Iron Range Region
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Iron Range Region: Historical Overview

The Ojibwe called the hills Missabe, the "sleeping giant" - land that lay undisturbed for millennia until the demand for iron drew prospectors to the area in the 1800s. The three iron ranges they uncovered define one of Minnesota's most distinctive regions.

Over billions of years, geological forces left behind ore deposits of varied quality and concentrations - differences that would determine how the ore was mined from place to place. On the Vermilion Range, between Tower and Ely, lay the deepest veins of ore. There, miners worked in deep underground mines, blasting the ore from volcanic bedrock. On the Mesabi Range, stretching 100 miles from Grand Rapids to Babbitt, soft ore lay close to the surface, where it could be scooped from open pit mines. The smaller Cuyuna Range, in Crow Wing and Aitkin counties, was the last to be mined because the high manganese content of its ore made processing difficult.

Prospectors came to Lake Vermilion in the 1860s to search for gold. It was the discovery of iron ore, however, that led Pennsylvania industrialist Charlemagne Tower to buy vast tracts of land on the Vermilion Range. In 1882 he organized the Minnesota Iron Company and two years later shipped his first ore, dug from the company's Soudan Mine. The ore traveled by rail on the company-run Duluth & Iron Range Railroad to Lake Superior for shipment to eastern ports.

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