From these early beginnings of our state’s history, mining has continued to evolve and adapt with the people and technologies of the time. No more prevalent is the mining culture and history than it is in northern Wisconsin, especially surrounding one of the best and most defined iron deposits in North America, the Gogebic Range.
The Gogebic iron range extends from the west shore of Lake Gogebic in the upper peninsula of Michigan for approximately 80 miles westward into northern Wisconsin. It is one of six major iron ranges in the Lake Superior region, and it produced about 325 million tons of ore between 1887 and 1967. A significant resource of high-grade iron ore remains in the western and eastern parts of the range.
Mining of the Gogebic Range in Wisconsin began in 1885, and within six months of the development of the mining industry, the city of Hurley went from a population of 80 to more than 2,500 people. At the time, it was predicted that the mining industry alone would support and foster farming, retail, manufacturing, the lumber and logging industry and tourism throughout Northern Wisconsin.
Iron mining is significantly different than non-ferrous or sulfide mining. Because of the magnetic properties of iron and lack of sulfide, in its simplest definition, iron is mined using water and magnets to pull out the iron. And because of the extraction and mining process differences, most states, which mine the majority of our nation’s iron, have different regulations for ferrous and non-ferrous mining operations.
Iron which has been casted has many specific uses including pipes, engines, and appliances, but most prevalent is its use in making steel. The many different steel types are comprised of almost entirely iron combined with small amounts of other metals to form various steel alloys. Steel is the most widely used and useful metal known to modern man and is used 20 times more than all other metals combined.
Steel’s relatively low production cost and strong properties make it the main structural metal in engineering and building products accounting for nearly 90 percent of all metal used each year. About 60 percent of iron and steel products are used in transportation and construction, 20 percent in machinery manufacturing, and most of the remainder in cans and containers, in the oil and gas industries, and in various appliances and other equipment. Iron and the resulting steel was a major driving force in our country’s industrial revolution.
The Future of iron Ore mining
But perhaps the greatest opportunity for future economic development from Wisconsin mining is to be found right back in the Gogebic Range of Northern Wisconsin. Our state is poised to see the same economic benefits and revitalization of northern Wisconsin jobs and industry as it was in 1885, thanks to new and more advanced mining technologies coupled with a significant taconite deposit in Iron and Ashland Counties.
Construction and operation of an iron mine in the Gogebic Range region would produce significant economic benefits in an area that has suffered a population decline over the last several decades. The overall annual economic impact of operating a mine at a production level of 8 million tons would be $604 million. The mine operation would also support over 2,000 jobs at the mine and indirect businesses. The direct jobs at the mine would be good paying as similar jobs in Minnesota and Michigan average over $80,000 annually with wages and benefits.
Wisconsin is ready to revisit its history and deep roots in its mining culture, and the Iron County stands ready to assist residents across the state to achieve the real economic benefits and job creation a revitalized mining industry would foster.