For ages iron workers had obtained the finer metal by applying this heat in the form of charcoal, never once realizing that unlimited quantities of another fuel existed on every hand. The man who first suggested that so commonplace a substance as air, blown upon molten pig iron, would produce the intensest heat and destroy its impurities, made possible our steel railroads, our steel ships, and our steel cities. When William Kelly, an owner of iron works near Eddyville, Kentucky, first proposed this method in 1847, he met with the ridicule which usually greets the pioneer inventor. When Henry Bessemer, several years afterward, read a paper before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in which he advocated the same principle, he was roared down as "a crazy Frenchman," and the savants were so humiliated by the suggestion that they voted to make no record of his "silly paper" in their official minutes. Yet these two men, the American Kelly and the Englishman Bessemer, were the creators of modern steel. The records of the American Patent Office clearly show that Kelly made "Bessemer" steel many years before Bessemer. In 1870 the American Government refused to extend Bessemer's patent in this country on the ground that William Kelly had a prior claim; in spite of this, Bessemer was undoubtedly the man who developed the mechanical details and gave the process a universal standing.
Though the Bessemer process made possible the production of steel by tons instead of by pounds, it would never in itself have given the nation its present preeminence in the steel industry. Iron had been mined in the United States for two centuries on a small scale, the main deposits being located in the Lake Champlain region of New York and in western Pennsylvania. But these, and a hundred other places located along the Atlantic coast, could not have produced ore in quantities sufficient to satisfy the yawning jaws of the Bessemer converters. As this new method poured out the liquid in thousands of tons, and as the commercial demand extended in a dozen different directions, the cry went up from the furnace's for more ore. And again Nature, which has favored America in so many directions, came to her assistance. Manufacturers in the steel regions began to recall strange stories which had been floating down for many years from the wilderness surrounding Lake Superior. The recollection of a famous voyage made in this region by Philo M. Everett, as far back as 1845, now laid siege to the imagination of the new generation of ironmasters. For years the Indians had told Everett of the "mountains of iron" that lay on the Minnesota shore of Lake Superior and had described their wonders in words that finally impelled this hardy adventurer to make a voyage of exploration. For six weeks, in company with two Indian guides, Everett had navigated a small boat along the shores of the Lake, covering a distance that now takes only a few hours. The Indians had long regarded this silent, red iron region with a superstitious reverence, and now, as the little party approached, they refused to complete the journey. "Iron Mountain!" they said, pointing northward along the trail--"Indian not go near; white man go!" The sight which presently met Everett's eyes repaid him well for his solitary tramp in the forest. He found himself face to face with a "mountain a hundred and fifty feet high, of solid ore, which looked as bright as a bar of iron just broken." Other explorations subsequently laid open the whole of the Minnesota fields, including the Mesaba, which developed into the world's greatest iron range. America has other regions rich in ore, particularly in Alabama, located alongside the coal and limestone so necessary in steel production; yet it has drawn two-thirds of its whole supply from these Lake Superior fields. Not only the quantity, which is apparently limitless, but the quality explains America's leadership in steel making.
Mining in Minnesota has a character which is not duplicated elsewhere.