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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For the former USAF Bomber base in North Queensland and the National Park, See Iron Range, Australia
Map of Minnesota highlighting Iron Range.png

The Iron Range is a region that make up the northeastern section of Minnesota in the United States. "The Range" , as it is known by locals, is a region with multiple distinct bands of iron ore. The far eastern area, along the shore of Lake Superior, and the far northern area, along the Canadian border, of the region are not associated with iron ore mining, and are collectively referred to as the Arrowhead region of the state. The total population of the region is 322,173.With Duluth, MN being the largest city in this region with a population of around 87,000 + (growing) and a metro pop. of around 274,923. The metro consists of the cities Duluth,MN, Hermantown, MN, Cloquet MN, Lakewood & Normanna Townships (basically Duluth) MN, and Superior WI.

The area consists of seven counties: Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Crow Wing, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis.

Iron ore
Croft Mine Historic Park


The Iron Range and its economy

From a geological perspective, the Iron Range in Minnesota includes these four major iron deposits:

The large size of the Mesabi Range leads many Minnesotans to equate it directly with the Iron Range, in exclusion of the other, smaller ranges.

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), sometimes known simply as Iron Range Resources, is an economic development agency funded partly by taxes levied by the state on taconite-producing companies and charged with creating jobs. Detractors consider it an example of pork barrel politics.


The area is one of several distinct regions of Minnesota. It is characterized by a mixture of deciduous forests populated by maple, oak, poplar, and birch, as well as areas of coniferous forest that include red, white, and jack pine, and various species of spruce. The area includes thousands of small lakes, and is home to the Chippewa National Forest and Superior National Forest.


Prior to the nineteenth century, the area that would become the Iron Range was inhabited mainly by Native American groups. The area was the site of intensive logging operations during the nineteenth century.

The history of mining on the Iron Range began in the late nineteenth century following a report that there were deposits of gold on the shores of Lake Vermillion. Although miners never found commercially valuable amounts of gold in the region, the reports led to an increase in the region's population. Iron ore was first discovered in the northern Vermillion iron range, where underground mines developed to remove the valuable ore. The discovery of hematite on the large Mesabi range cemented the area's position as the foremost source for iron ore throughout the early twentieth century. Iron mining operations on the Mesabi range took place in enormous open pit mines where steam shovels and other industrial machines could remove massive amounts of ore. Amid worries that the rich hematite ore would give out, mining operations turned to low grade taconite as a source of iron ore in the second half of the twentieth century.


The Iron Range contains several smaller cities. Some of the more significant communities in the region include:

