Iron Range - People of the Iron Range

The Iron Range was home to 43 different ethnic groups, including large numbers of immigrants. Only a few groups are represented on this page.

Note: Some of the documents are protected by copyright. They can be previewed, but not printed. We have posted them here to make your researching easier. If you like the resources, please purchase them from the links provided or find them at your local library.




Primary Source Documents - Leonidas Merritt Grade 6-12
Part of a larger unit by the Minnesota Historical Society, this page has several primary source documents relating to Leonidas Merritt and the legal battle with John D. Rockefeller. Includes several newspaper clippings and legal documents. Clicking on each primary source opens a page with questions to answer and activities to do regarding the source. Wonderful for OPVL. For all of the Hibbing units, click here. Primary Source Documents - Leonidas Merritt: Teacher's Lesson Plan

T-DA: The Lost Art of Palm Weaving. Grade K-12
Brought to the IUnited States by various scandinavian cultures, birch-bark weaving or palm weaving was a popular craft on the Iron Range. Although palm weaving caries some religious connotation, it can be used as a craft or art project at any age. The lesson plan does not explain the history of palm weaving, so you may need to purchase the materials mentioned to learn more.

T-DA: What's Next? Becoming a Naturalized Citizen of the United States. Grade 1-3
Using an "Immigrant Detective" handout and primary source documents from a number of immigrants, students must try to figure out more about each person in the document package. Some of the documents are very hard to read as they are handwritten in cursive. If you are working with younger students, you may want to re-type the information onto a seperate document.

T-DA: Immigration - Where Did They Come From? Grade 3-5
Written as part two in a three-part lesson, students look at primary source documents from at least three immigrants and try to figure out where they came from - where they lived before, and how they got to the United States. A good way to introduce students to the concept of primary-source documents.

T-DA Core Knowledge - The Temperance Movement Grade 4
Specifically written for a core knowledge classroom, the lesson plan depends on the use of a core knowledge text book for 4th grade. Students are asked to brainstorm a list of problems in society today and plans for solutions. Reading Crusaders' Song, students are introduced to the problem of drinking in the mining communities and introduced to the temperance movement.

T-DA: The Finns on the Iron Range. Grade 4-5
Using the book The Journal of Otto Peltonen, students learn about the cultural heritage of the Finns on the Iron Range. Teachers will probably need to supplement the book with additional resources. Includes a birch-bark weaving craft project.

T-DA: SISU Grade 4-6
SISU is a Finnish term that translates into English as determination, perserverence, 'to have guts" Students read the story Song of Sampo Lake and look at pictures of the architecture of buildings up on the Iron Range. Students determine how SISU allowed the characters in the book to survive, then write a paragraph about someone in their own life who has shown SISU.

T-DA: Ethnic Diversity on Minnesota's Iron Range Grade 6-8
Using charts of populations, students must graph the different ethnic groups present on the Iron Range. Using a computer and data from the 1900 or 1910 census, students compare the population of the Iron Range with that of the rest of Minnesota. Lastly, students must come up with things that would be important to a culture to keep from their homeland and which would be more open to assimilation (this last part is not based in any text).

T-DA: Personal Journeys - Immigration Then and Now. Grade 6-8
Students use interviews with immigrants from up on the range and read their stories to try and figure out why they choose to come to the United States and even why they chose to settle on the Iron Range. Students must use maps and a timeline to create documents that support the interviews. As an extension, students may work in pairs to identify and interview a recent immigrant to the community and compare their reasons for immigrating with those of the Rangers.

T-DA: Immigrants Past and Present. Grade 7-12 ELL
Written primarily for a school with large numbers of Hmong immigrants, it could be used in schools with high numbers of Somali or other immigrants as well. Students are asked to look at charts of immigration statistics and compare the statistics of 1900 with those of today. They must then read shortened passages and quotes from immigrants to the Iron Range from the 1900s and compare them with their own experiences.

T-DA: Immigrants and the Working-Class Experience - Iron Range vs.City. Grade 9-12
Using images from the Iron Range Resource Center or the Minnesota Visual Resource Database, students must compare photographs taken from the Iron Range including the living and working conditions of miners and farmers on the Iron Range with famous photographs taken by Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine to determine similarities and differences.

T-DA: Knowing Where You are "At".Grade 9-12This lesson, which includes a power point presentation, is designed to show students the reasons why people may have chosen to immigrate to the United States and settle on the Iron Range. Students analyze a poem, and watch two videos (available on the video page) about Immigration on the Iron Range.

T-DA: Document Based Question - The Steel. Grade 9-12
Those who discovered the steel in northeastern Minnesota were not always the ones who profited from it. This lesson plan is a worksheet packet with selections from documents telling the tale of the Merritts brothers and John D. Rockefeller.

T-DA: Rockefeller and the 7 Men of Steel. Grade 10-12
Using a chapter from a book and newspaper stories from the time period (all listed below), students must begin to research: Did John D. Rockefeller take advantage of the Merritt brotehrs during the panic of 1893 or did the Merritt brothers miss a huge oppertunity offered to them by Rockefeller? Requires significant research on the part of the students. Concludes with an in-class debate.


