Iron Range - Labor, Unions, and Politics


The following documents pertain to Labor and Politics on the Iron Range and specifically focus on the strikes in northern Minnesota in 1907 and 1916. Clicking on the linked title will open the document.

The mines of the Iron Range experienced two major strikes in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Workers wanted better pay, safer working conditions, and the ability to unionize. Workers went on strike in 1907, but were unsuccessful because of the influx of immigrants who came and worked as strike-breakers. Those same workers became fed up with the conditions and a much more successful strike followed in 1916.

Note: Some of the documents are protected by copyright. They can be previewed, but not printed.  We have posted them here to make your researching easier. If you like the resources, please purchase them from the links provided or find them at your local library.



T-DA: Beginning of the Labor Movement - Miners on the Iron Range. Grade 8
Students read a chapter about the Milford Mine disaster and analyze photographs to discover working conditions in the mines in the first part of the Twentieth century. After coming up with a list of demands they might have as workers, students write a journal entry describing a typical day.

T-DA: The 1916 Mesabi Strike - Document Based Question Grades 8-11
Offering 9 short excerpts from documents, this lesson plan has students examine the sources and attitudes of different participants in the 1916 strike and must decide which side they feel has the most compelling argument. Students complete a National Archive Document Analysis handout or the teacher may choose to do a different type of analysis.

T-DA: STRIKE! Grades 9-12
Using selections from primary source documents, this interactive lesson plan re-creates the conditions that led up to the 1916 strike on the Mesabi range. Students are assigned groups of either striking workers or mine company owners and must determine: How did the actions of the mine companies and the striking workers escalate the discontent and violence during the Mesabi strike of 1916?

T-DA: Les Mineurs en Grave Grade 9-12
Originally written for a French-immersion school, this lesson can be adapted to normal English or social studies classrooms. By studying news articles from around the time of the 1916 strike on the Iron Range and comparing them with the french text Germinal (also available translated into English), this lesson poses the question: How are the experiences of the French miners (1880-1920) similar to and different from the experiences of the American miners at the same time?

T-DA: Strike of the Iron Ore Workers in 1916. Grades 9-12
Using the injury and fatality statistics, as well as the Iron Ore Miners Song (listed below), students must analyze the factors that contributed to the rise of socialism in the first part of the Twentieth century. Students must write a poem or song from the point of view of the miners.


“Organized Labor and the Iron Ore Miners of Northern Minnesota, 1907-1936” by Donald G. Sofchalk in Labor History (v12 no2). Spring 1971. p214-242.
An extensive scholarly article, recommended for Honors, AP or IB courses. The article covers the efforts made by the IWW and the mine workers to organize and fight for better working conditions and pay. Very detailed timeline of events leading up to the 1916 strike including the popularity and growth of the IWW in the years leading up to the strike. 29 pages.

“STRIKE on the MESABI – 1907” by Neil Betten in Minnesota History (v40 n7) Fall 1967, p340-347.
An article in the publication put out by the Minnesota Historical Society looks at the strike of 1907 and the role of major unions, or rather, the lack of role played by the AFL and the actions of the WFM (Western Federation of Miners) . The strike started when the mines closed down some operations but only laid off union members. Purchase back issues of Minnesota History Quarterly. Not all titles are available, check your local library. 8pgs.

“Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the Mesabi Strike of 1916.” By Michael and G. Karni in Range History, Winter, 1981
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a female activist and a leader in the Industrial Workers of the World. Although not from Minnesota, she was active in both the 1907 and 1916 strikes on the Iron Range. This brief article discusses mostly the origins of the strike - the workers who decided they'd had enough, and the co-workers who followed them. To understand this article better in context, have the class research Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and learn more about her. 6pgs

