the Mahoning Mine

This picture from 1902 shows the early days of the Mahoning Mine. It is often referred to as the "Mighty Mahoning," and for good reason. Opened in 1895, it was the first open pit mine in the Hibbing area. The hematite was of such a high-grade, it made it very easy to smelt in the furnaces out East. It kept producing and producing that quality ore for more than 40 years! Eventually, the Mahoning and Hull-Rust Mines ran together (along with about 30 other underground and open pit mines) to form the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine we know today.

Fascinating views are now available at the Windows to the World – the new mine view which recently opened in North Hibbing and is a “must-visit “ on everyone’s list for this summer. Visitors and local folks alike will find it a remarkable spot. Plan on spending time walking through the whole area, taking in the exhibits and those fascinating views!

Mining is currently underway almost directly beneath the new lookout. The shovels and trucks are busy. But it’s important for everyone to remember that not too many years ago the future of the Iron Range looked bleak. The high-grade hematite or “merchantable ore,” was running low by the 1950s. Where would steel come from if that ore was gone? What would happen to the Range communities?

Even before the First World War, scientists at the University of Minnesota were beginning to experiment with how to take “worthless” taconite and make it into valuable iron ore. This research would continue over several decades before the first taconite plants that successfully produced iron ore pellets were built. It was an achievement that brought great joy to many on the Iron Range.

To those of us who grew up with taconite plants here, it takes some research to learn what it was like in the years before those plants were built. Talking to someone who lived on the Range in the first half of the 20th Century, or reading some newspapers from that time, gives insight into those years. Changes included even learning the word “taconite,” as it was one not many people knew. Learning about the method of finding the iron in the rock was a new subject for both children and adults. Mining was going to now include types of equipment and a process never seen before.

The success of taconite processing was not the end of the story. To remain financially competitive in an increasingly global market, taconite producers said that they would need ongoing financial help. This led eventually to the Taconite Amendment being passed in Minnesota on November 3, 1964.

The following article was printed in the Hibbing Daily Tribune on January 22, 1963. It was written by W.L. Anderson, one of the Tribune’s editors at that time. It was articles like this that helped people to learn about taconite and its place in the future of the Iron Range.

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

Taconite is Minnesota’s magic rock. Scorned by the early discoverers of Northeastern Minnesota, it has become the touchstone of the area’s future.

The two large commercial plants on the eastern Mesaba employ thousands of men and have created three new communities. But their benefits have spilled over into this area not only in payrolls to commuter employees, but in services, supplies and equipment provided by Hibbing area firms. With the “phasing out” of the merchantable ores, taconite has become a “must” for the area’s survival.

The future expansion of taconite mining must be shaped in the laboratories and pilot plants of mining companies and in the marble halls of the legislature.

Although there have been no definite pronouncements of what is to come, some speculation is possible on the basis of public information.

Everyone knows by now that taconite is the basic iron-bearing rock of the Mesaba Range. From this taconite, through the geological ages, the merchantable ores that the Range has lived on for 70 years were leached out in pockets which became the iron mines.

Now that these pockets of ore are being used up, technology must finish Nature’s unfinished work by grinding down the taconite to flour size and separating it from the waste materials. Taconite composition varies widely from place to place, but it generally is divided into magnetic taconite, mostly on the East Range extending non-uniformly to the west of Hibbing, and the non-magnetic taconite of the West Range.

The magnetic taconite (all iron is slightly magnetic, but by magnetic taconite what is meant is the rock whose iron particles are sufficiently magnetic to be separated by magnets) is being used in the commercial plants now in operation.

Some of the taconite on the West Range has been partly broken down by Nature, and this material commonly is referred to as semi-taconite or soft taconite. This is not a single type of material but scores of different types of low-grade ore including the red materials piled up on waste dumps.

New taconite plants are in serious consideration in the Eveleth and Gilbert area by Pickands Mather and Company and the Ogelbay Norton Company. The PM Company, of course, operates the Erie plant at Hoyt Lakes. Ogelbay Norton is the company that put together the Reserve Mining Company project at Silver Bay and Hoyt Lakes. Last year the company closed down its only sizable mining operation, the Montreal underground mine near Hurley, Wisconsin.

Two other taconite packages have been largely completed, but according to unofficial observers, appear to be further away than the projects listed above. They are Ontario Reserve (also a PM project) in the Hibbing-Chisholm area, and the Oliver project in the Mountain Iron area.

The PM company reported two years ago that it already had spent some three million dollars in land acquisition, exploration and other types of surveys in the Hibbing-Chisholm area. The best guess, however, is that this project is still two to 10 years away. Oliver’s plans are largely unknown.

On the West Range the unofficial view is that the Hanna Mining Company will build some kind of a semi-taconite plant in the not-too-distant future. The firm already is operating a two million dollar pilot plant at Cooley.

Since the semi-taconite is non-magnetic, one additional step is required in addition to the process used on the East Range. The crude ore must be made magnetic by roasting in a closed kiln under a reducing atmosphere. (Part of the oxygen must be pulled out of the ore to make it magnetic.)

Last year’s annual report of the Hanna Mining Company said that the firm had some encouraging results with another form of beneficiation for non-magnetic taconite- flotation. This is the system used in Michigan’s taconite operations, but heretofore not considered feasible for the finer-grained Minnesota taconite. In flotation, the raw material is mixed with various types of oils that form a film selectively around either the iron ore or waste particles. The oil-covered particles are then floated away from the rest of the materials.

Both of these processes could be used on the almost inexhaustible supply of non-magnetic taconite now lying unused. These ores have some advantages to compensate for the extra processing.

On the legislative front it appears likely that some type of tax equity assurance for taconite and semi-taconite will be forthcoming this year. Both parties have agreed on the need, although there are differences as to the method.

Looking Back

The following items are taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune or the Mesabi Ore, which are on microfilm at the Hibbing Public Library and/or Iron Range Resource Center at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.

1927

“The Mesabi Ore” newspaper was renamed “The Hibbing Daily News” in 1920. It has now merged with “The Hibbing Daily Tribune”, which is the first daily newspaper on the Iron Range.

1949

Jan. 4, 1949

Seven-year old Curtis Harris, son of Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow Harris, escaped serious injury when hit by a car driven by Ennu Moilenen of Nashwauk at noon on Sunday. The boy, who had just got out of Sunday School at the Presbyterian church on Highway No. 169, dashed out in front of the car, with the car sliding into the frightened youngster. The boy, after being knocked down, got up and started to run. Moilenen pursued him, took him to the Village Hall, and had an ambulance take him to Hibbing General Hospital where he was kept overnight for observation. A gash to his forehead required four stitches to close.

1957

Dec. 4, 1957

This area’s participation in the Minnesota Centennial next year is in the planning stages. Heads of Centennial committees will meet in Hibbing this evening at the Memorial Building to map out plans. Many fine events are in the works.

1958

Nov. 8, 1958

Hibbing Junior College will have a display in Kelly Furniture’s windows during the week in observance of American Education Week. A.G. Samuelson has charge of the exhibit which will include scientific displays.

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