1916 Iron 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.
Forty miners walked off the job on June 3, beginning the 1916 strike. The unorganized miners soon realized they needed help. Unlike the 1907 strike, this time the Western Federation of Miners was not interested in organizing the miners. Instead, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) responded, sending in some of their top organizers. Many of the strikebreakers from 1907, ironically, became instrumental in the 1916 strike.
The 1916 strike was marked by violence and repression. Unlike 1907, strikebreakers were not as readily available and other tactics were employed to end the strike. The civil liberties of strikers were violated, mine guards and police used force to intimidate strikers, union leaders were jailed, economic pressure was exerted on merchants who extended credit to strikers, and finally, the Oliver Iron Mining Company refused to negotiate with the strikers.
The strike was called off on September 17. The miners did win some important short-range reforms from the mining company, but the company's anti-union attitude persisted for another quarter century.
GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:
- "The 1916 Minnesota Miners' Strike Against U.S. Steel,"
by Robert M. Eleff.
In Minnesota History, vol. 51, no. 2 (summer 1988): pp. 63-74.
MHS call number: Reading Room F 601.5 .M66 v.51:2, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
- At the Point of Production: The Local History of the I.W.W.,
edited by Joseph R. Conlin.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.
MHS call number: HD 8055.I4 A86.
- The Authentic History of the United States Steel Corporation,
by Arundel Cotter.
New York: Moody Magazine and Book Co., 1916.
MHS call number: HD 9519.U6 C7.
- Industrial Workers of the World: Factors Contributing to
Widespread Worker Participation, by Patricia Kay Gladchild.
Masters thesis (University of Minnesota), 1994.
MHS call number: HD 8055.I5 G53 1994.
- The Industrial Workers of the World and the Strike of the
Iron Ore Miners of Minnesota in 1916, by Ronald George Lillie.
Graduate research paper (Bemidji State University), 1976.
MHS call number: HD 5325.M7 1916 .L45 1976.
- Memoirs of a Wobbly, by Henry E. McGuckin.
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Pub. Co., 1987.
McGuckin was active in Duluth and Virginia during the summer of 1916, helping to organize the miners of the Mesabi Range.
Not available at MHS; available at Minnesota State University (Mankato), Southwest State University.
- "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).
- "The Mesabi Range Strike," by Philip
Chapter in Foner's History of the Labor Movement in the United States, vol. 4 (The Industrial Workers of the World, 1905-1917): pp. 486-517.
New York: International Publishers, 1965.
MHS call number: HD 6508 .F57 v. 4.
- "Riot, Revolution, Repression in the Iron Range Strike of
1916," by Neil Betten.
In Minnesota History, vol. 41, no. 2 (summer 1968): pp. 82-94.
MHS call number: Reading Room F 601.5 .M66 v.41:2, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
- "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).
ARTICLES WRITTEN AT THE TIME:
- "The Mesaba Range Strike," by George P. West.
In The New Republic, vol. 8, no. 96 (Sept. 2, 1916): pp. 108-109.
MHS call number: Folio AP 2 .N56.
- "Miners' Strike, Mesabi Range," Martin Cole and
Don Lescohier, Investigators.
In Minnesota Bureau of Labor and Industries, 15th Biennial Report, vol. 15 (1915-1916): pp. 168-171.
MHS call number: HC 107 .M6 A25 1915-1916.
- "The Mining Strike in Minnesota Iron-From the Miners' Point of View," by Mary Heaton Vorse.
In The Outlook, vol. 113, no. 18 (Aug. 30, 1916): pp. 1036-1048.
MHS call number: AP 2 .O94.
- E. George Hall Papers.
Chiefly newspaper clippings (1904-1937), supplemented by speeches, commissions, and miscellany, revealing Hall's interest in labor organizations and the Minnesota labor movement. There is information on his efforts to organize iron miners on the Mesabi Range.
MHS call number: M493; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are 3 reels of microfilm, but not all relate to this topic).
- John Lind Papers.
The papers of John Lind, congressman, Minnesota governor (1899-1901), and special agent to Mexico, include the transcript of a hearing before the state House Committee on Labor and Labor Legislation regarding labor agitation on the northern Minnesota Iron Range (Jan. 30, 1917).
MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks—filed under Lind, John—for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 7 boxes of material, but not all relate to this topic), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
- Materials Relating to the Oliver Iron Mining Company,
compiled by James S. Steel.
Correspondence, reports, interview transcripts, statistical information extracted from published and manuscript sources, photographs, and related materials documenting the operations of the Oliver Iron Mining Company on the Mesabi Iron Range, and also including some materials on the Vermilion Iron Range. The papers were compiled in 1963 by James S. Steel, then employed by the Oliver Iron Mining Company, for a possible publication that never materialized.
MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks—filed under Steel, James S.—for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 3 boxes of material); or use an electronic version of the inventory.
- Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Convention of the Minnesota
State Federation of Labor.
Held July 17-19, 1916, in Hibbing.
MHS call number: HD 8055.A6 M6.
- Clayton A. Videen Research Notes.
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, the Oliver Iron Mining Company, the role of ethnic minorities in the strikes, and the activities of the Timber Workers Union in the 1920 strike. A major portion of the collection relates to the 1916 Iron Range strike, and includes some statistical data on mining activities.
MHS call number: P1676; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a list of folder titles (there is only 1 box).
- Newspapers and other periodicals that may be useful
for this topic:
- 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)
- Striker's News ("official strike bulletin of the striking iron ore miners of the Mesaba Range") (filed under Hibbing)
- Tribune-Herald (Chisholm)
- Virginia Daily Enterprise
- Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
- Check the library catalog for other materials.