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HISTORY TOPICS

1907 Mesabi Range Strike

The history of the American labor movement is peopled by immigrants to this country. Finnish, South Slav, and Italian immigrant laborers were prominent in labor movements in the logging and mining industries of Minnesota and its neighboring northern states of Michigan and Wisconsin. The Minnesota Iron Range, stretching across northeastern Minnesota, was made up of the Mesabi, the Cuyuna, and the Vermilion Ranges of iron-rich ore and the mines where it was extracted. The Range, as the three ranges were jointly nicknamed, was a major site of strife between owners and laborers, and a fertile field for labor organizing. Most famous, perhaps, was the Mesabi Range, considered the "mightiest," where much of the strife occurred, and where historic battles between labor and management were fought. Two strikes on the Mesabi — one in 1907, and another in 1916 — are legendary in the struggle for workers' rights and fair wages.

The 1907 strike was the first organized, widespread strike on the Iron Range. The immigrant miners — mostly Finnish — had little experience with unions or large-scale strikes. Previous work stoppages had been unplanned reactions to localized problems. The Western Federation of Miners (WFM), an organization connected to several bloody, mining-related labor struggles, sent its first organizers to Minnesota in 1905 at the request of local Finnish socialists. By June 1907 the WFM had organized fourteen locals.

Although the union had been planning a strike, the immediate cause was the layoff in July of 200 union members by the Oliver Iron Mining Company. A strike was called on July 20. In early August, strikebreakers were brought in and "deputies" hired to protect them. By mid-August, sufficient numbers of strikebreakers, combined with improved economic conditions, broke the strike. Despite minor hostilities between the strikers and the deputies, and one riot, overall the strike was relatively peaceful.

GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:

  • Education for Work and Labor Solidarity: The Immigrant Miners and Radicalism on the Mesabi Range, by Hyman Berman.
    Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota, 1963.
    MHS call number: Microfilm 840.
  • "Founding of the Finnish Socialist Federation and the Minnesota Strike of 1907," by Michael G. Karni.
    In For the Common Good: Finnish Immigrants and the Radical Response to Industrial America (Superior, Wis.: Työmies Society, 1977).
    MHS call number: E184.F5 F6.
  • Labor and Politics on the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota, by Rudolph [Rudy] Pinola.
    Ph.D. thesis (University of Wisconsin), 1957.
    Not available at MHS; available at Minnesota State University (Mankato).
  • "A Labor Crisis and a Governor," by Charles B. Cheney.
    In The Outlook, vol. 89, no. 1 (May 2, 1908): pp. 24-30.
    MHS call number: AP2 .O94.
  • "Mesabi: The Minnesota Giant," written and produced by James J. Dooley.
    [Minnesota]: KTCA-TV, [ca. 1977].
    MHS call number: Film A-78 (1 58-minute, color, 16 mm. film).
  • Mesabi Communities: A Study of Their Development, by John Sirjamaki [Syrjamaki].
    Ph.D. thesis (Yale University), 1940.
    MHS call number: Microfilm 113.
  • "Organized Labor and the Iron Ore Miners of Northern Minnesota, 1907-1936," by Donald G. Sofchalk.
    In Labor History, vol. 12 (spring 1971): pp. 214-242.
    MHS call number: HD4802 .L15 v.12:
  • The Role of Finnish-Americans in the Political Labor Movement, by Arne Halonen.
    M.A. thesis (University of Minnesota), 1945.
    MHS call number: Microfilm 156.
  • "The Strike is On."
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Public Radio, 1984.
    This program examines the formative years of the modern labor movement in Minnesota. Topics covered include the Iron Range strikes of 1906 and 1917, the Hormel strike of 1933, the Minneapolis Truckers Strike of 1934, the Industrial Workers of the World and other early unions. Broadcast Sept. 3, 1984.
    MHS call number: Audiotape no. 44 (in the A-V Collection; 1 56-minute cassette).
  • "Strike on the Mesabi-1907," by Neil Betten.
    In Minnesota History, vol. 40, no. 7 (fall 1967): pp. 340-347.
    MHS call number: Reading Room F601.5 .M66 v.40:7, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).

PRIMARY RESOURCES:

  • Dept. of Labor and Industry, Strike and Labor Problems Files, 1907-1924.
    This archival collection consists of reports, transcripts of hearings and testimony, and correspondence regarding labor problems, including problems on the Iron Range and in St. Louis County in 1907.
    MHS call number: See the black State Archives Notebooks — filed under Labor and Industry Department — for a detailed list of folders and the locator number (there are 9 folders of material, but not all relate to the topic).
  • Clayton A. Videen Research Notes.
    This archival collection (1887-1920) consists of handwritten copies of newspaper and magazine articles selected and annotated by Videen detailing strike activities in the Mesabi and Cuyuna Iron Ranges in 1907 and 1916. There is information on the Western Federation of Miners (1907), strike actions and violence, public opinion, investigative commissions, and the role of ethnic minorities in the strikes. Also included is an extract (chapter V) from the manuscript "The Finn — Liberal or Radical," possibly authored by Videen. The manuscript briefly describes the economic, social, and political conditions in Finland that resulted in liberalization, and the transplanting of these concepts by Finnish immigrants to northern Minnesota. It also discusses Finnish contributions to the Socialist movement and the role of the Finns in strikes and in the labor movement.
    MHS call number: P1676; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a list of folder titles (there is only 1 box).
  • Newspapers that may be useful for this topic:
    • Chisholm Herald
    • Duluth Evening Herald
    • Duluth News Tribune
    • Eveleth News
    • Hibbing News/Mesaba Ore
    • Hibbing Tribune
    • Labor World (Duluth)
    • Mesaba Miner (Chisholm)
    • Minnesota Union Advocate (St. Paul)
    • Tribune-Herald (Chisholm)
    • Virginia Daily Enterprise
    • Virginian
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.