Primary Source Documents: Petitions for Naturalization
A packet of documents from six immigrants who immigrated to the United States between 1898 and 1946. Includes declaration of intentions, petitions for naturalization/citizenship, oaths of allegiance, and records of recommended and denied petitions. Representing a wide variety of countries of origin and occupations, these document can be used for many lessons and OPVLs.

The People of the Mesabi Range
By John Syrjamaki in Selection from "Minnesota History": A Fiftieth Anniversary Anthology. Minnesota Historical Society, 1965.
Covering a period of time from 1890s to the 1940s, the author looks at waves of Immigration to the Mesabi Range. He comments that the presence of some groups acted as magnets to attract other groups and wonders about the ethnic future of the range with so few new immigrants coming in and the loss of ethnic pride through second and third generations. 7pgs.

The People of the Range
By John Syrjamaki in Mesabi Communities: A Study of their Development, Vol 1. Dissertation, 1940.
An extensive study of the people on the Iron Range, this chapter documents the waves of immigrants who came to the Iron Range. Perhaps a bit long to use as-is, but could be broken up intro groups for a jigsaw. Be sure to look at pages 32-36, which Include a paragraph about each of the 43 immigrant groups on the Iron Range. 36 pgs (large file!)

"Years of Change on the Iron Range"
By Arnold R. Alanen in Minnesota in a Century of Change:The State and Its People Since 1900. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989.
Alanen argues that no part of the state has had more volatile economic, social, and landscape alteration in the past century than the Iron Range. (Large File - 17MB) See the googlebooks preview.

Tuteshi - Understanding the Historical Evolution of the Iron Rangers
By Robert F Haney in Entrepreneurs and Immigrants: Life on the Industrial Frontier of Northern Minnesota. Iron Range Research Center, 1991.
Tuteshi means 'We are the people from here' or simply 'us'. The Range was a unique place where large numbers of immigrants met, worked, and mingled in a small area. This article explains how this was not a barrier for camaraderie but an ethnographic guide to who can call themself a 'Ranger" 5pgs.

Virginia Co-Operative Society
From the Immigration History Research Center, this chapter details a single cooperative in Virginia, MN. Part of a larger movement of cooperative societies on the range, these were meant to help immigrants naturalize and adapt to the American culture and became critical in the union movement. 4pgs.

The Ballad of a Lumberjack
A poem by Irene Paul about the life of a lumberjack. Would make a good introduction or writing prompt for students to create their own poems about life on the range for loggers or miners. 1pg

Map with Swedish Born 1905
A map, most likely from They Chose Minnesota, June D. Holmquist, ed. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981. Again, good to compare with maps of where major geographical features are around the state. Compare also with map of Finnish Born. 1pg


Finnish Immigration to America
From the Immigration History Research Center. Source unknown.
Not specific to the Iron Range, this piece documents the history of Finnish Immigration to amerca starting as early as the 1600s. Includes a page on Tyomies and other early Finnish-American newspapers in the United States. 4pgs.

Mamma and Pappa: Tales from the Child of Immigrants
By Violet Kisko in The Finnish American Reporter, July 2006.
Ms. Kisko tells the story of her parents immigration to American and settling on the Iron Range. She had extended family on the Iron Range and tells many details from the range, including family members' involvment in the 1907 strike. 1pg (11X17)

The Finns and Swede-Finns
By Timo Riippa in They Chose Minnesota, June D. Holmquist, ed. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981.
A detailed chapter of Finnish migration to Minnesota including collective societies, labor issues, saunas, data on migration, and photos and illustrations. Includes a map of Finnish population in Minnesota rural areas that would be good for comparing with where the major Iron Ranges are. p296-321. googlebooks preview.

The Finland Community, Minnesota
By Darrell H. Davies, published by The Geographical Review, 1935 p382-394.
An article relates details of a Finnish community in the "Arrowhead Country" of northeastern Minnesota. While not focusing on individuals, it discribes the relationships among the community, communication, forest resources and luber operations, composition of the population, and farm land. It does remark on the high degree of tax delinquency among the population.


Iron Range Jewish Heritage
A website dedicated to the B'nai Abraham Synagogue, the last remaining synagogue on the Iron Range. The website offers a history of the Jewish community on the Iron Range. Includes many pictures as well as a gallery of photographs, documents, and newsletters.

Iron Range Jews Timeline
A simple timeline of the Jewish population on the Iron Range including notable events in congregations, and the milestones of famous Iron Ranger Robert Allen Zimmerman (Bob Dylan).

Jewish Settlers on Minnesota's Iron Range 1889-1924
by Marilyn Chiat in Entrepreneurs and Immigrants: Life on the Industrial Frontier of Northern Minnesota. Iron Range Research Center, 1991.
This chapter describes what life was like for Jews on the Iron Range, details of specific congregations, and what made Iron Range Jews different from the other groups of immigrants to the area. Many pictures. 5pgs.

B'nai Abraham Timeline
A simple timeline tracing the roots of the last surviving synagogue on the Iron Range.

