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Mountain Iron

On 11 July 1890 the Merritt brothers organized the Mountain Iron Company, but when old iron miners from Upper Michigan moved here to work for them they shook their heads in doubt: "There's iron here, but it won't be dug out; there's no slate in this soil, not to mention granite: the whole mine will cave in soon." But the Merritts persevered, and two years later the branch railroad they had built brought their mines into contact with the rest of the world. This, however, hardly seemed to profit them much, because the following year economic depression brought serious difficulties to the brothers.

The only possible hope for rescue seemed to lie in John D. Rockefeller, the oil king who had interested himself to a limited degree in mines, in Michigan, even in Cuba, and including a $250,000 investment in the Vermilion area and "a little" elsewhere in Minnesota. He agreed to advance the Merritts $3,000,000 under the condition that the entire complex of mines be united into one big firm, the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mines. Rockefeller got the decisive voice in their administration, and finally the entire $200,000,000 enterprise was in his hands. Only by recourse to law were the Merritts finally able to get $500,000 for themselves. Later, Andrew Carnegie and Henry V. Oliver, both of Pittsburgh, also came into the Mesabi, and the Lake Superior Consolidated was now sharing the wealth with the Oliver Mining Company. A third enterprise came into the picture when the Minnesota Iron Company, whose chief holdings had been in Vermilion, bought into the Mesabi and changed its company name to Federal Steel Company. In 1901 all three joined together to become a subsidiary of the United States Steel Company. According to the 1920 statistics of the University of Minnesota School of Mines, United States Steel owned 125 iron mines in Minnesota.

The Mesabi legend also includes the name of steel king James J. Hill. His participation here also came as if by necessity. the owners of a rail line, which led from Grand Rapids deep into the forests, and which had once been profitable, during the era of forest exploitation, found their line a burden and urged Hill to add it to his railroad empire. Although Hill protested he did not know what to do with a railroad "which didn't lead anywhere," he did take it over finally, unaware that his purchase included several thousand acres of land - worthless-looking land which


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