20th Century, History, Mining, Minnesota

Something from Nothing: Taconite Mining in Minnesota

Davis Works, Reserve Mining Company, Taconite Mining Silver Bay, MN. ca. 1955

1955
“Taconite promises to save an Iron Range that is running short of iron. New technology converts low-grade taconite rock into concentrated iron pellets and Reserve Mining Company opens a mine and processing operations.” *

Sometimes, our most brilliant ideas are buried. After the ravages of World War II, and the tremendous steel production demands of those years, the Mesabi Range was largely depleted of its high-grade ore. The race was on to find a way to save these mines and miners from extinction. What could be done to save the world’s first “billion dollar business” a.k.a. United States Steel? ****

Yet, the contest already had chosen a victor in Dr. E.W.Davis. His research into extracting the iron from hard taconite rocks began four decades previous to this moment. During this period, Davis invented an affordable process that unlocked the potential of taconite.

So, what did this method involve? He first needed a way to crush these very hard rocks; an engineering feat in itself. Next, he solved the riddle of removing the iron content of the crushed stone, and chose to use magnetism. The separated iron is next reconstituted into pellets through a tumbling and rolling operation. In this final state, as pellets, they could easily be transported and utilized by the end user when liquified in a blast furnace. ***

At the same time, to commence and fulfill the 19 patents of research by Dr. Davis, the Reserve Mining Company began to retool their operation to refine taconite. This lengthy process of planning spanned the years between 1939-1952 and entailed: reconditioning of plants, acquisition of lands, supporting Davis and his work at the University of Minnesota Mines Experiment Station, water studies, aerial surveys, and proposed harbor modeling. Below is a quotation from “A Chronology of Reserve Mining Company” written by Richard C. Hemmersbaugh.
“XXIV. Operations in Silver Bay.
The first pellets were produced at Silver Bay on October 20, 1955. The first pellets were shipped from the new port of Silver Bay on April 6, 1956. The Managers of the Silver Bay Division were successively, Edwin C. Lampman, Matthew R. Banovetz, Kenneth R. Judkins, James A. Reynolds and David L. Dingeman.”
And
“XXVIII. Reserve Mining Shipments
According to the Minnesota Mining Directory, as of 1986, total cumulative shipments by Reserve Mining Company were 218,839,191 tons of pellets.”

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:29

We now turn to You, Adonai, and sit in reflection with You. We remember Your exceeding greatness today. We pause before Your masterful Creation and Your abilities of re-creation! We remember Your masterful timing and positioning of resources and human lives; before we ask, You have done the homework and spent the eons of time necessary for our provision and the fulfillment of Your purposes. No one is like You, Lord!

We reflect on this single sentence recorded by Jeremiah 2606 years ago. We ponder that You named this man according to his purpose: “the Lord exalts”, “the Lord establishes”, and the Lord “throws down”!? What an apt reminder of Your Sovereignty, and even of the symbolism for a quiet little state in the center of a great continent and our history of taconite mining! You break the rejected waste of our rocky hearts, reform them, and by the fire of the Holy Spirit, remake them into a blessing for us and our neighbors!

Who, but You, could foresee the talents of E.W. Davis? Who, aside from You, could hone his life’s talents and travail so perfectly that at just the right moment he could collaborate with the Reserve Mining Company? Who, apart from YHWH Jireh (the Lord will provide), could serendipitously arrange the decades of planning and research of both of these partners into a single flow of creativity? None but the Almighty could see the end from the beginning: to save the livelihood of thousands of workers, to save an industry, and to turn these rejected waste stones into hundreds of millions of tons of useful building material! With You, nothing is something!

We acknowledge to You the bitter-root judgments and curses of iron and taconite mining in the Range of Minnesota. So much of the best resources You gave were used in war! Once taconite took over, we began tainting the ground water and Lake Superior with the tailings. * We overcame many obstacles, but didn’t see some of the “cause and effect” of these creative actions. Insofar as we offended You in our mining and refining, will You forgive us?

Under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, by His Cross, by His resurrection, and by Your Unchanging Word, will You take this burden: up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ?
In faith, we declare Your forgiveness over these events past, and ask that You breathe life into our present. Be the oversight of this industry, its’ innovators, workers, and the natural resources of the North Star state!

We end this prayer with a declaration of blessing. May we see and foster the growth of inventors like Dr. E. W. Davis! May we be blessed with a workforce that honors You and the future of their neighbors by faithfully executing the daily grind of its dangerous and mostly unrecognized labor! May our future continue in Your security through the diligent planning and administration of the great industries of the North Shore like the Reserve Mining Company! May we receive the blessing of Our Father; the G-d who Makes Something from Nothing!

Watch the process of loading taconite into ships. Scinocca, Paul. “Watch a classic laker loading ore at CN Duluth” November 22, 2019. YouTube. Internet.

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