Minnesota Steel Plant (through 1922)

A blast furnace at Duluth’s Minnesota Steel Plant. (Image: Zenith City Press)

The success of the Zenith Furnace Company proved a stimulus to those who were eager to see a steel plant established in Duluth and such men as Thomas F. Cole, W. J. Olcott, Joseph B. Cotton and Frank B. Kellogg put the matter before the United States Steel Corporation. They presented the proposition in such an attractive light that the directors of the corporation, early in 1907, appointed a special committee of experts to visit the city to ascertain whether the establishment of such a plant would be practical and profitable. The committee consisted of W. B. Dickson, of New York, second vice-president of the United States Steel Corporation; John Reis, of New York, assistant to the president; E. E. Slick, of Pittsburg, chief mechanical engineer of the Carnegie Steel Company; and T. V. Robinson, of Chicago, first vice-president of the Illinois Steel Company. The experts came, made an exhaustive examination of the situation from every angle, and reported in favor of the project.

The corporation at once acted upon the report and the Minnesota Steel Company, a subsidiary of the corporation, was formed to prosecute the work. Something over one thousand acres of land was acquired at a cost of over $1,000,000 on the St. Louis river, and the work of building a new steel city has ever since been under way. Upon the plant and accessories so far undertaken the outlay will run to more than $14,000 000, and ultimately the investment may amount to $25,000,000 or $35,000,000. The location of the plant on the river is such that the largest lake vessels can berth alongside it to deliver their cargoes of fuel and load the finished product, when necessary, while the ore from the mines will be delivered directly from the cars. The construction of the plant is a mammoth work, involving as it does the construction of enormous docks, a transfer railroad and a bridge across the St. Louis river. Over 1 000 men are now working on the plant, and a city is springing up where there was nothing but vacant fields.

After over two years of incessant labor the plans for the necessary buildings at the plant have been filed with the city building inspector. They call for forty-eight distinct buildings.

The mills are so located that one process of the ore follows naturally into the next. The complete list of buildings is as follows: General office; check house, No. 1; skull cracker; pumping station; coke ovens; crusher house; condenser house; coal hopper; pig casting; ladle repair house; blast furnaces; ore bins; primary gas washer; hot stoves; blowing engine house; secondary gas washer; gas holder; thawing house; electric power house; boiler house; open hearth furnaces; hot metal mixer; gas producers; stock house; strippers; pit furnaces; gas producers; blooming mill; engine house; continuous furnaces; motor house; rail mill; merchant mill, 104×112 feet; rail finishing department, 450×120 feet; splice bar and tie plate finishing department, 100×140 feet; hot beds, 100×240 feet; structure storage, 140×100 feet; structural finishing department, 380×120 feet; store house, 80×240 feet; forge and plat shop, 110×200 feet; machine shop, 280×140 feet; foundry, 206×110 feet; check house No. 2; power house; concrete plant; concrete block plant; boarding house; tool house.

The establishment of this plant means a great deal to Duluth.

When it begins operations it will add at least 20, 000 people to the city’s population, these figures being based upon the assumption that from 4, 000 to 5, 000 men are employed in the plant These workmen will have to come to Duluth with their families.

The bringing of these men to the city will mean the building of 5, 000 model homes for workingmen-a small city in itself.

Already there is a scarcity of houses in West Duluth, and every family brought to that part of the city will mean a new home.

West Duluth should double or triple in size during the next five years.

The kind of men employed by a steel plant are not of the cheap class of labor. The great majority of them are skilled workmen, machinists and other high paid men. They are the class of men who own their own homes and bring up families, making permanent residents of the city. These men and their families have to be provided with provisions and clothing and the necessaries of life. This means more stores, more wholesale houses, more retail industries of every kind.

It has been the history of the steel industry everywhere that it brings other industries in its train. Smaller factories follow in the wake of the steel mills, and industries that Duluth has never dreamed of will spring up. Pittsburg was made by the steel industry, and there is no reason to doubt that what has been accomplished at Pittsburg will be repeated on a larger scale at the head of the lakes when the steel plant once begins operations.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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