Iron Range - Mining: Processes and Dangers


In the history of Minnesota mining, both underground and open pit mining have been used to extract the iron ore and taconite.  This page is dedicated to the process of mining and the dangers inherent in underground mining. 

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. 

T-DA - Teacher Developed Activities


Taconite Rocks! Curriculum
Taconite Rocks! is a comprehensive curriculum developed by educators on Minnesota's Iron Range to be used in 6th Grade classes. Combining science, language skills, mathematics and social studies, Taconite Rocks! offers a number of modules that can be used in a variety of classroom settings.
PDF Form
Minnesota Iron Mining Website

Mining and the Soudan Underground Mine Activities
Although designed to be used before or after a field trip to Soudan underground mine, these activities can be used in any classroom studying mining or the Iron Range. They are easily adaptable for grades K-12. Some are very tasty! Example lessons include: Birdseed mining, Cupcake core sampling, layer cake core drilling, and cookie mining. There are also some trivia and quiz links.

TimePieces - History Mystery (Primary Source Document Work)
Choose "Machines, Minerals & Migration". Aimed at grades 3-5, students must look at a collection of primary sources and decide what they have in common. Step one involves reviewing the evidence, looking at all of the sources and answer questions attached to each document. In step two, students build a case using the notes they have created in step one. The last step allows students to compare the conclusions they arrived at with those of other historians. Requires free registration.

Primary Source Documents - Mining
Part of a larger unit by the Minnesota Historical Society, this page has several primary source documents relating to the processes of mining. Several pictures of the tools of minig and documents relating to the cost and processes of mining. 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 - Mining: Teacher's Lesson Plan

Primary Source Documents - Dangers of Mining
Part of a larger unit by the Minnesota Historical Society, this page has several primary source documents relating to the safety of mining. Several pictures of underground miners and newspaper articles about a cave-in, someone falling into a mine, and a mud-slide. 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 - Dangers of Mining: Teacher's Lesson Plan


T-DA: Mining on the Iron Range - A Day in the Life of an Underground Miner. Grade 4-6.
Focusing on the book The Journal of Otto Peltonen, students learn about the conditions of mining through a child's perspective. Students are encouraged to do research to find out more about working conditions and must write an essay using factual details they have learned.

T-DA: Deadliest Day: Is Anything Learned from Past Disasters? Grade 4-8
Beginning with headlines and news articles describing the Milford Mine Disaster, students study the tragedy to see if they can ascertain the cause- is anyone to blame? They then research current working conditions for miners to see how things have improved.

T-DA: World War II - Win ORE Lose? Grade 4-8
Students analyze data recording ore production and shipments through the time of WWII and must determine why production increased during that time period.  Several handouts are included to get students thinking about products made from iron that might be used in times of war.

T-DA: Comparing Accidents in the Mines on the Iron Range. Grade 5-8
Using primary source documents, students read tables of mining injuries and fatalities and graph them to look for patterns and learn just how dangerous mining really was.

T-DA: Journey to the Center of the Earth. Grade 6-8
This highly interactive role-playing lesson plan could easily be adapted for any grade level. By taping off light-sources, and using a few props, students simulate the experience of underground mining with a few twists to illustrate certain working conditions. Highly recommended!

T-DA: Minnesota Mining 1915-1949 - Graphing Iron Ore Shipments. Grade 6-8.
Using primary source documents of iron ore shipments, students must graph the shipments and look for patterns. Students are encouraged to make generalizations about the use of resources during times of war. Students write a short response explaining how the events of war affected the iron ore production on the Iron Range.

T-DA: The Minnesota Soudan Iron Ore Mine - Yesterday and Today. Grade 6-12
Utilizing an excellent website, students listen to accounts of what it was like working in the Soudan mine when it was newly opened. They track the history of the mine to its present day, where it functions as a visitor center and scientific laboratory for tracking nutrinos. Students create a timeline.

T-DA: Understanding Mining - Eat Your Iron Ore. Grade 7-12.
This hands-on lesson plan introduces students to the challenges of mining by having them "mine" chocolate chips out of cookies (high-grade ore) and caramel out of candy bars (taconite). Also introduces the challenges presented to multi-ethnic groups working in the mines together without a common language. Continues with a research project for students on sustainability, multiculturalism, ecological impact and profitability of iron ore mining culminating in a presentation/news conference. Uses Oral Presentation Rubric. Highly Recommended!

T-DA: The Changing Response to Industrialization, Worker and Land Welfare Throughout the Twentieth Century. Grade 10-12.
This extensive lesson plan is more of a unit. Looking back over a century and including analysis and coverage of myriad documents, this lesson looks at the changing attitudes towards both worker safety and towards land welfare including care of the environment. Not all of the resources are present - those that are missing are available through the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul.

