meet domestic demand and the global industry has significant impact on the mining industry and it struggles into the 1980’s. From the 50’s to about 1980 ttechnological changes have driven progress in the mining industries and gradually taconite took over as the primary shipment replacing the nature iron ore.
According to the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota in 2016, the iron mines directly employ 4,215 workers making an income of about $100,000 annually each. The entire industry employs 13,000 workers and the annual financial impact is $3.1 billion dollars inside the state of Minnesota.
In all, it is impossible to miss the effect mining has had on Minnesota, especially up north. With mines always comes controversy, but I hope that next time you drive through or visit the region, you know just a little bit more about the history and impact these mines had here and around the world.
If you are staying in the area, please check out our cabins on Elbow Lake or find other articles here.