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History of American Towns-Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior

Updated on January 16, 2016

Duluth is part of the Minnesota iron ranges, a port city located on Lake Superior and the fourth largest city in the state. Access to Ocean vessels is provided by the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Thunder Bay, Ontario is the only larger Metro area on Lake Superior. The metro area of Twin Ports consisting of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth share the Duluth-Superior harbor.

History of Duluth and how it got its name

The area we know as Duluth was named “Onigamiinsins,” meaning “at the little portage” by the Ojibway Indians, according to Wikipedia This was where they found a small and easy place for portage between Lake Superior and Superior Bay. The present name for the City of Duluth came from a French official, Daniel Grayson, Sieur Du Lhut. While the exact date of his birth is unknown, it was about 1640, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He died in Montreal, Canada on February 26, 1710. He became a lieutenant in the French Army in 1657 and a gendarme of the Kings Guard in 1664. Going to Canada in 1679 he took possession of Sioux country in the name of the King of France and kept the country west of the Great Lakes under French control, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

In 1679 he went to the area we know as Duluth to settle problems between the Dakota and Ojibwa Indians as well as to promote fur trading.

  • 1692 -the Hudson's Bay Company set up a post at Fond Du Lac,.

  • 1792 -Jean Baptiste Cadotte of the Northwest Company started a post on the Wisconsin side of the St. Louis River.

  • 1800- it was destroyed by fire. John Jacob Astor started a post on the Minnesota side of the river. But the Indians only wanted to trade with the English and French traders who were established there. Astor got the United States Congress to ban foreign traders in the American territory.

Glensheen Mansion. The owners of this mansion were murdered. It has been available for tours and is quite well known.
Glensheen Mansion. The owners of this mansion were murdered. It has been available for tours and is quite well known. | Source
  • America was populated by small bands of nomadic people we know as Paleo Indians, according to the West Virginia division of culture and history. After that the Paleo Indians came the “Old Copper” people, hunters using spear points, knives, and metal fish hooks.

  • 2000 years ago and closer in time were the Woodlands people who had burial mounds and pottery

  • Mid 17th century the Sioux were in the region.

  • After 1654 Ojibwa drove out the Sioux and the Iroquois pushed the Chippewa from the Eastern seaboard

  • about 1792 Jean Baptiste Cadotte opened a trading post on the Wisconsin side of the Saint Louis River

  • 1800 -The post was burned down.

  • 1839 -European fashion turned to silk hats rather than beaver pelt, thus harming the fur trade in the area.

After the time of the fur trade there was new interest in the area with people interested in mining valuable metals. In the 1850s there were rumors of copper. A government survey in 1852 and a treaty with local Indians a couple of years later secured the land for explorers looking for gold. But it was iron that became the metal of profit.

History Duluth,mn

Duluth Lynchings postcard
Duluth Lynchings postcard | Source

1857 copper was playing out and the area was turning to harvesting timber.

1860s Jay Cooke persuaded the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad to create an extension from St. Paul to Duluth. It made iron ore mining possible in the north and west of Lake Superior. At the start of 1869 there were fourteen families in Duluth and by July there were 3,500 people there.

20th Century

Duluth had become the home of millionaires, a playground for those with money and fame. Victorian mansions and social events. Duluth's port became the leading U.S. Port. The early twentieth century was a time of immigration to Duluth. The city became the largest Finnish community in the world outside of their home country. Immigrants from other European countries also settled in Duluth. About a third of today’s residents are of Scandinavian descent.


Ollie Kinkkonen, a Finnish immigrant on September 1918 was lynched in Duluth. It was done by a group of people calling themselves the Knights of Liberty who took him from his boarding house, tarred and feathered him and then lynched him. This was done because he did not want to fight in World war I. e was planning to return to his homeland. Two weeks later he was found hanging in a tree in Lester Park.

On July 15, 1920 three black male circus workers were hanged after an alleged rape of a teen age girl.. They were innocent of the rape. On First Street and Second Ave. East there are 7-foot tall bronze statues of the two who were killed by the lynch mob.

In 1918 a fire known as the Clouquet Fire burned across dozens of communities in the area. It was the worst natural disaster in the state history.

