Historical Perspective

Historically, the State of Minnesota has been leasing its iron ore and taconite resources since the 1890s. Iron ore and taconite mines have shipped a total of 4.6 billion tons of iron ore, iron ore concentrates and pellets. The state has also had an active program of leasing nonferrous metallic minerals since 1966. The leases set up the conditions that allow companies to explore for, and perhaps, eventually mine ore that is discovered. The state has issued 3,213 leases (as of January 2009) to explore for nonferrous metallic minerals that cover over 1.3 million acres of state-owned mineral rights. From 1890 through June 2008, mineral exploration and mining on state-owned lands have generated $398.7 million.

Mineral Exploration

Iron Ore

  • Iron ore on the Mesabi Range was first mentioned by Henry H. Eames in 1866.
  • Iron ore indications were discovered by Peter Mitchell and test pits were put down in eastern Mesabi magnetite deposits in 1872.
  • First iron ore was shipped out of Soudan Mine in 1884.
  • Iron ore north of Mountain Iron was discovered by J.A. Nichols in 1890.
  • The Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad line to Mountain Iron Mine was completed in October 1892 and the first shipment of 4,245 tons was hauled from Mountain Iron Mine.
  • In 1956 taconite production began on a commercial scale by Erie Mining Co. and by Reserve Mining Co. This led to the adoption of the Taconite Amendment followed by large-scale expansion of the taconite industry in 1964.
  • From 1892 to 2008, a total of 4.38 billion tons of iron ore, iron ore concentrates and pellets were shipped from the Mesabi Range.


Vacuum harvester operating at a peat mining operation near Cromwell, MN

Vacuum harvester operating at a peat mining operation near Cromwell, MN


  • Minnesota has extensive peatlands comprising over 28 percent of the peatland area in the continental United States.
  • Minnesota has over six million acres of peatland
  • The majority of this is sedge peat and approximately 200,000 acres are sphagnum. Presently, about 1600 acres of peatland are under production through the Permit to Mine program.
  • Less than 4000 acres have ever been disturbed by peat mining during the more than 60 years peat has been commercially mined in Minnesota.
  • During the mid 1970's, the energy crisis prompted the state of Minnesota to closely examine the use of its peat resource as an energy alternative.
  • In anticipation of large-scale development of peatlands for energy purposes, the state created the Peat Program under the direction of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
  • In a five year period, the Peat Program conducted and published approximately 45 studies evaluating the environmental, social and economic consequences associated with peatland development. Presently, there are ten operations in Minnesota under the Permit to Mine Peat Program.



  • Copper-nickel deposits were discovered in 1948 southeast of Ely, Minnesota.
  • Companies first began exploring in 1960-1970's:
    • International Nickel Company (INCO) at the Spruce Road and Maturi deposits
    • Bear Creek Mining on private lands
    • AMAX Exploration leading to the Minnamax deposit
    • US Steel at the Dunka Road deposit
  • Exploration targets now include: cobalt, copper, chromium, gold, lead, manganese, nickel, palladium, platinum, silver, titanium, vanadium, zinc.


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