The Iron Range is collectively or individually a number of elongated iron-ore mining districts around Lake Superior in the United States and Canada. Much of the ore-bearing region lies alongside the range of granite hills formed by the Giants Range batholith. These cherty iron ore deposits are Precambrian in the Vermilion Range and middle Precambrian in the Mesabi and Cuyuna ranges, all in Minnesota. The Gogebic Range in Wisconsin and the Marquette Iron Range and Menominee Range in Michigan have similar characteristics and are of similar age. Natural ores and concentrates were produced from 1848 until the mid-1950s, when taconites and jaspers were concentrated and pelletized, and started to become the major source of iron production.
The mining districts are in Minnesota's Arrowhead region. The region's far eastern area, containing the Duluth Complex along the shore of Lake Superior, and the far northern area, along the Canada–U.S. border, are not associated with iron ore mining, but deposits of copper, nickel, and cobalt at the northern boundary of the Duluth Complex, where it meets the iron formations, are being considered for mining.
From a geological perspective, Minnesota's Iron Range includes these four major iron deposits:
Within Minnesota, "The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation is a State Department, established by the legislature of 1941 to render public service through research and the actual development of all the state's resources both natural and human." The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), known as "the I-triple-R-B" or Iron Range Resources, is an economic development agency funded partly by state taxes on taconite-producing companies and charged with creating jobs.
There have been attempts to expand mining to new parts of the Iron Range, most notably with the Twin Metals mine, but these have received pushback from the federal government and environmentalists because of environmental concerns resulting from their proximity to national protected lands.
Geologically, the Mesabi, Gunflint, and Cuyuna Ranges in Minnesota belong to the Paleoproterozoic Animikie Group, while the Vermilion Range is Neoarchean. The geologic history of the formations containing iron are typical of banded iron formations worldwide.: 502–504
Before the 19th century, Native American groups mined native copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula. William Austin Burt discovered iron ore in the Marquette Range near Negaunee, Michigan in 1844. Iron ore was discovered on the Menominee Range in 1867 and on the Gogebic Range in 1884. It was first discovered in Minnesota on the Vermilion Range in 1885, the Mesabi Range in 1890, and the Cuyuna Range in 1903.
Underground mines were developed to remove the valuable ore of most ranges. But on the Mesabi and Cuyuna Ranges, iron mining operations evolved into enormous open pit mines, where steamshovels and other industrial machines could remove massive amounts of ore. "Large-scale commercial production of magnetite taconite ore on the Mesabi Range started in 1956 at the Peter Mitchell Mine near Babbitt, Minnesota."
Some of the more significant communities in the region include:
Nearby communities important to the Iron Range:
Immigrants from over 23 countries settled the area, drawn to the mining industry. By 1910 the Finns were the largest immigrant group, followed by Slovenes and Croats from the Austrian Empire, and Italians and Swedes. Over time the area developed a strong "Ranger" culture and accent. This northern Minnesota accent is still present in the area, especially among older people; hence the popular nickname "da Range". Ice hockey is a predominant sport in the region, which has produced several NHL players as well as all three members of the "Iron line" from the 1980 U.S.A. Hockey Miracle on Ice team. In 2022, a documentary focusing on high school hockey in the Iron Range was released.
The regional culture is strongly linked to former periods of steady, usually well-paid mining employment, although in recent decades, the region's outdoor recreation and relative remoteness has attracted new residents unconnected to the industry. There are tensions between supporters and detractors of mining, especially over the potential reuse of ironworks to exploit copper ores. Bob Dylan, who grew up in Hibbing, memorialized the Iron Range in the 1963 song "North Country Blues", a lament portraying hard times in the region. Presented in his 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin', it includes such lines as:
The Iron Range is known for Cornish pasties stuffed with a combination of ground beef and pork, rutabaga, onion, carrots, and potatoes. Pasties were an easy lunch for those working deep in the iron mines. Slovenian and Croatian immigrants brought the honey-nut bread potica to the Iron Range; it is still served on Easter and Christmas in northern Minnesota.
|2020||51.9% 100,997||45.8% 89,032||2.3% 4,387|
|2016||47.6% 85,673||43.8% 78,884||8.6% 15,465|
|2012||60.7% 111,518||36.7% 67,422||2.6% 4,747|
|2008||62.0% 116,749||35.6% 67,027||2.3% 4,411|
|2004||61.7% 116,856||37.0% 70,024||1.3% 2,521|
|2000||56.2% 94,923||36.5% 61,581||7.3% 12,277|
|1996||58.1% 91,333||27.5% 43,194||14.5% 22,749|
|1992||53.7% 90,464||24.3% 40,901||22.0% 37,034|
|1988||65.0% 102,348||34.0% 53,552||1.0% 1,631|
|1984||65.2% 112,105||34.0% 58,455||0.9% 1,497|
|1980||58.2% 102,952||32.2% 56,925||9.6% 16,975|
|1976||64.6% 110,411||32.2% 55,064||3.2% 5,518|
|1972||56.4% 87,367||42.0% 64,982||1.6% 2,550|
|1968||69.2% 104,151||26.9% 40,457||3.9% 5,806|
|1964||75.3% 116,567||24.4% 37,734||0.3% 520|
|1960||62.0% 99,703||37.5% 60,283||0.5% 801|
The area has remained a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party stronghold despite its predominantly white and rural population 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 calling the area the "Iron Ridge" in a campaign speech. Barack Obama outperformed McCain in 2008, carrying every county in the Range. The area was the largest rural Democratic stronghold in Minnesota outside of the urban centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 2016, Donald Trump's populist economic policies changed the Range's electoral profile. He won multiple counties, reduced past Democratic winning margins and received endorsements from local Democratic mayors. In the 2022 midterm elections, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party lost more ground on the Iron Range, with Republican candidates running for lower-profile statewide offices flipping Carlton County. In the state legislature, Republicans picked up several seats on the Range despite losing both chambers overall. Nevertheless, the Range as a whole still votes slightly in favor of Democratic presidential nominees, thanks to Duluth.
The region is known for harsh winters and pleasant 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. The Midwestern Regional Climate Center climate summaries 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).