Taconite is a flint-like type of rock containing low-grade iron ore. Vast reserves of taconite, with iron concentrations of 30-50%, were discovered in Minnesota in 1870, but were considered worthless because extracting the pure iron from the mostly impure ore was extremely difficult and would be too costly. In the 1940s, however, pioneering scientists at the University of Minnesota developed a method of extracting iron from taconite that was profitable. Years of experimentation with taconite by Dr. E.W. Davis, a professor in the University of Minnesota School of Mines, led to a process of extracting and upgrading the ore by "pelletizing" the iron into briquette-like pellets. The Reserve Mining Company built a taconite processing plant at Silver Bay, Minnesota, where, by the late 1950s, they were producing 6-10 million tons of pellets a year, and disposing the remains of powdered rock — the tailings — into Lake Superior. With much of the high-grade iron ore depleted, the economy of the Iron Range had become seriously depressed. Now, greater and greater increases in tonnage of taconite production spurred its recovery.
Taconite saved jobs and rescued the economy of the Iron Range after the high-grade ore was gone, but dumping tailings from the production process was ruining the lake. After 18 years of dumping, tailings had clouded the once-pristine waters; fish were dying; and people were protesting against continued pollution. In 1972, the United States government sued Reserve Mining Company, under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, citing the company for violations of the Act by disposing of harmful materials into Lake Superior. Years of court battles followed until, a decade later, Reserve created an alternative source for disposal of the taconite tailings.
Get Started With Secondary Sources
- America's Iron Frontier, directed by Gordon Ray, written
by R. Glenn Low.
St. Paul, Minn.: Reid H. Ray Film Industries, 1956.
This film documents the development of the taconite industry in Minnesota and the start of construction of the Erie Mining Company's processing facilities in northeastern Minnesota.
MHS call number: Film C-28 (in the A-V Collection; 1 22-minute film).
- Bibliography of Taconite: Contains a List of References on the
Subject of Taconite That Have Come to the Attention of the Staff at the
Mines Experiment Station, 1920-1955.
Minneapolis, Minn.: Mines Experiment Station, [1958?].
MHS call number: Z6738.I75 M68 1958.
- A Century of Red Earth and Iron Men.
Duluth, Minn.: WDSE-TV, 1984
Shows the past, present, and uncertain future of iron mining in northern Minnesota.
MHS call number: Videotape no. 111 (in the A-V Collection; 1 59-minute videocassette).
- "Developing the First Taconite: The Beginnings of a Billion
Dollar Industry," by Donald C. Wright.
In Lake Superior Magazine, vol. 9, no. 3 (May-June 1987).
MHS call number: F614.S97 L252 v.9:3.
- Pioneering with Taconite, by E.W. Davis.
St. Paul, Minnesota Historical Society, 1964.
MHS call number: Reading Room TN403.M6 D3.
- "This Vast Pollution
": United States of America v. Reserve
Mining Company, by Thomas F. Bastow.
Washington, D.C.: Green Fields Books, 1986.
MHS call number: KF228.U5 B37 1986.
- Citizens' Committee for the Taconite Amendment #1 Records.
Correspondence, executive committee minutes, subject files, and ephemera documenting the administration of a citizens' group organized to secure the passage of an amendment to the Minnesota constitution. The amendment sought to revitalize the taconite (low grade iron ore) industry by changing its tax structure.
MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks — filed under Citizens' Committee for the Taconite Amendment #1 — for the locator number (there is only 1 box of material).
- Mesabi Iron Company Records.
Typed and photocopies of reports, correspondence, circulars, and articles (bulk 1920-1925) detailing efforts to develop a process for producing high-grade iron concentrate from taconite by this company incorporated in 1919 for that purpose. There is information on construction and operation of experimental plants at Duluth and Babbitt; the developmental role of the University of Minnesota Mines Experiment Station and its director, Edward W. Davis; mining, processing, and marketing procedures and costs; the company's finances; and disposition of its landholdings. Includes pictures and diagrams of processing equipment and plants.
MHS call number: BC2.1/.M578; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is only 1 box, plus 2 oversize items).
- Reserve Mining Company Records.
Correspondence, health studies, legal briefs, testimony, evidential statements, environmental impact assessment (1975), booklets, and newspaper clippings related to various legal actions challenging the discharge of taconite tailings into Lake Superior by a mining company located at Silver Bay.
MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks — filed under Reserve Mining Company — for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 2 boxes of material).
- Minnesota Attorney General's Reserve Mining Company Case Files (bulk 1947-1980).
Legal and court documents relating to permits and litigation over Reserve Mining Company's waste control procedures, particularly its disposal of taconite tailings.
MHS call number: See black State Archives Notebooks — filed under Attorney General: Natural Resources Division — for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 140 boxes of material), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
- Charles H. Stoddard Papers.
Correspondence, speeches, articles, reports, studies, memoranda, and regulations relating largely to Stoddard's work as director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Upper Midwest-Great Lakes Area. The papers include information on taconite tailings in Lake Superior.
MHS call number: P1099; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a detailed list of boxes (there are 3 boxes, not all relate to this topic).
- Duluth Herald
- Duluth News Tribune
- Minneapolis Star-Tribune (an index for articles published after 1970 is located in the Hubbs Microfilm Room)
- St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch (an index for articles published in 1967 or after is located in the Hubbs Microfilm Room)
- Check the library catalog for other materials.