What’s in a name? Cleveland-Cliffs is back

The William A. Mather was the historic flagship of Cleveland-Cliffs. Cliffs Natural Resources announced Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 that it would switch back to its original name of Cleveland-Cliffs. (PHOTO: Erik Drost, Flickr CC)

Cliffs Natural Resources is now Cleveland-Cliffs. That means that the grand old man of American iron mining now wears his old duds.

Lourenco Goncalves , Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “The historical name Cleveland-Cliffs is synonymous with our strong heritage, and is the perfect one for our next era of growth. As we did more than 60 years ago, when we adopted pelletizing as a smart business opportunity to utilize American iron ore and provide the domestic blast furnaces with customized pellets, Cleveland-Cliffs is once again reinventing itself as the supplier of high-quality iron units to the Great Lakes region. With our expansion into the production of Hot-Briquetted Iron (HBI) to supply the growing electric arc furnace steel industry, Cleveland-Cliffs is the best name to represent our strong present and our bright future.”

The news came as a surprise to many of the local miners I know. Cliffs owns United Taconite in Eveleth and Northshore Mining in Babbitt and Silver Bay. It also co-owns and operates Hibbing Taconite. Along with U.S. Steel and Arcelor-Mittal, Cleveland-Cliffs is one of the biggest companies in the region.

It’s hard not to sigh. The company spent a lot of money trying to get people here to stop calling it Cleveland-Cliffs, only to reverse course nine years later.

You have to consider how long it takes for the people of the Mesabi Iron Range to call things by a new name. Like any place fixated on past glory, every proper noun is known by an archaic version of itself.

For instance, I teach at the Hibbing Junior College. Now, that’s not its actual name. In reality, I teach at Hibbing Community Community College (catchy tagline: “a community *and* technical college”). “HCC” for short. But for my family and countless community folks, that name simply won’t do. I’m teaching speech at the VoTech.

The old VoTech is now an office building. Our old South Campus is now an old manufacturing company that has held more names than a flim-flam man on the run.

Hibbing’s old KFC became a liquor store, which was torn down to become the new Thrifty White drug store (the old one is downtown). If you’re laid off, you go to the old Super One to apply for retraining benefits. In need of mental health services, go to the old Cobb-Cook Elementary School where you’ll find the new home of Range Mental Health.

In Old North Hibbing, you can see the mine view overlooking Hibbing Taconite’s operations. Of course, come September that will become the Old Mine View. Actually, it will become rubble. The new one will be located to the east as mining activity continues south into New Hibbing. (Some have speculated that mining could one day turn New Hibbing into Old Hibbing II).

A lot of this is generational. This area is good at grabbing onto the present until it becomes the past, forgetting that, meantime, time passes. The near constant change that *really* marks life on the Iron Range? That’s trickier to understand.

Meantime, Cleveland-Cliffs is doing pretty well this year. How long will it last? In the parlance of old names, it’s better not to ask that question. The answer will only change.

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