The high grade iron ore gave out on the Iron range north of Duluth. The lower grade ore known as taconite continued production with the help of new technology but foreign competition began to impact the American steel industry by the late 1970s. U.S. Steel Duluth Works plant closed in 1981 which was a big setback for the cities economy. This had an impact on other industry such as forcing the closing of the cement plant because it depended on slag from the steel plant for raw material.. Other economic activities affected were shipbuilding, heavy machinery and the Air Force base. Unemploment was as high as 15 % by the end of the decade. The west side with its immigrant population was particularly hurt.

A markerduluth -
Duluth, MN, USA
get directions

21st Century

Tourism was the new focus economically when industry declined. Downtown was renovated with Waterfront warehouses made into shops, restaurants and hotels. Population stabilized at about 85,000. The new millennium found Duluth to be a regional epicenter of banking, retail shopping and medicine for north Minnesota, Wisconsin and northwestern Michigan, according to Wikipedia.

I grew up in Minneapolis very aware of the iron range. As kids we always were impressed by the cars that came from “up North” covered with red silt from iron ore. I don't believe I ever got to Duluth until I was a young adult. I lived there for a short time and found it a very pleasant city. I recall a downtown park with a large model of a Viking ship. Later when I had a family we visited the maritime museum that was in the same location. We also enjoyed the North Shore Drive and Thunder Bay, Ontario. I recall environmental conflict about tailings from Taconite on Lake Superior, as well. We stayed at a resort on the north shore that was struggling to survive. I recall the water being red tinted. I thought it might be iron tailings. I was told it was from clay on the lake bottom. I really don't know which it was. Like so many American cities it grew from a trading post for trading furs and recreated itself through various changing times.

Sources: Wikipedia provided much information used here.

The Catholic Encyclopedia provided information on Du Lut

West Virginia division of culture and history website

Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Nybride, Since we left the Twin Cities we do not get there as much as we once did. I remember it mostly from the taconite period.Thanks for commenting.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Kebennett. Thanks for commenting.Enjoy your visit.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Moonlake and thanks for commenting. I was not familiar with quilt shows there. My wife is enamored with the lake.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy,Thanks for commenting, voting and sharing. I didn't know that so much Swedish population settled in Duluth or the more or less left wing politics. However, having grown up in Minnesota it didn't surprise me too much. All lakes in Minnesota are "Lake Woebegone." If you happen to be a fan of Garrison Keillor. The state has a heavy Scandinavian/Lutheran population and somewhat unique but liberal politics. People where I worked were quite amused to find a Don Hoglund mentioned in "Lake Wobegon Days". Most likely my cousin whose father had a hardware store in Anoka,MN where Keillor grew up.If you don't know who Keillor is, ignore this.

    • nybride710 profile image

      Lisa Kroulik 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Love history and love Duluth. We're in the Twin Cities and try to get there as often as possible.

    • Kebennett1 profile image

      Kebennett1 5 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

      Thank you for the information. We will be in MN for a family vacation this summer and I hope to make it over to Duluth! Very Nice Hub!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      I love Duluth but never knew all of it's history. They have great quilt shows.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Don,

      This was a most interesting hub about Duluth. I had no idea that so many people from Finland and elsewhere in Scandinavia had settled there. Naturally I knew about the Indians being first residents, but not necessarily those tribes. Rich history from the early days to now. Hopefully the job situation has become better diversified and they are not as hard hit with employment woes as many places in our country. Voting this interesting, useful and will share. Thanks!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Tamarajo, lynchings are always a sad thing. I haven't heard about agate hunting in a long time, probably when I was a kid. Seemed like when we got out in the country-mostly my grandparents place outside of Deerwood, MN a cousin would always want to look for agates or arrowheads.I think his dad made stuff out of them. I haven't been to Duluth for a long time but it is a favorite town for us as well. Thanks for commentoing.

    • Tamarajo profile image

      Tamarajo 5 years ago

      love the Duluth area. Interesting background information for the next time I visit.

      My favorite thing to do there is agate hunt.

      What sad and tragic stories of lynchings.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      prasetio Thank you for reading about Duluth.I appreciate your visit and comment.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Brother, I hand never heard about Duluth. But from this hub I learn much about the city of Duluth and its history as well. Good job and rated up!


    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      B.Leekey, I'm sure you will enjoy it.Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      My mother went to high school in Duluth. I'd like to visit it.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for coming by and commenting.Some knowledge is nice to know even if it doesn't have any practical application.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 5 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Well, I learned more about that than I'll ever use but at least I know it now.

      Good Hub.

      The Frog