“Ethnic Radicalism and the 1916 Mesabi Strike.” By Douglas Ollila, Jr. in Range History, Winter, 1978.
Known for the ethnic diversity, the Iron Range was home to many different ethnic groups. This article focuses on the contributions of various ethnic groups to the success of the 1916 strike. the article contains many details of the strikes including worker's demands and tactics. 5pgs

“Riot, Revolution, Repression in the Iron Range Strike of 1916” by Neil Betten in Minnesota History, Spring 1968. p82-93.
An article in the publication put out by the Minnesota Historical Society. Neil Betten also wrote about the 1907 Strike on the Mesabi. In this article, he compares the tactics of strikers and the actions of the IWW during both the 1907 and 1916 strike. There are some great political cartoons, both from pro and anti-union. Purchase back issues of Minnesota History Quarterly. Not all titles are available, check your local library.12 pgs.

“The 1916 Minnesota Miners STRIKE against U.S. Steel” by Robert M. Eleff in Minnesota History, Summer, 1988. p63-74.
An article in the publication put out by the Minnesota Historical Society examines the working conditions of miners prior to the 1916 strike and the pressures put on striking workers. A very good overview of the cause and effect of the strike. Contains a couple of excellent political cartoons that are anti-IWW. Purchase back issues of Minnesota History Quarterly. Not all titles are available, check your local library. 12 pgs.

“The Iron Heel of the Mesaba Range” by Leslie H. Marcy in The International Socialist Review. (v17 no2). August 1916. p74-79
In animated and inflammatory rhetoric, The International Socialist recounts the plight of the miners including the fatal shooting of a striking worker by Mine Company employees. Includes a letter from William D. Haywood, General Secretary-Treasure of the IWW. An excellent primary source for doing OPVL.8pgs.

“The Mesaba Range Strike” by George P. West in The New Republic. September 2, 1916 (v8 no96). p108-109.
This brief article summarizes the demands of the workers and describes the methods and means used by mine owners and local police to control workers including brutal beatings. He closes by warning that public officials may, “learn at the next election that public authority can not be used brutally and recklessly on the side of the oppressors”. 2pgs.

Contempt for the People by William Ojala
William Ojala served as a lawyer, president of a local labor union, and served two terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. In this article, he recounts the treatment of miners leading up to and during the 1916 Mesaba strike. Take care when using this in the classroom as it represents a strong opinion. The subtitle reads, "When you've read this brutal account of the way Minnesota's absentee-owned mining companies used to act, you'll understand a little more about theier exploitave actions today."

“The Iron Ore Miners Song” anonymous in Solidarity. August 5, 1916.
This song was purportedly written by an anonymous miner in jail. It is sung to the tune “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, a popular song at the time. Great to add to a unit on protest music or music of resistance. – a link to hear the tune. 1pg.

“The Mining Strike in Minnesota: I-From the Miners Point of View, II-The Other Side”. By Mary Heaton Vorse and Tyler Dennett in The Outlook (vol 63). August 1916. p1036-1048.
Published by a National News Journal, this article attempts to presents both sides of the strike. The first half of the article is written by a correspondent sympathetic to the miner’s cause. The second half is written by a writer who was previously published by Outlook, presenting the perspective of the employer. This is *excellent* to use in classrooms because it so easily presents two perspectives. 6pgs.

“When Strike Breakers Strike: The Demands of the Miners on the Mesaba Range” by Marion B. Cothren in The Survey. (vol 36) August 1916. p535-536
A short article describes details of the 1916 strike, pointing out that many of the striking workers were strike-breakers during the 1907 strike. An excellent introduction to the topic including many details such as working conditions and sample wages for miners. 3pgs

Lesson Guide: “A Short History of American Labor”
Labor Studies Center has put out this lesson guide as a supplement to “A Short History of American Labor” to help teachers cover the Industrial Age. It includes discussion questions and key concepts, terms, events, people, and legislation. 4pgs.

