When iron ore was discovered on the Vermilion Range, Charlemagne Tower, Sr., George Stone, Charlemagne Tower, Jr., and George Stuntz formed the Minnesota Iron Company and acquired the Duluth and Iron Range Railway (D&IR). In 1883, they constructed a railroad between Vermilion Range operations and Two Harbors so ore could be shipped to steel mills via the Great Lakes. To meet the completion deadline, 14,000 men toiled around the clock.
On July 31, 1884, ten wooden rail cars of iron ore hauled by a coal-burning engine, left the Soudan Mine bound for Two Harbors. The historic 68-mile rail trip took seven hours. After the city was granted a charter, the railroad was extended into Tower in 1886.
That same year, the Illinois Steel Company, representing H.H. Porter, Cyrus McCormick, Marshall Field, and John D. Rockefeller, acquired a rich ore deposit near Ely, and bought the Minnesota Iron Company holdings, including the D&IR. In 1901, this company became the United States Steel Corporation.
The steam locomotive pictured was built in 1910 for the D&IR by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. It was typical of those used to haul iron ore and passengers until 1953, when diesel locomotives were put into service.