United States Steel Duluth Works

It’s amusing to me that the soundtrack to this slideshow is by Dokken. You might think that’s a poor choice, but I remember 20 years ago the only Duluth kids into Dokken were from Morgan Park, so it makes sense.

Also, tragically, the one sentence of text in the video contains multiple errors, but oh well.

Some historical background:

United States Steel Duluth Works was the largest steel mill north of Chicago, employing nearly 3,000 people at its peak in the early 1960s. It was the lifeblood of western Duluth’s economy for 60 years.

The mill was first proposed by U.S. Steel in 1907. Plans for the plant were made public in the spring of 1910, when they were filed at the office of S.M. Kielly, city building inspector. The mill cost $25 million to build.

U.S. Steel also built the Morgan Park neighborhood as a company town for its workers to live. Both construction projects began in 1913.

Production at the mill began in 1915. U.S. Steel worked with area mining interests to produce rich grade iron ore. The mill steel helped build ships in Duluth shipyards that were used in two world wars.

Following World War II, the demand for iron ore began to dwindle, as did the amount of rich deposits available. The plant began to cut back, but still produced one-million tons of steel per year during the 1950s and 60s.

Rumors of the plant closing began in the 1970s. Materials needed to be shipped in, and shipping costs had gone up due to a weak regional economy. The company was also being squeezed by foreign competition.

In 1971, U.S. Steel announced it would begin phasing out the Duluth Mill operations. Members of the community formed a business/labor partnership and attempted to persuade the Minnesota Legislature to give U.S. Steel an incentive package by freezing real estate taxes for up to 13 years if the company would modernize its facility to employ a new process of mining taconite pellets. The bill failed to pass the Senate, on a 33-33 vote.

The blast furnace closed first. Two years later, cold-side production units were stopped. In 1975, the cement plant closed, ending it all.

Most of the buildings were torn down in the 1990s. The site is still contaminated and closed to the public, but it’s not all that dangerous there and access is easy. People wander in all the time. As far as Superfund sites go, it’s actually kind of lovely.



about 13 years ago

Thanks for posting this, Paul. My dad worked as a metallurgist for USS for many years. I worked at the mill for a year around 1970. First on the High Line to the Open Hearth. My job was to keep 10-12 feet of the weigh scale track free of ore and scrap metal debris. Eight hours a day. But, at lunch I got to watch them tap the Open Hearth furnaces - molten steel gushing out into the giant ladles. Very impressive. I got another job in the Wire Mill making barbed-wire for the Vietnam War until I burned my hand. Lastly, I worked in the Merchant Mill where they rolled out red-hot fence post and H-beams. I worked manual labor on the hotbed, sometimes as a cutter, and also a stint as an inspector, and the hotbed operator. Then I got out of the steel business. After the mill shut down, I thought many times of sneaking into the abandoned buildings to take photographs but never followed through. Too bad.


about 13 years ago

This was our playground in the 1980s as kids from Morgan Park. Dokken and Judas Priest played our soundtrack also. I can tell you that we pissed our mom's off plenty by running down the long conveyor belt shafts into the piles of coal at the bottom.

We started by just going down there to break windows, but as we got older and with no xbox's we would use the steel plant as our map for our real life version of Counter Strike with BB guns.

We only had to avoid the one security guard from Midwest Patrol. We called him Super Cop. It was a blast and probably a little stupid with all the exposed asbestos.

German Chris

about 13 years ago

The steel mill's buildings look ancient.  They must not have modernized much during the life span of the mill. There are some closed up steel mills converted to parks here in Duisburg and they look modern compared to the Duluth one in the pictures.


about 13 years ago

It's true, German Chris - not very modernized at all. These were spewing massive amounts of heavy metals into the air and lake right up to the end.

Joel S

about 13 years ago

The plant was never particularly profitable.  It was originally built as part of a deal to avoid the imposition of a production tax on Minnesota iron ore.  U.S. Steel invested very little in the plant, and it was among the first that it closed down, even before the major wave of steel plant closures in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  (The plant was mostly closed down by 1973.)

The Big E

about 13 years ago

For what it's worth, I wrote a brief and narrowly-sourced historical capsule on the USS plant a while back as part of a project I was hurriedly finishing.  It brings together some stuff that might be of interest though.


about 13 years ago

This brought back some very fond memories.  My dad worked for USS, Gary Works for many years.  We would occasionally ride along with an older sibling dropping my dad off for work; he would normally walk to/from work each day, 3-4 miles. Where we dropped him off, he had to walk across a bridge.  I remember the bridge had many stairs and to this day can still remember him walking up those stairs on his way to his job. I've been trying to find a picture of that bridge.  If anybody has any ideas as to where I can find one, can you please post a comment.  Thank you.


about 12 years ago

My father was an electrical engineer and superintendent at Duluth Works.  I worked there when I first got off active military duty.  I worked in the Roughing Mill next to the Ingot Soaking Pits. I also, worked as a handyman and also worked in  the Fence Post Department.  

Duluth Works made bar products and wire products, such as nails, various gauges of wire, wire mesh for concrete reinforcement,   barbed wire, fence posts, etc.

After college I worked at USS Gary Works in Gary Indiana. Currently, I work for a smaller steel mill in northwest Indiana.

I went to Morgan Park school for 13 years, kindergarten through 12th grade.  The school was kitty-corner from the main office of Duluth Works, there was a community club directly across the street from the school called the Goodfellowship Club.  There was a gym with a wooden running track in the balcony with inclined sides at the ends, there was a pool, billiards room, handball court, four lane bowling alley,  where I worked as a kid setting pins.  The club had an auditorium, meeting rooms and a cafeteria where the supervisors from the mill ate lunch. 

The craftsmen from the steel mill built the warming shack for the ice rink by the school, the steel mill provided cinders for the school athlete track and sometimes tools for the shop class at the school.

And of course the entire community was built by U. S. Steel, including a shopping center and two churches. Morgan Park had paved alleys long before parts of Duluth  had paved streets.

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