Regional libraries and historical centers will be the recipients of mining history this month, when several days' worth of oral history recordings and transcripts will be shared for the first time.

The Erie Mining Company History Project, in conjunction with the St. Louis County Historical Society, is donating more than 150 oral history interviews to seven organizations in Northeastern Minnesota, a Friday news release said.

The donation is the culmination of the area’s largest oral history project covering Minnesota’s taconite industry. The interviews were conducted between 2014-19 to collect first-person research material for the book, "Taconite: New Life for Minnesota’s Iron Range — the History of Erie Mining Company.”

“Oral histories are first-person information,” said Barb Sommer, an oral history scholar who was contracted to assist with the project. “With oral histories, you get memories you wouldn’t get any other way. They often fill in gaps in the written word.”

These oral histories provide intimate, real-world insight about the company, its operation, the communities and, most importantly, the news release said, the lives of the people who were part of the mining story in Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota.

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"These interviews provide a fascinating look at the early days of Minnesota’s taconite industry and the people who made it happen," project leader and retired Erie Mining employee Ron Hein said. “They were pioneers in every sense of the word, and their stories need to be preserved. We were privileged to accomplish that task.”

The project team and historical society are donating over 125 hours of audio recordings, more than five days of recorded interviews, and 2,800 pages of transcriptions. The individual interviews average about 50 minutes, with some extending to as long as 2.5 hours.

An Erie Mining Company sign sits outside Ron Hein’s home. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
An Erie Mining Company sign sits outside Ron Hein’s home. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

In February, the interview audio recordings and transcripts will be donated to the following places:

  • St. Louis County Historical Society, Duluth.
  • University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library, Duluth.
  • Hoyt Lakes Public Library, Hoyt Lakes.
  • Aurora City Library, Aurora.
  • Minnesota Discovery Center, Chisholm.
  • Ely Winton Historical Society, Ely.
  • Cook County Historical Society, Grand Marais.

The interviews were conducted across a wide spectrum of people associated with Erie Mining Company, including employees, spouses, corporate and civic leaders, local business owners, and community members, the news release said. The interviews cover the entire life of Erie, from the early 1940s investigations into taconite, through construction and startup in the 1950s, to its operation and eventual closure in 2001.

The Project Team conducted the interviews in accordance with the Oral History Association guidelines and best practices.

The interviews will be available locally to family members, friends, the general public and specifically those interested in researching the taconite industry.

Ron Hein’s hardhat sits flanked by Erie Mining and LTV Steel caps. Erie Mining Co. was renamed LTV Steel Co. in 1987. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Ron Hein’s hardhat sits flanked by Erie Mining and LTV Steel caps. Erie Mining Co. was renamed LTV Steel Co. in 1987. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Sommer called it a major commitment.

"The team was very organized, knew what they were after, and knew how to get it done — quite an accomplishment,” Sommer said. "These oral histories will be a valuable source of information for future researchers.”

The book, “Taconite: New Life for Minnesota’s Iron Range — the History of Erie Mining Company,” is available from the St. Louis County Historical Society (thehistorypeople.org) for $45, including tax and shipping. Proceeds from the sale fund scholarships for area students.