November 29, 1915: Minnesota steel plant’s blast furnace lit for first time

On this day in Duluth in 1915, the first of ten blast furnaces at the U.S.S.’s Minnesota Steel Plant in Morgan Park was lit for the first time, beginning a steel-making process that would continue for the next sixty years. At 3:30 that afternoon company officials lit the furnace, and later that evening came the “blowing in,” forcing pure oxygen into the furnace to make better steel out of inferior ore. The newspaper report complained that the event had a decided lack of fanfare. Historically, lighting a blast furnace for the first time was performed almost ceremonially, like the christening of a ship—and that’s why the officials were brought in, as it meant “the actual birth of productive life at the Minnesota Steel Plant.” None of them were present at the blow in. The furnaces produced pig iron, which was then processed into steel. Construction of the plant—built by Carnegie’s United States Steel in order to avoid paying an extra tax on the ore his companies mined on the Missabe Range and shipped out of state—began in 1909. The first steel rolled out in December, 1915. At the height of operations during World War II, the plant employed over 5,000 people. By 1971 only one blast furnace remained in operation and 1,600 employees were discharged, leaving less than 1,000 workers to man the plant. The facility held on for eight more years, but in 1979 the coke plant closed and the last employees left. Read about the history of Duluth’s Metal Manufacturers in the Historic Industry section of the Zenith City History archive.

The blast furnace at the USS Minnesota Steel Plant in Duluth. (Image: Zenith City Press)