T-DA: The Making of Steel - Then and Now. Grade 10-12
Written primarily for an industrial tech class, this lesson plan has students study the actual process of manufacturing steel. Could also be used for a history class - how has the process of making steel changed over the years? Includes Steelmaking Power Point Presentation and an Essay Rubric.


Common Mining Terms
Created by Range historian Marvin Lamppa for the Building America seminar in 2008, this list is an A-Z of common mining terms that are helpful in understanding the mining process.

Primary Source Document: Total Range Shipments of Lake Superior Iron Ore
Mining Directory of Minnesota by John L. Craig, Vol. XXX, Vol. XLI University of Minnesota Mineral Resources Research Center, Minneapolis, MN, 1938. Tables of total shipments of Iron Ore in tons, separated by range from 1854-1948. Great for graphing projects or looking for connections between historical events and Iron Ore Production. 3pgs

MPR Story: Mainstreet Radio Special: Mining
A two-hour radio special focusing on Mining in Minnesota. Part one covers the history of mining beginning with the 1865 Vermillion Gold Rush. Part two focuses on the future of mining including a panel discussion on future prospects for iron ore mining as well as non-ferrous minerals. Originally Broadcast October 16, 2000.

Mining Facts from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Quick facts about mining in America.

From Art to Science: Mining at Soudan 1882-1924
By Marvin Lampa in Entrepreneurs and Immigrants : Life on the Industrial Frontier of Northeastern Minnesota. Published by the Iron Range Resource Center, 1991.
In a scholarly article, the author describes the beginning of mining in Minnesota from the surveying through to 1924, when the Soudan began electrifying and mechanizing its mining processes. A great description of how the ore was mined before big machines. He also compares the mining techniques with those in Corning, England dating back to the 1200s. 6pgs

Iron Mining History on the Mesabi
A page created by the Central Iron Range Initiative (CIRI) includes several pages devoted to the history of the Mesabi Range. The navigation links are very small and are located at the top of the page. Topics include: Geology, Minnesota's Iron Ranges, Iron Ore to Build a Growing Nation, Wars Deplete Natural Ore-Mining Technology Changes, and he Transition to Taconite, and Milestones Affecting the Iron Mining Industry. Each section contains a historical picture and 2-3 paragraphs with an overview of the topic. Would be a good source for a webquest assignment.

"Every American Born Will Need..."
A handout developed by the Mineral Information Institute in Colorado. A good visual for an overhead projector to start students thinking about the impact of humans on the natural world and the need for mining and other mineral extractions.

"If It Can't Be Grown, It Must Be Mined"
A colorful handout developed by the Mineral Information Institute in Colorado. Helpful for younger students especially to get them thinking about items that we use and where they come from.

"Iron Mining" in Michigan History for Kids
Although this colorful 10 page brochure is focused on Iron Mining in Michigan, it can be adapted for younger students in Minnesota.  Especially recommended is page 8, "Powder to Pellets" describing the beginning of taconite pellets.

Soudan Mine Underground State Park
Soudan Mine was the first underground mine in Minnesota and was operational from 1894 until the mine shut down in 1962, when U.S. Steel donated the mine to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The mine and surrounding land was turned into a state park and the underground mine itself, 2,341 feet deep is used for tours and for MINOS, a physics lab from the University of Minnesota that tracks nutrinoes.

Soudan State Park Maps

Tour Brochure

University of Minnesota: Soudan Underground Physics Lab Page
DVD - "Soudan Underground Mine: The Cadillac of Underground Mines" can be purchased at the Soudan mine gift shop or by calling this number: (218) 753-2245. Produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The Old Soudan Mine
A short article (source unknown) about the history of the Soudan Mine and the opening of the mine as a tourist attraction. 2pgs.

"Drop Into History: On a quick trip toward the center of the earth, tourists glimpse a part of Minnesota's Steely Past"
By Tim Brady in Minnesota Conservation, March 2008.
A website with the text of an article written about the Soudan Mine. Includes audio clips from a retired mine employee who worked in the mine and whose father started the mine. Lots of information on the process of mining and the tour site that still exists.


Ironworld - Iron Range Resource Center Archive
The IRRC archive has hundreds of photographs from the Iron Range and is searchable by topic. Also in the archive are government documents, manuscripts, maps and more. They are in the process of digitizing their collection, so expect documents to continue to be added.

Underground Mine (click to view pdf)
From The First Book of Mining by Patricia Maloney and Waltrip  Markun. Franklin Publishers, 1959.

