The Virginia Enterprise

The Virginia enterprise (Virginia, Minn.) 1893-1915 Browse the title

Amidst the clamor and bustle of the booming mining industry of northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range, the Virginia Enterprise began publication on February 10, 1893. The paper started as a four-page, six- to-eight-column weekly published on Fridays, but soon expanded to eight pages. The Virginia Enterprise primarily featured national and regional news assembled from wire services with local news coverage devoted almost exclusively to the mining and timber industries. The paper also published railroad schedules and reports of land sales. While the largest share of its readers lived in the city of Virginia, where approximately a quarter of the residents were subscribers, the subscription list also included citizens of nearby Eveleth, Gilbert, and Mountain Iron. With its wide readership and a lack of serious competitors in the region, the Virginia Enterprise was named the official newspaper of Saint Louis County by the Board of County Commissioners in 1906.

The story of the paper began in 1893 when 26-year-old William Elbert Hannaford, then editor of the Bessemer, Michigan’s Gogebic Iron Spirit, contacted Frank B. Hand, the editor of the Montreal River Miner of Hurley, Wisconsin, to suggest that they start a newspaper in the newly established mining town of Virginia, Minnesota. The city was chosen because the discovery of iron ore in the late 1800s had created a population boom in the region. Many immigrants settled in the community during this time, coming mostly from Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Croatia and other European countries, making northeastern Minnesota the state’s great melting pot. With space in the town at a premium, the two men were forced to set up their print shop in the back room of a local gambling house. Enlisting the aid of a young Albert E. Bickford, who later served for 30 years as Virginia’s City Clerk, Hannaford and Hand began publishing their paper.

In June of 1893, they were dealt an enormous setback when a great fire left the town, along with the Virginia Enterprise’s offices, in cinders. Following the fire, Hannaford bought out Hand’s interest in the paper and resumed publication as the paper’s sole proprietor. Using a second-hand George Washington hand press and, in his own words, "an abundance of nerve, supported by long term credits," Hannaford continued issuing the Virginia Enterprise until publication halted briefly again in 1900 when a second fire devastated the town. Hannaford used each of these setbacks as an opportunity to modernize and improve the office’s printing equipment. By the time he sold his interest in the newspaper in 1914, the Virginia Enterprise had what he estimated to be "one of the finest equipped country printing offices in the state."

Like many other newspapers of the region, the Virginia Enterprise was decidedly Republican in its political leanings. Its coverage of the numerous strikes that marked the early years of the organized labor movement on the Iron Range was brief and tended to downplay the severity of tensions between labor and management. Of the 1907 Mesabi Range strike, the first widespread, organized strike on the Iron Range, the paper wrote in its July 19 issue "Talk of a strike this season is entirely without foundation…the men connected with the Western Federation [of Miners] have no idea of instituting trouble of any kind." Ironically, the strike was called the very next day.

Following Hannaford’s departure in 1914, the Virginia Enterprise continued weekly publication under the editorship of Thomas H. Moodie. That same year, a daily edition, the Virginia Daily Enterprise began, which quickly gained greater popularity among residents. The weekly edition was discontinued in 1915. The daily continued until 1945 when the paper changed its name to the Mesabi Daily News.


Hannaford, W.E. Pioneer Newspapers of the Mesaba Range. 1923. TS. Minnesota Historical Society Library, Minnesota.

O’Connell, Beth. Virginia and the Enterprise: a sociological study of Virginia, Minnesota, and its newspaper. 1940. TS. Minnesota Historical Society Library, Minnesota.

Skaurud, Marvin. A History of Virginia, Minnesota. Thesis (M.A.): University of Minnesota, 1941. TS. Minnesota Historical Society Library, Minnesota.

Van Brunt, Walter. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota: their story and people: an authentic narrative of the past, with particular attention to the modern era in the commercial, industrial, educational, civic and social development, Vol. III. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1921. Print.

Woodbridge, Dwight E. History of Duluth and St. Louis county, past and present. Chicago: C.F. Cooper & Company, 1910. Print.

"W.E. Hannaford, Co-founder of Enterprise, Dies." The Virginia Daily Enterprise. 18 April 1938: 1.

"Official Paper of St. Louis County." The Virginia Enterprise. 05 January 1906: 4.