"Local group seeks new life for historical Iron Range synagogue"
by Erin Elliot in American Jewish World.
A one-page newspaper story on the efforts of the Friends of B'nai Abraham Synagogue, based in Minneapolis, to restore and reopen the building as a museum.

Star Tribune News Article: Synagogue on the Iron Range to shine again
By Angie Riebe, Mesabi Daily News, June 23, 2008.
The brief article details the restorations efforts at B'nai Abraham and the public open house to show the efforts and raise more money.


Rockefeller Acquires the Merritt Holdings on the Iron Range
By Freemont P. Wirth in The Discovery and Exploitation of the Minnesota Iron Lands. Arno Press, 1979.
An extensive chapter details the actions of the Merritts on the range including their efforts to build the railroad, the money the borrowed from Rockefeller, and the ensuing trial when the Merritts stocks fell short and Rockefeller collected on his debt. 12 pgs.

The Inside Story of Rockefeller and Missabe Mines
Written by Frederick T. Gates, who represented Rockefeller in the Messabe Range and worked with the Merritts wrote this extensive illustrated piece detailing the story of the transaction. Published in the New York Times January 21, 1912. A must-read if you are doing a DBQ or OPVL about the Merritts.

Rockefeller v. Merritt
Legal brief of the trial and outcome. Can be difficult to read through, but contains lots of details about the Merritt dealings with Rockefeller and should be included if preparing for a debate. 11pgs

New York Times Article "That Big Iron Mine Trust"
Published Sept 7, 1893, a brief news article about Leonidas Merritt and his brothers and their recently formed trust. Mr. Merritt claims that the Merritt trust will be able to crush out all competition on the Iron Range.

New York Times Article "Gates Denies Wrong Was Done Merritts"
Published November 26, 1911, Rockefeller's confidential man gives details of Mesaba ore deal and its outcome. Former Rev. Frederick T. Gates denies the allegations of the Merritts and says that their trial testimony does not accurately reflect him or Rockefeller in the deal.

New York Times Article "Saw Rockefeller Only as a Friend"
Published December 8, 1911, a longer article details Rev. Frederick T. Gates responses to the charges leveled by the Merritt brothers that he and Rockefeller conspired to squeeze them out of the iron mines and railroad properties on the Iron Range. Gates was the assistant to Rockefeller's charitable giving contributions.

Minnesota Historical Society - Merritt Brothers
A page of resources to learn more about the Merritt Brothers, who sought their fortune on the Iron Range only to lose it to John D. Rockefeller. Resources are not available online.

Iron Range and Robber Barons
A one page website is part of the larger Minnesota Field Trip by Macalester College. It summarizes the actions of the Merritt brothers and their dealings with John D. Rockefeller. Includes a wonderful political cartoon that would be perfect for OPVL.

Photograph of the Merritt Brothers
In the Visual Resources catalog at the Minnesota Historical Society.
A picture of all of the Merritt brothers, not all of whom were involved in the business on the Iron Range.

Merritt Family Papers at the University of Minnesota Duluth
A document describing the contents and importance of the Merritt family papers housed at the UMD library. Although none of the papers are available online, there is some information about the collection that may be useful.


Most of these interviews came from the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota's Elmer Anderson Library. IHRC has created a vast archive of newspapers, oral histories, and personal papers, along with the organizational records of immigrants and refugees and the agencies created to serve them. Holdings are particularly rich on the labor migrants who came to the U.S. between 1880 and 1930s. Holdings include archives, books, periodicals and digital sources. Search Archives or make an appointment.

Eleanor Wartianinen Johnson
Interviewed by Joann Hanson Stone for the Children of the Finnish Homestead Oral History Project. This extensive interview includes many wonderful details about life as a child on the Iron Range. Highly Recommended! 23pgs. (large file)

Rauhaa Kleemola
Interviewed by Vienna Maki as part of a family history, Ms. Kleemola speaks of life in Finland growing up and her travels to America when she was 15 years old in 1919. Her older sister had emigrated and found a husband and convinced the family to come and join her. 5pgs.
Vienna Maki Papers at IHRC

Aliina Alto
Interviewed by Vienna Maki as part of a family history, Ms. Alto recollects her crossing from Finland to join her husband, who had come to the Iron Range three years earlier. Her family lived in Anderson, MN while her husband worked in the mines. She describes creating a life on a homestead. 3pgs
Vienna Maki Papers at IHRC

Eino Kukko
In a brief excerpt from a longer interview, Mr. Kukko answers some questions about the advantages and disadvantages of growing up on an Iron Range homestead. 1pg

Henry Pappone
Mr. Pappone worked for U. S. Steel starting in the 1930s and recounts the jobs that he did and his involvement with unions and the union movement in the 1930s. 11pgs.

Pearl Bankman Sakol and Saragrace Kenner Haffron
Interviewed in 2007, Both ladies were born on the Iron Range and grew up in Virginia, MN. They tell the stories of their families, how they came to meet their husbands, and what it was like growing up Jewish on the Iron Range. Website.