We touch them every day — in many cases, every minute. Products made from iron ore provide a roof over our heads, wake us in the morning, help us prepare the food we put in our bodies, get us to work, allow us to do our jobs, help us communicate with each other and keep us safe.
Iron is the core of our planet and even shines in the sun and stars.
If the use of fire was the revolutionary discovery that propelled cavemen to a new level of existence, the use of iron ore to make steel catapulted humankind into modern society. Iron ore has become an integral part of all aspects of our lives, from the personal and social to the political and financial.
According to the Minerals Education Coalition, every American born will need 27,416 pounds of iron ore in their lifetime. The world business magazine, Financial Times, touts that iron ore is “more integral to the global economy than any other commodity, except perhaps oil.”
The use of products made from iron ore dates back thousands of years when it was first used as a metal for tools, weapons and structures. When the natural iron-bearing mineral iron ore is commercially usable, metallic iron is extracted from iron ore and used to produce steel. According to the U.S. Geological Study, by definition, steel is a combination of iron with a small amount of carbon. Thousands of products having various chemical composition, forms, and sizes are made of iron and steel by casting, forging, and rolling processes. Iron and steel comprise about 95 percent of all the tonnage of metal produced annually in the United States and the world. On the average, iron and steel are by far the least expensive of the world’s metals. In some applications such as steel framing for large buildings, no other materials are suitable because of strength requirements, reports the USGS.
If you really think about all the products that result from this process, most have very important applications in our lives from the simple to the complex, such as:
Saws, hammers, and drills.
Hinges, door handles, window latches and frames.
Water pipes and gas pipes.
Stoves and refrigerators.
Rails for trains and hulls of ships.
Girders for making buildings.
Cutlery and knives.
Computers and cell phones.
Modern wind turbines.
But before all these products can be made, the iron ore must be mined. While iron ore is the key element used to produce almost every
thing we use in our daily lives, “if it wasn’t grown; it was probably mined,” as the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota puts it.
Since the U.S. became the world’s leading iron ore producer in 1898, Minnesota’s iron ranges have supplied the iron ore that has fed the nation’s steel mills. From 1900 to 1980, the Mesabi Range contributed about 60 percent of the country’s total iron ore output. Mining shaped the region’s roots. It dictated where towns would be established and brought thousands of immigrants from all over the world to fill new jobs in a booming industry.
Not only has iron mining fueled our local livelihoods, it has even served in the independence of our nation. Early iron mining in New England provided iron to make the cannons of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.
Minnesota’s iron mining held vital importance during World War II when the entire free world relied on the state’s iron ore to make ships, tanks, guns and other steel armaments, reports the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota. And, after the war, this significance continued as automobiles, new buildings, roads, home appliances and other items were required for a rapidly growing nation.
Mining - as an occupation, an industry and a way of life - formed our heritage, our economy and our families.
It was mining that provided a solid education to many who would not have had such opportunities otherwise. Tour guides at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm tell the story of the Iron Range and explain how the area’s schools were second to none, amply funded by mining company taxes. In an area with a high immigrant population, schools were critical to teaching American values and the English language.
Mining continues to power our communities and our lives - both directly in business and commodity and consequentially in the products we use every single day.
Every time we pick up our cell phone, hop in the car or put hammer to nail, we should be reminded of the role iron mining plays in the success of this place we’re proud to call home.
Moving forward, mining operations are becoming major tourist attractions that bring thousands of tourists to northern Minnesota each year to marvel at the open pits and tour taconite plants. Driving along Highway 169 near Chisholm, the Iron Man memorial statue stands 83 feet tall and is meant to portray the strength, humility and weariness of an iron range miner at the end of a hard day’s work, as Minnesota Discovery Center tour guides will tell you. Said to be the third tallest freestanding statue in the United States exceeded only by the Statue of Liberty in New York City and Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte, Montana, the Iron Man serves to memorialize the great importance of mining in northern Minnesota. It was dedicated as “The Emergence of Man through Steel.”