Seven Iron Brothers
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The Seven Iron Men, Ather known as Merritt Brothers, were known as iron-ore pioneers in the Mesabi Range and the creation of what is now known as Mountain Iron. Their story was told, in part, by the book Seven Iron Men by Paul de Kruif. The book was first published in 1929.
The brothers, actually five brothers and two nephews, are credited with charting the Mesabi Range and recording the areas which demonstrated the highest potential for iron to be found after they'd recognized what they found. Due to the lack of railroads in the region, they were unable to transport the ore, and this led to the growth of the railroads in the region. The railroad, while beneficial for transport was at the center of conflict between the Merritt Brothers and J.D. Rockefeller, to whom they were eventually forced to sell their stake in Mountain Iron in 1893.
Introductory Material In the late 1800s, five brothers and two nephews known throughout Minnesota as the Merritt Brothers or the Seven Iron Men, founded the largest iron mine in the world, and initiated the consolidation of the American railway system into what would ultimately become the United States Steel Corporation. While the names of wealthy Americans during this time, such as J.D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan are more familiar than those of the Seven Iron Men, it was these Merritt Brothers charting and discovery of iron ore deep within the Mesabi Mountain Range that showed the necessity of transportation in order to capitalize upon the economic benefit of these large iron deposits. Without a reliable method to transport the iron from the mine, its usefulness was limited; this led to the development and growth of the railroad industry into these Minnesotan mountains. The story of the Merritt Brothers is a story about economic growth leading to massive accumulation of wealth, followed by business decisions leading to financial collapse; however, the Merritt Brothers personal economic losses allowed for prosperity for those Americans who were tied in various ways to the railroad industry.
Childhood The primary figure of the Merritt Brothers family members was Leonidas Merritt. He was born in Chautauqua County, New York where he lived until age 7, and then moved to western Pennsylvania where he lived until age 12. In 1856, his family moved to a community of five or six families in Duluth, Minnesota, just after the 1854 Treaty of LaPointe ceding the land from the Indians, and where his father, Lewis H. Merritt, worked as a lumberman and a millwright. He explored the wilderness territory as a boy, joined the Army to fight in the Civil War, and returned after his father had failed to discover gold in the Vermillion or Mesabi Mountain Ranges. The black “banded ore” rocks that his father brought back to Duluth from the Mesabi Range intrigued young Leonidas, who became intent upon exploring the Mesabi Mountains.
Geography Mesabi is an Indian word meaning “the grandmother of them all,” that divides the water flowing into the Hudson Bay from the water flowing into Lake Superior. A geology professor from the University of Wisconsin, Van Hise, had proposed a “trough theory,” explaining how the mountains potentially contained ore filled troughs at various places in the Mesabi Mountains. Again intrigued, Leonidis Merritt developed a magnetic survey and mapped out the ore troughs in the area. Having saved his money from working for 16 years as a lumberman, Leonidis bought land in the Mesabi Mountain for $1.25 an acre, and opened the largest iron mine in the world, Mountain Iron Mine, in the Mesabi Mountain Range.
Merritt Mining and Railroad Companies Leonidis Merritt was initially joined by his brother Alfred, and later by five other family members, as they sought investors for their company, in order to pay for miners to drill into their land. They first discovered the iron in 1891, after having built trails to the Mesabi Mountains and gathered villagers to drill into the troughs. As iron was discovered, the Merritt Brothers sold it, and re-invested all their earnings into their mining business, naming it the Mountain Iron Mine. But as soon as the iron was discovered, geological experts swarmed the mountains, and one mineral mining expert condemned Mountain Iron Mine, making it difficult to obtain outside investors in the mine. The Merritt Brothers continued to believe in the value of their iron, but they knew that they needed a railroad to transport the iron out of the mountains, and in 1891 incorporated the Duluth, Missabe, and Northern Railway Company to build a 70-mile long railroad to transport their iron out of the mine. The Merritt mine company raised $400,000 that they advanced to the railroad company in exchange for bonds.
