People have used iron since history has been recorded. Iron ore mining has been a vital part of the people and places on the Edge of the Wilderness.
The Irony of It All
The presence of iron in Itasca County was noted as early as 1865 by geologist Henry E. James. The iron was located on the Mesabi Iron Range, one of Minnesota's three major iron ranges. Minnesota holds some of the world's largest deposits of iron ore. One of the most abundant materials found in nature, iron makes up five percent of the earth's crust. Steel tools, pots and pans and weapons have all been made through smelting - the process of heating iron ore under controlled conditions.
The Iron Age - when people first began smelting iron as an industry - occurred before 1000 B.C. in western Asia and Egypt. But it wasn't until the 1940's that the Lind-Greenway Mine and other mining properties to the immediate east developed. Do you know why? A key reason is the type of iron ore found here.
Turning to Taconite
Once Minnesota's higher-grade iron ore was depleted through underground and open pit mining, miners turned to taconite. High-grade ore contains no more then 10% "earthy impurities." Taconite contains up to 70% impurities. Nearly two-thirds of the rock remains after the ore is removed.
Through technological advances, taconite became competitive and lifted the area out of a mining bust. In the early 1950's, the University of Minnesota perfected the process that created pellets of concentrated ore from taconite. The rock was crushed, its ore removed magnetically and then formed into pellets. The remaining non-mineral rock, called tailing, was then discarded.