Over the centuries, metals or the discovery of metals have been something that has created everything from excitement to violence. Probably the best known discovery was that of gold, and while it is very valuable, there are many other very important metals, like iron, for instance. Very seldom do we think about all the things that are made with iron, and what an inexpensive, yet versatile metal it is. Iron is one of the most abundant metals found on earth, making up close to five percent of its crust. These iron minerals are typically mixed with clay, sand, rock or gravel. Iron is so common that it may be found in your backyard. Nevertheless, it is only mined commercially when the concentration is large enough to make it worth going after. Iron is used in cookware, fencing, vehicles, motors, buildings, and steel, just to name a few. And, every American born will need 27,416 pounds of iron in their lifetime.
On this day September 5, 1844, iron ore was discovered in Minnesota’s Mesabi Range. The discovery was made while the miners were on their way to prospect for gold. Because gold was the metal everyone was excited about, the iron ore was virtually ignored. As metals go, the iron would become far more valuable in northern Minnesota than gold. In fact, for the past 50 years, Lake Superior iron ore accounts for 90% of United States iron ore production, with much of that ore coming from the Mesabi Range, where that first discovery occurred back in 1844. Iron ore makes up the majority of Lake Superior shipping, and would soon become the most lucrative occupation in the Lake Superior shipping industry. Just imagine if you were one of those men who walked away from the iron ore discovery, in search of gold, which most never found. Wouldn’t you be kicking yourself now? There were millions to be made in the iron industry.
Shipping on Lake Superior is dominated by iron ore cargo. Of course, that is not the only thing shipped, but the iron ore ships, which are always called ore boats, are among the most amazing in my book. The largest ore boat, the Paul R. Tregurtha is the reigning “Queen of the Lakes” title holder as the longest vessel on the Great Lakes at 1,013 feet 6 inches was constructed in two sections. When my mom, Collene Spencer, my sister, Cheryl Masterson, and I were in Superior three years ago, we got to see this amazing vessel as it left port. Of all the ships on Lake Superior, the ore boats are the ones most people think of when they think of ships on the lake. For people who make their living on the lake, the ore boats are their bread and butter. And to think it all started with a discovery that no one seemed to care about. In the end, it was an unexpected gold mine.