Central Range Mining

Minnesota's Iron Range

Minnesota iron ore was first observed in 1850 east of Lake Vermilion, and again in 1865 when Henry H. Eames, Minnesota's state geologist, reported iron ore deposits in the Lake Vermilion area. Then, following a report of gold in the same Lake Vermilion area, prospectors and explorers headed for northeastern Minnesota. Little gold was found, so the explorers lowered their sights and settled for iron ore, and in the 1870s iron ore samples were being packed out of the deep forests for inspection and analysis.

The evidence was convincing, and on July 31, 1884, with a shipment of iron ore from the new Minnesota Mine (later named Soudan) on the Vermilion Iron Range, Minnesota became an iron ore producing state. In the next decade, the Mesabi Range came into production with the opening of the Mountain Iron Mine in 1892.

In quick succession, iron mines were discovered and opened in the Biwabik and Hibbing areas, and near Virginia and Eveleth. Most early mines were operated as underground mines, but the large deposits were soon converted into open-pit operations, forerunners of the big iron ore mines typical of the Mesabi Iron Range. As mining moved westward along the Mesabi, a third Minnesota iron range was being explored and developed. The Cuyuna Range, east and north of Brainerd, shipped its first iron ore in 1911.

Discovery and development of Minnesota's three iron ranges came at an important time for our nation and for the world, for the Twentieth Century with its world wars and great economic growth would demand tremendous quantities of iron ore.