Economics The Seven Iron Brothers rose from poverty to hold the largest iron mine in the world during the 1890s. In order to mine their iron, they needed a railroad, but by starting to build a railroad and accumulating massive wealth, they attracted the attention of other wealthy Americans, such as Standard Oil’s John D. Rockefeller, who was expanding into the iron ore business at that time. The Merritt Brothers put their company stock up as collateral to borrow money from Rockefeller to fully fund the railroad, and in the span of only several months, the Merritt Brothers had lost their personal wealth and interest in both their mining and their railroad corporations. In a series of financial transactions, Rockefeller came to own both the Mountain Iron Mine and the Railroad that the Merritt Brothers had built, leaving the Merritt Brothers financially ruined. By assuming the controlling interest in the Merritt Brothers enterprises, J.D. Rockefeller would then attract the attention of Andrew Carnegie, and ultimately through consolidations, the United States Steel Corporation, the world’s first billion dollar cooperation, would be founded.
Legacy By cooperating with John D. Rockefeller, the Merritt Brothers played a role in the formation of the United States Steel Corporation, a company with an immense economic impact since its formation. In 2011, the economic impact upon America of the steel industry was estimated to contribute $101.2 billion to the gross domestic product, and have supported 943,045 jobs in the United States. It generates an additional $22.9 billion in tax revenues, and the industry creates seven jobs in the United States economy for every one job created in the steel industry.
- "Merritt Brothers". Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-02-15.
- de Kruif, Paul (2007). Seven Iron Men: The Merritts and the Discovery of the Mesabi Range. University of Minnesota Press. 0-8166-5262-7.
- Diane Alden (2003-06-26). "Where the Rivers Run North, Part II". Newsmax. Retrieved 2008-02-15.
- "Iron Range - The Mining Frontier". Macalester College. Retrieved 2008-02-15.
- “United States Steel Corporation.” United States Congress. Committee on Investigation of United States Steel Corporation. U.S. Government. 1911. https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=IWg-AAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_api
- “History of the Mesabi Iron Range.” From Walter Van Brunt’s Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1-3. The American Historical Society. Chicago. 1922. http://zenithcity.com/zenith-city-history-archives/minnesotas-arrowhead/history-of-the-mesabi-iron-range/
- John D. Rockefeller
- U.S. Steel
- “Economic Impacts of the American Steel Industry.” Timothy J. Considine. University of Wyoming. 2012. http://legacy.steel.org/news/NewSteelNews/images/PDFs/Considine_March%202012.pdf
Iron Frontier: The Discovery and Early Development of Minnesota’s. By David A. Walker. Minnesota Historical Society. Library of Congress. 1979.
Mesabi Range Iron Ore Transportation: Feasibility and Estimated cost of Pipelining. Harold J. Polta. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Library. 1971.
The Missabe Road: The Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway. Fesler-Lambert Minnesota Heritage. Frank A. King. Fesler-Lambert Minnesota Heritage. 2003.
Seven Iron Men: The Merritts and the Discovery of the Mesabi Range. Paul de Kruif. Fesler-Lambert Minnesota Heritage. 2007.
The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy. Charles R. Morris. New York. Henry Hold and Company. 2003.
Minnesota Logging Railroads. Frank A. King. Fesler-Lambert Minnesota Heritage. 2003.
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Ron Chernow. New York. Random House. 1998.
Minnesota’s Iron Country: Rich Ore, Rich Lives. Marvin G. Lamppa. 2004.
Notes 1. ^U.S. Government 1911, p. 1885. 2. ^Van Brunt 1922. 3. ^U.S. Government 1911, p. 1886. 4. ^U.S. Government 1911, p. 1886. 5. ^U.S. Government 1911, p. 1887. 6. ^Van Brunt 1922. 7. ^Wiki/John D. Rockefeller. 8. ^Wiki/U.S. Steel. 9. ^Considine 2012. 10. ^Considine 2012.
“History of the Mesabi Iron Range.” From Walter Van Brunt’s Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1-3. The American Historical Society. Chicago. 1922. http://zenithcity.com/zenith-city-history-archives/minnesotas-arrowhead/history-of-the-mesabi-iron-range/
“Merritt Brothers”. Minnesota Historical Library. http://www.mnhs.org/library/tips/history_topics/126merritt.htm
“Economic Impacts of the American Steel Industry.” Timothy J. Considine. University of Wyoming. 2012. http://legacy.steel.org/news/NewSteelNews/images/PDFs/Considine_March%202012.pdf
“United States Steel Corporation.” United States Congress. Committee on Investigation of United States Steel Corporation. U.S. Government. 1911. https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=IWg-AAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_api