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Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) Original Documentaries

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Series 2009 - Episode 1 - Iron Range: Minnesota Building America
Aired - 23 April 2009

Episode summary:

Unknown to most people, Minnesota's Iron Range was fundamental in shaping America. 80% of the iron used to create U.S. icons from railroads to skyscrapers to iron-fortified bread came from the 100-mile long, 20-mile wide swath of land in northern Minnesota. The land alone wasn't responsible for supplying the vast wealth of iron. Beginning in the 1890s immigrants from over 40 countries--mostly Southern and Eastern Europe along with Finland and Sweden--dug the iron out of the northern forests, sent it to Lake Superior and then on to the steel plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other eastern states. It was a hard life for people who chose to make their homes on the Range. The region is remote even by today's standards. Nonetheless the wide variety of immigrants that populated the land brought culture, food, and religious diversity to the region. In the early part of the 20th century there were 4 synagogues standing alongside Polish Catholic churches and Finnish Protestant halls of worship. Populist politics was another immigrant import. One town even had a Communist mayor. And though the KKK was active here, their main target wasn't African Americans. It was those who wanted to unionize. They weren't successful in their scare tactics as the Range became a bastion of union members. Women's lives were challenging, too. Garrison Keillor's oft-uttered phrase "where the women are strong" definitely applied to the females on the Range. They maintained the social structures, fed not only their families but also stray miners with no homes, and kept the region alive with culture and education. All while surviving months of below zero temperatures without a whit of central heating. Minnesota's Iron Range made the United States into a 20th Century powerhouse. Without it we wouldn't be who we are.

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