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Miners at work on the Mesabi Range 1903.

The Mesabi Iron Range is a vast deposit of iron ore and the largest of four major iron ranges in the region collectively known as the Iron Range of Minnesotamarker. Discovered in 1866, it is the chief deposit of iron ore in the United Statesmarker. The deposit is located in northeast Minnesota, largely in Itasca Countymarker and St. Louis Countymarker. It was extensively worked in the earlier part of the 20th century. Extraction operations declined throughout the mid-1970s but rebounded in 2005. China's growing demand for iron, along with the falling value of the US dollar versus other world currencies, have made taconite production profitable again, and some mines that had closed have been reopened, while current mines have been expanded.


Most of the world's iron ore, including that contained in the Mesabi Iron Range, was formed during the middle Precambrian period. During this period, erosion leveled mountains. This erosion released iron and silica into the waters of a new sea. Marine algae living in this new sea raised the level of atmospheric oxygen. This oxygen catastrophe caused the eroded iron to precipitate into the iron formations now found in the Mesabi Iron Range.

Mining operations

Iron ore is currently mined only from open pits, although some mines operated underground early on. The mined ore is then transported away, primarily by the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway to the ports of Two Harbors and Duluth, Minnesota. At Two Harbors grinding and pelleting operations are conducted before lake transport. At Duluth, trains of up to eighty 100 ton open cars are moved out on massive ore docks to be dumped into "lakers" of up to 60,000 tons weight for movement to iron mills in Indiana & Ohio.

Much of the softer ore was formed close to the surface, allowing mining operations to be conducted via the open pit mines. The world's biggest open pit iron ore mine is the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Open Pit Iron Minemarker in Hibbing, Minnesotamarker. Open pit mines that are no longer worked are a common feature along the iron range. Some of these sites have been redeveloped for other uses. For instance, the Virginia Pilot is a project which focuses on redeveloping the grounds adjacent to the old mines into low– to moderate–income residential space.The Hill-Annex Minemarker is now a state park and offers tours to visitors who wish to learn about mine operations. Tours are guided by former mine workers.

Notable People

Basketball Hall of Famermarker Kevin McHale was born and raised on the Mesabi Range in Hibbingmarker; Robert Allen Zimmerman, later to be known as Bob Dylan, was raised in Hibbing. His song "North Country Blues" is about the decline of mining in the Mesabi Range, and its effect on miners and their families.

Popular culture

The Mesabi Range was brought to public attention by the 2005 film North Country, which depicts a fictionalized version of the events surrounding Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., a sexual harassment, class-action lawsuit that female miners brought against a Mesabi Range mining company.

The range is also featured in the song "Youngstown", by Bruce Springsteen, from the album The Ghost of Tom Joad:

"From the Monongahela valley, To the Mesabi Iron Range, To the coal mines of Appalachia, The story's always the same."


  • Leith, Charles Kenneth. The Mesabi Iron-bearing District of Minnesota. U. S. Geological Survey Monograph 43, 1903. 316 pp.
  • Includes numerous photos of c. 1904 Mesabi iron works.

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