Hellraisers Journal: How the Steel Trust Gained Control of the Mesabi Iron Range Without Spending a Single Dollar

There are no limits to which
powers of privilege will not go
to keep the workers in slavery.
-Mother Jones


Hellraisers Journal, Wednesday November 29, 1916
Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range – Under the Rule of the Steel Trust

MN Iron Range Strike, Tresca Scarlett Schmidt Button, 1916

Harrison George, in an article for the November 25th edition of the Duluth Labor World, describes how the Steel Trust came to rule the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota. This is same Steel Trust which steadfastly refused to bargain with its employees and now seeks to frame-up organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World who have stood with the iron miners and their families in their struggle for justice.

Harrison George says of this plot:

This is the firm that backs with its grimy millions, the persecution of brave men; the firm who desires the conviction on a framed-up murder charge of Carlo Tresca, Sam Scarlett and Joe Schmidt-organisers,-who brought their loyalty to labor into the miner’s strike and who are guilty of no other crime.

From The Labor World of November 25, 1916:



Special Investigator for The Labor World.

IWW Metal Mine Workers IU No. 490, Hibbing MN, June 19, 1916, Crpd

It is the custom for an employer when faced with a demand for a wage increase, made by organized labor, to emit loud howls of purse-stricken pain, to cry “confiscation,” and complain that the “predatory poor” are rendering valueless his immense holdings, into which he has sunken—at great personal risk—his life, his fortune and perhaps—his “sacred honor.”

Let us review in brief, just what this argument is worth when applied to the U. S. Steel Corporation in its acquirement of the largest iron ore deposits in the world on the Mesaba Range in Minnesota.

Iron was discovered on the Mesaba Range in 1890. As the U. S. Steel Corporation was not formed until 1901 we must deal with those whose acts led to its formation. The swarm of speculators which over-ran the Range upon the discovery of iron ore can be roughly divided into three groups: the Merritts and their friends, a group of local capitalists; Henry W. Oliver, a wealthy Pittsburg man; and the third group, a lot of get-rich-quick pure—or impure-speculators, who grabbed everything in sight and then lay on their “ores” waiting for something to happen.

Something did happen—though not to their liking. The first question was that of transportation and the Merritts, who were real developers, built a railroad from Lake Superior to the Range. This required more money than they had, so they borrowed the necessary cash from Rockefeller and, with child-like simplicity, mortgaged their entire interests—mines and railroads—to the Oil King.

The panic of the early nineties came on and it, together with costly and ill-advised management, resulted in Rockefeller taking over the whole works of the Merritt group. He refused to renew the loan and the real developers were left with empty hands. The hard times had also pressed Oliver to the wall and he was in way of financial collapse when approached by the Carnegie Steel Company, and seeing a way out, he hurried to Pittsburg.

It was there that the Steel Trust, the most pitiless exploiter of labor the world has witnessed, conceived itself in the mind of Henry Clay Frick, chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company. Frick knew Oliver needed money and he enforced a most amazing contract upon him which Oliver having no alternative but bankruptcy, accepted. The Carnegie Steel Company loaned to Oliver $500,000, to be spent in development work. This loan was secured by mortgage and, of course, was to be repaid with interest.

Yet a condition of the loan was that Oliver must give to the Carnegie Steel company half of his present and future holdings. In other words, Oliver was held up for half his ore properties, worth untold millions: and the Carnegie Steel company afterward to become the nucleus of the U. S. Steel Corporation, came into control of half its present vast interests on the Mesaba Range without costing Carnegie so much as a postage stamp!

However there was further work to be done, and Frick and Oliver now working together, dickered with Rockefeller and by a contract with Greasy John, secured leases on all the mines Rockefeller had taken away from the Merritts et al., agreeing, in consideration of the small royalty he assented to (25c per ton), to ship not less than 1,200,000, tons of ore [per?] year over the Rockefeller roads. Rocky caught them coming and going.

This was a great advantage to Carnegie and Oliver, as the combination between them and Rockefeller sent the third group into hysterics of fear and they fought with one another to get out from under. This was just what Frick and Oliver had figure on, and after much trouble in forcing Carnegie to accept the fortune thus to be obtained, finally won his consent and they bought up the best remaining locations on the Range; acquiring for what was to be the Steel Trust—incredible riches for a song.

Says Oliver, writing to Carnegie, July 27, 1897, in an effort to get his assistance, “I desire to impress you, that if it had not been for our Rockefeller deal, with the consequent demoralization caused by the publication thereof; it would not have been possible for us to now secure the other Range properties I propose to acquire. Now let us take advantage of our action before a season of good times gives the ore producers strength an opportunity to get together.” Sure, while he’s down kick ‘im in the slats!

All perfectly legal? Certainly! Organized wealth has always at its elbow the cringing corporation lawyer to see that it stays out of jail though not necessarily within the law. The only one to be accused of lawlessness, to be convicted on the slightest offenses, on the most transparent frame-ups is always the worker who demands a raise, the organizer who shows the worker the road to power!

This, then, is the Sum of Steel Trust control on the Mesaba Range: The employer, whose capitalization is the staggering sum of $1,404,000,000; acquired the greatest part of its ore properties without the expenditure of a single dollar.

This gigantic employer, whose dividends this year will exceed three hundred millions of dollars, refuses the right of its miners to organize or demand any wage increase. This is one of those firms who yell “appropriation” when labor asks for a nickle a day to be added to its wage-pittance; despite that they hold their property rights in natural resources by reason of no virtue, by chicane and by trickery.

Tresca Scarlett Schmidt, ISR, Nov 1916

This is the firm that backs with its grimy millions, the persecution of brave men; the firm who desires the conviction on a framed-up murder charge of Carlo Tresca, Sam Scarlett and Joe Schmidt-organisers,-who brought their loyalty to labor into the miner’s strike and who are guilty of no other crime.

[Photographs added.]


The Labor World
(Duluth, Minnesota)
-Nov 25, 1916

MN Iron Range Strike, Tresca Scarlett Schmidt Button, 1916
IWW Metal Mine Workers IU No. 490, Hibbing MN, June 19, 1916
Tresca Scarlett Schmidt, ISR, Nov 1916

See also:

Hellraisers Journal: George P West on Mesabi Iron Range Strike: 1000 Gunthugs Deputized by Sheriff Meining

WE NEVER FORGET: The Martyrs of the Mesabi Iron Range Strike of 1916