Soudan Mine Longitude Cross-Section (click to view)
Underground Mine

Soudan Mine Cross-Section showing Raise (click to view)
Underground Mine

Soudan Mine - Cross-Section No.8 Mine (click to view)
Underground Mine

Blacksmith with Helper

Family on Porch

Underground Miner in Shaft

Underground Miners in Shaft

Underground Miners in Shaft


Primary Source Documents: Mining Statistics
Covering a span of nearly 100 years, this packet of documents contains statistics compiled annually by mine inspectors. Includes numbers of deaths and accidents, causes of deaths, average wages from select years, and a page of descriptions of mining accidents. Good for any project on working conditions of miners.15pgs
Primary Source Documents: Fatal and Non-Fatal Accidents, 1921 5pgs
Primary Source Documents:  Non-Fatal and Fatal Accidents, 1945 10pgs
Primary Source Documents: Non-Fatal Accidents, 1971 5pgs
Primary Source Documents: Non-Fatal Accidents, 1999 7pgs

Save Your Breath and Start Climing: The Milford Mine Disaster,1924
In Minnesota's Twentieth Century by D.J. Tice. University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
From a book that focuses on the extrordinary stories of ordinary people, this chapter focuses on Frank Hrvatin, who was fourteen years old on the day of the Milford disaster. We learn a bit about Frank's family and his life and then hear the story of what happened on that day. Written for young audiences from interviews at the Iron Range Resource Center. Click here for googlebooks preview. 9pgs

Milford Mining Disaster of 1924
Selection from "History of the Milford Mining Disaster of 1924" A Graduate Research Paper presented at Bemidji State College by John Phillip Stimac, 1970.
A selection from a more extensive paper, this chapter describes the moment that water flooded the Milford Mine and the actions of specific miners upon hearing the water coming. Written for younger audiences. 7pgs.

The Crosby Courier, "Forty-One Miners Meet Death in Milford Mine"
The headline from the Crosby daily newspaper the day after the disaster along with additional newspaper clippings from the time and from the 52nd Anniversary of the tragedy. Includes information about how many men were lost and who they left behind. 2pgs

The Crosby Courier "Four Bodies Taken from Milford"
An original article from June 20, 1924 details some of the aftermath of the accident. Four bodies are identified and their brief biographies noted. 1pg

Accidents and Accident Prevention in the Minnesota Iron Mines
By Don Lescohier. Selection from "The Survey", Sept 7, 1912 (v28, n23) p710-715.
This article from 1912 summarizes a special investigation of the accident prevention work of the Oliver Iron Mining Company. The mine inspector quoted in the report stated that the Oliver mine was typical of conditions of other mines operating at the time. There are examples of accidents typically sustained in mining and the work being done to try and avoid them.

Industrial Accidents, Employer's Liability, and Workmen's Compensation in Minnesota
By Don Lescohier. Selection from " Publication of the American Statistical Association" June,1911 (v12,n94) p647-660
A great source of information on injuries sustained during mining operations, this article covers injuries in terms of number and type as well as employer liability and the type and amount of workers compensation paid to injured workers or survivors.

MPR Story: Do taconite fibers cause cancer?
Researchers from around the world are gathering in St. Paul to talk about the possible dangers in fibers in taconite ore. Organizers of this week's conference will try to determine once and for all whether taconite fibers pose a health risk. The answer could have a big impact on future mining projects, and the economy of northeastern Minnesota. A great piece to use when discussion health and safety in mining professions past and present. Originally Broadcast March 28, 2003.

Failure to Learn? Destined to Repeat - A series about Mining on the Cuyuna Range (Newshopper)

Part I - The Accident at Milford Mine
Written as a news story with interviews, it tells the story of the Milford Mine disaster. Has large advertisements on the bottom of the pages. 2 pages.

Part II - Recovery, Relief Efforts
Continuing the news story, this section focuses on the recovery of bodies from the mines and the relief efforts by various organizations for survivors and widows. Has large advertisements on both pages. 2 pages.

Part III - The Investigation
Focusing on the aftermath of the disaster, this continuation of the story explores the investigation and some of its findings regarding the safety of the mine. This piece would be wonderful in discussing the conditions that the miners worked under and the lack of safety precautions. Has large advertisements on the bottom of pages. 2 pages.

Part IV -Mining on the Early Days
Not actually a continuation of the previous story, this installment provides a broader look at the early days of mining the Cuyuna range. Mine prospecting, the influx of immigrants and the early working conditions are all discussed. A good overview of the early days of mining.  Advertisements on the bottom of both pages. 2 pages.

Ghosts of the Prairie - Milford Mine
The story of a ghost fromt he Milford Mine disaster. Definitely not a source for factual evidence of the Milford Mine, but could be used as an introduction to the disaster or as an example for students to write their own ghost stories from the mine disaster based on actual evidence.