March 17, 1889: Alfred Merritt begins expedition to what is now the Mesabi Iron Range

On this day in 1889, Alfred Merritt and a crew of six men started off on an expedition that would eventually lead to the opening of the Mesabi Iron Range. Here’s how recounted the story in 1917: “The year 1889 the first work was done on what is now the Mountain Iron Mine. I took a crew of six men in by way of Tower, on March 17. Started from Tower with three dog trains, and we were the dogs. We went in by way of Pike River, and then by way of Rice Lake, then to Mountain Iron. We dug test pits, and finally drilled. All work was done on the south half of section 34, township 59 north of range 18 west. We found that we were too far north for ore, and on going south found the ore on section 4, directly south of our first work, the summer of 1890. No one who has not gone through the hardships and the discouragements of keeping a camp going, out so far from the base of supplies, can realize what one has to contend with. The raising of money alone was no small job, and worst of all the task of endeavoring to keep up the courage of one’s partners. After the ore was found we then had to look for transportation.” It would take Merritt and his fellow investors to find that transportation, and when they did, the ore was delivered to docks in Superior. They then built the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad and in 1893 the first load of ore from their Iron Mountain Mine traveled on the DM&N to the docks they built in Duluth.

Alfred Merritt. (Image: Zenith City Press)