Duluth is a port city in the U.S. state of Minnesota and is the county seat of Saint Louis County. The fourth largest city in Minnesota, Duluth had a total population of 86,265 in the 2010 census. Duluth is the second largest city on Lake Superior after Thunder Bay, Ontario, and has the largest metropolitan area on Lake Superior. The Duluth MSA had a population of 279,771 in 2010. Situated at the westernmost point of the Great Lakes on the north shore of Lake Superior, Duluth is accessible to ocean-going vessels from the Atlantic Ocean away via the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
Duluth forms a metropolitan area with Superior, Wisconsin called the Twin Ports. These two cities share the Duluth–Superior harbor and together are the Great Lakes' largest port transporting coal, iron ore (taconite), and grain. As a tourist destination for the Midwest, Duluth features America's only all-freshwater aquarium, the Great Lakes Aquarium; the Aerial Lift Bridge, which spans the Duluth Ship Canal into the Duluth–Superior Harbor; and Minnesota Point (known as Park Point locally), one of the world's longest freshwater baymouth bars, spanning . The city is also the starting point for vehicle trips along Minnesota's North Shore.
Professional Sports History
The pre-contact history of the Lake Superior region of Minnesota is poorly understood due to a scarcity of known archaeological sites. No prehistoric archaeological sites have been excavated and only three prehistoric sites are recorded along Lake Superior in the Minnesota archaeological site files. The early history of the region is thus largely based on adjacent areas of the Superior shore in Canada and Wisconsin. By the late 1600s the Ojibwe, who had been moving westward for generations, reached the land we now call Minnesota where they encountered the forest-dwelling Dakota people already living there. By 1700, the Ojibwe controlled much of the region. For both the Ojibwe and the Dakota, interaction with Europeans during the Contact Period revolved around the fur trade and related activities. A series of treaties executed between 1837 and 1889 expropriated vast areas of tribal lands for the use of Euro-Americans and relegated the American Indian peoples to a number of small reservations.
The Ojibwe are historically known for their crafting of birch bark canoes, use of copper arrow points, and cultivation of wild rice. In 1745 they adopted guns from the British to use to defeat and push the Dakota nation of the Sioux to the south. The Ojibwe Nation was the first to set the agenda with European-Canadian leaders for signing more detailed treaties before many European settlers were allowed too far west.
Duluth's name in Ojibwe is "Onigamiinsing"("at the little portage"), and takes its name from the small and easy portage across Minnesota Point between Lake Superior and western St. Louis Bay forming Duluth's harbor. According to Ojibwa oral history, Spirit Island, located near the Spirit Valley neighborhood, was the "Sixth Stopping Place" where the northern and southern branches of the Ojibwa Nation came together and then proceeded to their "Seventh Stopping Place" near the present city of La Pointe, Wisconsin.
Exploration and Fur Trade (1650-1850)
Several factors brought the fur trade to the Great Lakes in the early decades of the 16th century. The fashion for beaver hats generated a demand for pelts. French trade for beaver in the lower St. Lawrence River had led to the depletion of the animals in that region by the late 1630s. As a result, the French searched further and further west for new resources and new routes, making alliances with the Native Americans along the way to trap and deliver their furs.
Etienne Brule is credited with the European discovery of Lake Superior before 1620. Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers explored the "Head of the Lakes" (present-day Duluth area) in 1654 and again in 1660. French fur posts were soon established near Duluth and in the far north where Grand Portage became a major trading center. Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, French explorer whose name is sometimes anglicized as "DuLuth", explored the St. Louis River in 1679.
After 1792, the North West Company established several posts on Minnesota rivers and lakes, and in areas to the west and northwest, for trading with the Ojibwe, the Dakota, and other native tribes. The first of these posts was located at the present site of Superior, Wisconsin. Known as Fort St. Louis, it became the head-quarters for North West Company's new Fond du Lac Department. It had stockaded walls, two houses of 40 feet each, a shed of 60 feet, a large warehouse, and a canoe yard.
