Another thought on early GOP politics in Range history

Folks seemed to like my Aug. 2 post “Silent Cal at the Hull Rust Mine” detailing the visit of President Calvin Coolidge to the Iron Range on that same date in 1928. I gave a brief overview of the Republican politics in the early 20th century on the Range. David Bednarczuk wrote me with this important addition to how the Range shifted from GOP to DFL stronghold by the middle of the last century:

The Iron Range consistently voted Republican until 1930 and then Farmer/Labor or later DFL ever since. What’s up with that? The mining companies and the “powers that be” controlled the election process until 1930. A person had to ask for the ballot of the party they wished to vote for so it was easy to identify who voted for what party. If a man voted for the “wrong” party he would often be fired from his job. The mining companies used the fear of losing your job as an effective lever to control how people voted. When the Depression set in very few people were working anyway, so the fear of losing your job was no longer an effective threat. After people began to get work again in the mid-to-late 1930s, the mining companies and their allies were never again able to establish control over the elections.

This is repeated in many of the historical records, but easy to forget because that generation is largely gone now. That’s why the logging camps and mining locations turned in unanimous results for GOP candidates in the 1910s. The same was happening in the eastern steel towns of Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus, all of which reversed around the same time as the Range (and are changing today in some of the same ways).

While I personally identify with the workers who organized the Range during and after the Depression, it is also important to recognize the work of those earlier Republican leaders in building Range towns and finding a way to check the power of mining companies without shutting them down. The progressive Republican Victor Power will always be a hero of mine. His shared legacies — Hibbing City Hall, the resplendent Hibbing High School, continued mining in North Hibbing and paved streets — not only still live, but sustain the community’s very existence to this day. What has anyone done lately that will last 100 years? (In a good way).


  1. …and here I always thought it was Bush’s fault.

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