  • Aitkin (pop. 1,984) is located on the western edge of the Cuyuna Range. Aitkin was the birthplace of stage and film actor William Warren.
  • Chisholm (pop. 4,960) lies near the center of Mesabi Range. It is the home of Ironworld Discovery Center, the Minnesota Museum of Mining, and the Iron Range Research Center. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, subject of the motion picture "Field of Dreams" settled in Chisholm.
  • Coleraine (pop. 1110) is referred to as the "start place of the Iron Range." The town was build in the early 1900s to accommodate the miners of the Canisteo Oliver Mine. John C. Greenway was the superintendent of the mine and was part of Teddy Roosevelt's famous Rough Riders. Greenway School District in Coleraine is named for him.
  • Crosby (pop. 2,299) is an old mining boomtown on the southwestern edge of the Iron Range, home of the Crosby-Ironton Rangers.
  • Duluth (pop. 86,918) The Largest city in Iron Range and the fourth in the state. The port of Duluth allows for the iron ore to be easily shipped through the Great Lakes system. Recently tourism has become more prominent in the local economy. While technically not a mining town, its prominence as a major shipping port for the Iron Range warrants its mention here.
  • Ely (pop. 3,724), in the Vermillion Range, is perhaps best known as the most popular entry point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
  • Eveleth (pop. 3,865) is where U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and seven others died in a plane crash in 2002 two miles away from the municipal airport. It also the site of the conflict that resulted in the Supreme Court case Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. and the film North Country. It is also home of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
  • Grand Rapids (pop. 7,764) is named for the local rapids in the Mississippi River, which was the uppermost limit of practical steamboat travel during the late 1800s. Today, those rapids are hidden underneath the dam of the Blandin Paper Mill, which has its papermaking facilities in downtown Grand Rapids. To the proximate north and northeast of the city are the iron mines, which are declining in importance today. The current economy has a large tourist footing, with many local resorts, golf courses, and regional hunting and fishing. Grand Rapids was the birthplace of entertainer Judy Garland.
  • Hibbing (pop. 17,071) is the former boyhood home of Bob Dylan, basketball great Kevin McHale and the location of the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine, which has the largest iron-ore pit in the world. Hibbing is also the birthplace of Roger Maris.
  • Kinney (pop. 199) is an old mining boomtown on the Iron Range, located between Buhl and Mountain Iron.
  • Mountain Iron (pop. 2,999) is home to Minntac, the world's largest taconite processing plant.
  • Nashwauk (pop. near 1100) is a small town between Grand Rapids and Hibbing, 4 miles from Keewatin. There are a few pit lakes in the area that now hold, bass, Lake Trout, and Northern Pike.
  • Soudan is an unincorporated community in Breitung Township, St. Louis County. It is located immediately east of the city of Tower on Minn.Highway 169 / Minn.Highway 1, where the area school and business district are located. It is the home of the Soudan Underground Mine State Park which contains the University of Minnesota's Soudan Underground Laboratory which houses detectors, including MINOS, over 700 meters below the surface of the Earth.
  • Taconite (pop. 315) named after the taconite pellets from iron ore was a town many miners lived in. The town recently celebrated its centennial year and is famous for its rich hockey tradition.
  • Two Harbors (pop. 3,613) is the county seat of Lake County, Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior. The town was historically an important port for loading and shipping iron ore from the Range. However, like Duluth, Two Harbors is not itself a mining town.
  • Virginia (pop. 9,157) is the major retail shopping center of the northern part of the Iron Range, and has the Thunderbird Mall.
  • Winton (pop 185). Once several times larger than Ely, Winton sits just 3 miles north of Ely, and was once home to a very large lumber mill and was a lumber boomtown.


The area has a recognizably Italian, Slavic, and Scandinavian heritage. A strong Midwestern Minnesota accent is present in the area, especially among the older part of the populace, hence the popular nickname, "Da Range". See also North Central American English. Ice hockey is a predominant sport in the region, which has produced several NHL players as well as all three members of the "Coneheads line" from the 1980 U.S.A. Hockey Miracle on Ice team.


The rural area is mostly populated by whites and has remained a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party stronghold because of its history of a largely unionized workforce in the mining industry, the mainstay of the economy of the Iron Range. In 2004, John Kerry carried most of the counties in the region by a comfortable margin. This was perhaps aided by George W. Bush referring to the area as the "Iron Ridge" in a campaign speech. Barack Obama outperformed Kerry in 2008, carrying every county in the Iron Range. The area remains the greatest Democratic stronghold in Minnesota along with the urban centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul.


The region is known for unrelentingly harsh winters, and pleasant, albeit mosquito-infested summers. The average year-round temperature is in the 30s °F (between about 2 °C and 4 °C). Temperatures below -40 °F/°C occur somewhere in the region during most winters. For example, statistics from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center climate summaries[1], record that Virginia has a mean annual temperature of 38 °F, with an average January low temperature of -6.2 °F (about -21 °C) and July high of 77.4 °F (25 °C). Precipitation there averages 27 in (690 mm) annually and snowfall 53.2 in (135 cm). Near Lake Superior, the temperature differences are somewhat less extreme, but due to its proximity to the lake annual snowfalls over 100 inches are common.

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