In 1808 the American Fur Company was organized by Austrian-born John Jacob Astor. The Company began trading at the Head of the Lakes in 1809. In 1817, it erected a new headquarters at present-day Fond du Lac, on the St. Louis River. There, portages connected Lake Superior with Lake Vermillion to the north, and with the Mississippi to the south. Active trade was carried on until the failure of the fur trade in the 1840s.
Two Treaties of Fond du Lac were signed in the present neighborhood of Fond du Lac in 1826 and 1847. As part of the Treaty of Washington (1854) with the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa, the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation was established upstream from Duluth near Cloquet, Minnesota. The Ojibwa population was relocated there.
Interest in the area was piqued in the 1850s as rumors of copper mining began to circulate. A government land survey in 1852, followed by a treaty with local tribes in 1854, secured wilderness for gold-seeking explorers, sparked a "land rush," and led to the development of iron ore mining in the area.
Around the same time, newly-constructed channels and locks in the East permitted large ships to access the area. A road connecting Duluth to the Twin Cities was also constructed. Eleven small towns on both sides of the Saint Louis River were formed, establishing Duluth's roots as a city.
By 1857, copper resources became scarce and the area's economic focus shifted to timber harvesting. A nationwide financial crisis caused nearly three-quarters of the city's early pioneers to leave.
In the late 1860s, financier Jay Cooke (after whom the Jay Cooke State Park is named) convinced the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad to create an extension from St. Paul to Duluth. The railroad opened areas due north and west of Lake Superior to iron ore mining. Duluth's population on New Year's Day in 1869 consisted of fourteen families; by the Fourth of July, 3,500 people were present to celebrate.
By the end of the 19th century, Duluth was a thriving city. Duluth was home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation and had become a favorite summer playground for the rich. Magnificent manor homes and Victorian mansions welcomed family and friends to lavish social events. Around the start of the 20th century, the city's port passed New York City and Chicago in gross tonnage handled, elevating it to the leading port in the United States. Ten newspapers, six banks and an eleven-story skyscraper, the Torrey Building were also present.
In 1907, U.S. Steel announced that a $5 million plant would be constructed in the area. Although steel production didn't begin until 1915, predictions held that Duluth's population would rise to 200,000–300,000. With the Duluth Works steel plant came Morgan Park, a once-independent company town that now stands as a city neighborhood. The Diamond Calk Horseshoe Company was founded in 1908 and later became a major manufacturer and exporter of wrenches and automotive tools. Duluth's huge wholesale Marshall Wells Hardware Company expanded in 1901 by opening branches in Portland, Oregon, and Winnipeg, Manitoba; the company catalog totaled 2,390 pages by 1913. The Duluth Showcase Company, which later became the Duluth Refrigerator Company and then the Coolerator Company, was established in 1908. The Universal Atlas Cement Company, which made cement from slag that was a by-product of the steel plant, began operations in 1917.
The city experienced a large immigrant influx during the early twentieth century and became home to one of the largest Finnish communities in the world outside of Finland. For decades, a Finnish-language daily newspaper, taking the namesake of the old Grand Duchy of Finland's pro-independence leftist paper, Päivälehti, was published in the city. The Finnish IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) community published a widely read labor newspaper Industrialisti. From 1907 to 1941, the Finnish Socialist Federation and then the IWW operated Work People's College, an educational institution that taught classes from a working class, socialist perspective. Duluth was also settled by immigrants from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Ireland, England, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, and Russia. Today, people of Scandinavian descent constitute a strong ethnic plurality of the population, accounting for about one-third of Duluth's residents.
In September 1918, a group calling itself the Knights of Liberty dragged Finnish immigrant Ollie Kinkkonen from his boarding house, tarred and feathered him, and lynched him. Kinkkonen did not want to fight in World War I and planned to return to Finland. His body was found two weeks later hanging in a tree in Duluth's Lester Park.
