Great Northern Iron: James J. Hill’s 109-Year Mining Trust
James A. Stolpestad
St. Paul, MN: Ramsey County Historical Society, 2020
348 pages; hardcover, $65, order online at
Reviewed in Mining Engineering magazine (December 2020). Reprinted with permission.

This is a book that encompasses a sweeping panorama of stories—stories of missionaries, surveyors, geologists, entrepreneurs, geologic time, and a company that spanned a century. James Stolpestad, author, lawyer, and real estate developer, was given exclusive access to Great Northern’s archives and to its former senior managers to reveal a story hidden from public view for a century. Great Northern Iron Ore Properties was a trust formed in 1906 by James J. Hill and his son Louis W. Hill to acquire, manage, and lease 67,000 acres on the 100-hundred-mile long Mesabi Range. To get around legal restrictions, the trust leased the land to the iron and steel companies that did the mining. Investors, all members or friends of the Hill family, received their interests free because they owned stock in the Great Northern Railway.

The encyclopedic, yet readable, book offers a visual feast of original documents, photos, maps, and detailed tables, as well as dramatic 36-inch fold out maps that show the entire northern Minnesota mining region from both a bird’s-eye view and its cross section.

This important work is exhaustively researched and has insights and detailed references to Minnesota and US history, railroads, mining, James J. Hill, Louis W. Hill, and other leading individuals and families from this period of history. The author mined many archives to document the multiple legal and economic issues involved to give the reader a concise view of the complicated business, financial, and legal processes that made mining on the Mesabi Range possible.

Mining Engineering, the official journal of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, Inc. (SME), has delivered news, industry information, the latest technological developments, and more to the global mining community since 1949.

For the Pioneer Press review of the book by Dave Beal, see the article here.