“Work, Culture and Society in Industrializing America: 1815-1919” by Herbet G. Gutman in Work, Culture and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working Class History and Social History. New York, Vintage Books, 1977. p3-78
Another extensively scholarly article does not focus on the Iron Range but rather on a broader sociology of the so-called Protestant work ethic and the impact of Industrialization on the work habits of immigrants to the United States. Meant for a college audience, there are several poems written by workers and graphs that are worth pulling out to examine. 39pgs.

Purchasing this book can be difficult. It is out of print, but available used at:

“Political Culture in Microcosm: Minnesota’s Iron Range” by Pamela Brunfelt.
Written for publication in a scholarly journal, this essay is an analysis of the development of the moralistic political culture on the Iron Range, based on Daniel Alazar’s theory of three distinct political cultures. It explains how the large waves of immigrants seeking to form a community that was not dominated by mine owners led to a commonwealth that naturally leaned towards unionization and the DFL. 11pgs.

"Exploring the Riddle of Iron Range Politics" by Pamela Brunfelt
Lecture notes from Pamela Brunfelt, a scholar on the Iron Range, covers a broad history of politics, unions, and social groups on the Iron Range in the 20th Century. 7 pgs.

NPR: Home on the Iron Range
The northern Minnesota Iron Range region is home to one of the country's richest iron ore deposits. It has also long been a democratic stronghold. A weakening union and a faltering economy are causing that to change, however. 4 minute audio. Originally Broadcast September 3, 2008.


Illinois Labor History
A Curriculum of United States Labor History for Teachers. Sponsored by the Illinois Labor History Society.
An absolutely excellent website containing Overviews, Timelines, Assignments, Handouts, Primary Source Documents and much more covering Labor History in the time period from the Colonial Period to Post-War America.

A Short History of the American Labor Movement
This is a free preview of the book by Mary Beard published in 1920. This book is a great primary source that covers the history of the Labor movement up to the “present day”, 1920. It includes tactics of labor, the origin of labor unions, and information about the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

Memoirs of a Wobbly, by Henry E. McGuckin. Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co. Chicago, 1987.
This lively narrative by old-time Wobbly Henry McGuckin (1893-1974) is not like any other book on the Industrial Workers OfThe World. Although 'Mac' knew and worked with many of the best-known Wobblies - Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Frank Little and others - his purpose here is not to discuss prominent personalities or world-famous events, but rather to tell of the unsung tens of thousands of militant working men and women who, in the 1910s, made the IWW one of the grandest labor organizations the world has ever seen. *Is not directly about the Iron Range*, but can help students understand what the IWW was and how it worked.

RELATED MINNESOTA STRIKE RESOURCES Minnesota Field Trip by Macalester College and Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education. The website has a brief over view of the Iron Range and Robber Barons as well as Labor Issues faced by U.S. Steel.

1907 Mesabi Range Strike The Minnesota Historical Society’s page dedicated to the 1907 Strike on the Mesabi Range. Provides a brief overview of the incident and a resource list for people looking for more information. The Minnesota Historical Society’s page dedicated to the 1916 Strike on the Mesabi Range. Provides a brief overview of the incident and a resource list for people looking for more information.

We’ve Been Robbed Long Enough It’s Time to Strike: Remember the 1916 Strike on Minnesota’s Iron Range”. A page dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the strike on the Industrial Workers of the World website. Contains a summary of the IWW’s role in the 1916 strike. An unnamed political cartoon by Robert Minor published in The Masses, no.8, August 1916.


“The Strike of the Iron Minters of Minnesota: Persecution, Abuses and Violence of the United Steel Corporation” by the Committee on Industrial Relations in United Mine Workers Journal. August, 1916. p12 -14

Illustration from United Mine Workers Journal. Indianapolis, Indiana. August 3, 1916.

The caption under the skeleton walking over bodies reads “AFTER TWO YEARS: WHO WANTS ME?”. A good primary source to do OPVL with, has lots of detail and much can be read into the meaning behind the piece.