Another lynching in Duluth occurred on June 15, 1920 when three innocent black male circus workers were attacked by a mob and hanged after the alleged rape of a teenage girl. The Duluth lynchings took place on First Street and Second Avenue East, where today three -tall bronze statues of the men who were killed have been erected as a memorial.
In 1918, the Cloquet Fire (named for the nearby town of Cloquet) burned across Carlton and southern Saint Louis Counties destroying dozens of communities in the Duluth area. The fire was the worst natural disaster in Minnesota history in terms of the number of lives lost in a single day. Many people perished on the rural roads surrounding the Duluth area, and historical accounts tell of victims dying while trying to outrun the fire. The National Guard unit based in Duluth was mobilized in a heroic effort to battle the fire and assist victims, but the troops were overwhelmed by the enormity of the fire. In the aftermath of the fire, tens of thousands of people were injured or homeless; many of the refugees fled into the city for aid and shelter.
For the first half of the 20th century, the city was an industrial port boom town with multiple grain elevators, a cement plant, a nail mill, wire mills, and the Duluth Works plant. In 1916, during World War I, a shipyard was constructed on the Saint Louis River. A new neighborhood, today known as Riverside, was formed around the operation. Similar industrial expansions took place during the Second World War, using Duluth's large harbor and the area's vast resources for the war effort. Tankers and submarine chasers (usually called "sub-chasers") were built at the Riverside shipyard. The population of Duluth proper continued to grow after the war, peaking at 107,884 in 1960.
Economic decline began in the 1950s, when high grade iron ore gave out on the Iron Range north of Duluth: ore shipments from the Duluth harbor were the most important element of the city's economy. Low grade ore (taconite) shipments, boosted by new taconite pellet technology, continued, but ore shipments were lower. By the late 1970s, foreign competition began to have a detrimental impact on the American steel industry. This eventually led to the closure of the U.S. Steel Duluth Works plant in 1981, causing a significant blow to the city's economy. The steel plant's closing forced the closing of the cement company, which depended on the steel plant for raw materials (slag). Duluth is often cited as "where the Rust Belt began." Other industrial activity followed suit with more closures, including shipbuilding, heavy machinery and the Duluth Air Force base. By the end of the decade, unemployment rates surged to 15 percent. The economic downturn was particularly hard on Duluth's west side, where the Eastern and Southern European immigrant workers had traditionally lived for decades.
With the decline of the city's industrial core, the local economic focus shifted to tourism. The downtown area was renovated with new red brick streets, skywalks, and new retail shops. Old warehouses along the waterfront were converted into cafés, shops, restaurants, and hotels. These changes fashioned the new Canal Park as a trendy tourism-oriented district. The city's population, which had been experiencing a steady decline since 1960, has now stabilized at around 85,000.
The Untold Delights of Duluth
Early doubts about the potential of the Duluth area were voiced in the speech The Untold Delights of Duluth, made by former U.S. Representative J. Proctor Knott of Kentucky on January 27, 1871 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The speech against the St. Croix and Superior Land Grant lampooned Western boosterism, portraying Duluth as an Eden in fantastically florid terms. The speech has been reprinted in collections of folklore and humorous speeches and is regarded as something of a classic. The nearby city of Proctor, Minnesota, is named for Congressman Knott.
Duluth's unofficial sister city, Duluth, Georgia, was named by Evan P. Howell in humorous reference to Representative Knott's speech. Originally called Howell's Crossroads in honor of his grandfather, Evan Howell, the town had just finished getting a railroad to the town in 1871 and the "Delights of Duluth" speech was still popular.
Proctor Knott is sometimes credited with characterizing Duluth as the "zenith city of the unsalted seas," but the honor for that coinage belongs to journalist Thomas Preston Foster, speaking at a Fourth of July picnic in 1868.