Ore is an economic term
Fred Quivik, 2015
I've been fortunate to work with a number of great mentors and colleagues during my time as an archaeologist for the Forest Service, and as a graduate student at Michigan Tech. A benefit of being in academia is the opportunity to listen to other researchers present their own work. A recently retired history professor from MTU, Fred Quivik, who I've worked with during my MS and PhD research, presented a paper in November of 2015 on mill tailings in Montana. During this talk Fred highlighted an important fact, one that I had overlooked as I've studied mining - simply that "Ore is an economic term".
That cogent sentence changed the way I understood the mining industry, and changed the way I looked at concepts like value and waste. In mining, what is value today, might be waste tomorrow - and vice-versa - judgments based on economics, technological development, and culture. In mining heritage we can see similar parallels, as what we value collectively can change with time, with politics, and with economics. Both of these fields, mining and mining heritage, ascribe value judgements to things, such as minerals, machines, and memory, based on shifting, and abstract cultural constructs.
Since Fred's talk and as my research has progressed, I've found myself writing and reflecting about concepts like value and waste - especially how it relates to mining, heritage, and the environment - examining closely the often blurry line that we draw to divide the two.
I will return to this idea later - but for now we will explore the history of the Harrison Concentrator, the third beneficiation plant constructed in the Mesabi Range, which the Butler Brothers Mining Co. used to convert a material previously considered waste into an abundant source of value in the form of iron ore concentrates.
"The washing of iron ore means more than most people realize...The evolution of the concentrating process has allowed the development of iron-ore deposits that have brought millions to the owners, to the operators and to the public."
Nashwauk, MN is located in Itasca Co, within the western branch of the Mesabi Range, a geologic region known historically for its abundance of low-grade, siliceous iron ores. These ores, unlike the direct shipping ores that brought fame and fortune to the Vermillion Range, were encased in the earth like baklava, with thin layers of silica gangue mixed with thin layers of iron ore. Mining engineers and furnace operators found this ore to be irritable, and when fed directly to the blast furnaces it caused a sort of industrial indigestion as the high-silica content in the ore had a tendency to clog-up the furnace's innards.
"The Crosby plant, which is typical in size of the others, is a steel structure with dimensions of 62 x 67 ft. and has an extreme height of 81 ft. The machinery is all of Allis-Chalmers manufacture."
L.A. Rossman, "Nashwauk Iron-Washing Plants", in Engineering and Mining Journal, Vol. 102, No. 12,
Sept. 16, 1916, pp. 491
John Baeten holds a PhD in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology from Michigan Technological University. His research aims to contextualize the environmental legacies of industrialization as meaningful cultural heritage.