Two Harbors’ Ore Docks

The ore docks at Two Harbors c. 1930. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Charlemagne Tower’s Duluth & Iron Range Railroad built an ore dock at Agate Bay (now Two Harbors) in 1883; a year later the dock accepted its first load of Vermilion Iron Range ore, ten cars full pulled from Soudan, Minnesota, by the steam locomotive Three Spot. The railroad became the property of Illinois Steel in 1887, and in 1901 part of U.S. Steel; it was officially merged with U.S. Steel’s Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway in 1938. The railroads would eventually build six docks at Two Harbors.

Ore demand increased dramatically during World War II, and in 1944 the DM&IR docks in Duluth and Two Harbors broke loading records three times. The docks set a forty-eight hour loading record by filling sixty ships with 649,275 tons of ore between Sunday, May 28, and Tuesday, May 30. And they didn’t stop. The following day they broke the seventy-two-hour record when the loading total reached 859,959 tons. And from that Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. until the same time Thursday morning, crews loaded 406,484 tons, setting the single-day record in the process. (The previous twenty-four-hour record was set in 1942 with 337,180 tons.)

They reached an all-time high of 49 million tons in 1953. As the iron-rich ore was mined out, the docks slowed down. The Two Harbors docks actually closed from 1963 to 1966, when the mining industry picked up again with the development of taconite. Three docks remain, two of them still in operation.