Minnesotans and visitors alike travel to the Duluth-Superior area each year to watch the massive ships leaving the harbor. While people marvel at the ships’ size, the significance of what they’re carrying is pretty awe-inspiring, too.
These ships make it possible for iron ore mined in Minnesota to be made into our vehicles, infrastructure, appliances and more; over 60% of the ships are carrying Minnesota iron.
The ships are what give a state industry like Minnesota iron mining a national impact. More than 80% of the iron mined in the United States comes from Minnesota. Much of that ore travels on the Great Lakes to steelmaking facilities where it is made into the steel that makes the things Americans use every day.
The process began more than 150 years ago when federal surveyor George Stuntz found an iron deposit that would someday become the state’s first iron mine in current-day Soudan, Minn., predicting, “when this country is developed, that big mount of iron will do it.”
It took 15 years for developers to work out the best way to ship the ore and to secure the mineral rights; Charlegmane Tower gained a title to the land in 1880.
Just hours after the last rail spike was driven on July 13, 1884, 10 eight-wheeled, 20-ton ore cars left the Soudan mine for Two Harbors, Minn. The Soudan mine-workers were given the day off to celebrate their shared successful first shipment.
In that first season, 62,124 tons were shipped to Cleveland to be made into steel. Over the 135 years since, billions of tons of iron have been shipped from Minnesota to build, support, and defend our nation – bringing George Stuntz’s prediction to fruition.
Today, Minnesota’s six iron mining facilities are capable of producing more than 40,000,000 tons of iron ore and taconite a year. This ore is brought to steelmaking facilities either by ship or by rail. In last year’s shipping season, more than 21 million tons of iron ore were shipped on the Great Lakes from Minnesota ports.