February 22, 1873: Duluth Blast Furnace organized on Rice’s Point

On this day in Duluth in 1873, the Duluth Blast Furnace Company was established by pioneers J. B. Culver, Luther Mendenhall, J. D. Ray, J. C. Hunter, and W. W. Spalding and began construction on Rice’s Point that summer. They lured Pittsburgh’s John H. Schoenberger to operate the Schoenberger and Bryant Car Company Foundry to build cars for Jay Cooke’s Northern Pacific Railroad. George Barnum contracted with Duluth Blast Furnace to bring ore to Duluth from Marquette, Michigan (Minnesota’s Iron Range had yet to open) using the steamships Manistee and Metropolis, the first two large steamers owned by Duluthians to operate on the Great Lakes. But, like most other Duluth businesses, it failed in late 1873 in the wake of the national financial panic. The Duluth Iron & Steel Company operated on the site from 1884 to 1888 then built a new facility along the St. Louis Bay between Fifty-Sixth and Fifty-Ninth Avenues West. The company reformed as West Duluth Blast Furnace in 1892 but closed in 1895 as a result of the 1893 financial panic. In 1902 Captain A. B. Wolvin and his associates incorporated Zenith Furnace and rebuilt the plant to produce pig iron and its byproducts — coal tar, ammonia, and coal gas — all of which could be used by other manufacturers in West Duluth. In 1948 the company became a division of Interlake Iron Company and by 1955 was the country’s largest producer of pig iron. But dramatic reductions in the demand for pig iron forced Zenith Furnace to close in 1962. Read a history of Duluth’s metal fabricators, including a more detailed history of Zenith Furnace, here.

Sketch showing the works of Duluth Iron and Steel, date unknown. Image: Duluth Public Library)