A brief history of Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Mesabi Iron Range wasn’t the first iron range to be mined in Minnesota, but it has arguably been the most prolific. Since the 1890s, the Mesabi has produced iron ore that boosted the national economy, contributed to the Allied victory in World War II, and cultivated a multiethnic regional culture in northeast Minnesota.

The Mesabi Iron Range’s history as a mining district begins well before ore was unearthed. More than two billion years ago, an era of mountain building known as the Algoman orogeny occurred. High mountains were built in northern Minnesota and, later, a large shallow sea covered much of the upper midwest. This waterbody eroded the iron-rich rock of the mountain range, and the resulting sediment settled to the bottom of the sea. As the sea dried up and oxygen was produced in the atmosphere, the iron sediment was compacted by layers of silt that formed iron and taconite deposits throughout the Mesabi. The iron formation is called the Biwabik Iron Formation, and the long ridge is the Giants Range Batholith, which is all that is left of the high peaks of the Algoman Mountains. The term Mesabi comes from the Ojibwe name for the Giants Range Batholith: Misaabe Wajiw, or Big Man Mountain.

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