Time to let our Iron Range flag fly

These days, the Iron Range seems divided. Used to be the arguments were about pickup trucks, but now they’re about politics, culture and religion. That angries up the blood, alright. Hard to have a conversation.

For as long as I’ve been covering the Range, nearly all of my adult life, certain problems seem ever-present. The communities of the Iron Range share an economy and culture, but often stand alone in organizing themselves. Internal fighting often takes the place of collaboration. Most Range towns show their butt-end to the visiting public — either figuratively or literally, usually both.

Despite everything we Iron Rangers share, we find it hard to unify.

Well, I’ve got an idea. A small idea, one that won’t solve all our problems but could add some color to our world. It’s time for an Iron Range flag.

Flags are powerful symbols that go back millennia. They represent far more than just countries. They are vibrant, moving images that represent groups of people and their values. We honor and venerate flags, and burn and spurn them. All of this has meaning because we place value on these flapping scraps of fabric.

When my friend David Leaver from Manchester, England, visited Hibbing, he talked about the power of the collection of international flags along the highway by Hibbing Community College. Similar displays may be found on the Bridge of Peace in Chisholm or along the lake in downtown Virginia. They’re very appealing. If we had an Iron Range flag, we could festoon the new Highway 53 bridge with the colors. Cities could each show their sense of belonging to something bigger by flying this flag outside municipal buildings.

In doing research for my book project, I’ve spent many hours in Hibbing City Hall. Did you know Hibbing has a flag? It’s white with green letter and features an elaborate line art drawing of Hibbing’s “skyline.” You would need at least an associate’s degree in art to replicate this flag with your own pen or pencil. It’s hard to imagine it ever being flown in a recognizable way.

I’ve already written about the problems with Minnesota’s state flag, as well. Too busy. Indistinguishable from several other state flags. So we don’t want “just another flag.” We want a flag that is simple, striking and identifiable.

In “Good Flag, Bad Flag: How to Design a Great Flag,” a free online book by Ted Kaye of the North American Vexillological Association, we learn some of the basics of good flag design.

  1. Keep It Simple: The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory
  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism: The flag’s images, colors or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes
  3. Basic Colors: Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set
  4. No Lettering or Seals: Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.
  5. Be Distinctive or Be Related: Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

So, I took a stab. Using Photoshop on my home computer, I whipped up several possible designs. At first I was wedded to the idea of a central image — maybe an animal, a mining helmet, a truck, or a shovel. All of that seemed too limiting. The Iron Range is more than one image. Further, it’s unlikely we’d ever agree on one image anyway. Not if we wanted *everyone* to hoist this flag underneath the stars and stripes or to fly in Fourth of July parades.

I’ve opted not to share some of my first options. They were bad. As I felt myself getting better at it, I decided to make a sincere effort to express things with colors. I kept coming back to blue and green — water and forest — a key part of the Iron Range pallet. But I also had red on the brain — red for the iron that colors our landscape.

So I took those three colors and created a flag with blue and green quadrants separated by a red cross. The cross can be read two ways. Those who wish to see Christian connotation may do so, while another interpretation is that the Iron Range is the “crossroads” of many people throughout time. I thought about using the Scandinavian style offset cross, but thought that would show too much national favoritism in a multi-ethnic region. So I put it in the middle.

Here goes:


I like it, but it’s a little busy. I don’t know that it screams “Iron Range” without an explanation. It has a strange hypnotic effect if you stare at it long enough. What do you think?

I then went back to an even simpler design. This one I did just by feel. I picked a rustier looking red and used a bright yellow stripe. What does it mean? Well, the red is the color of our land. The yellow? I don’t know, energy? Vibrancy? Blast furnace? It looks good? Basically, I thought this one just screamed “Iron Range.”

But you don’t have to take my word (or designs) for it. Check out “How to Make a Great Flag” and come up with your own. Bear in mind, one of the other rules that Kaye outlines is that committees should never make flags. They should only select flags made by individuals.

IRRRB? Iron Range Tourism Bureau? Anyone want to take up the cause? I’ll be happy to help. And if people like one of these flags, I’d gladly contribute the design.


  1. emiLy Quick says

    I like these, and I like the idea, too!

    What if you used the design from the first one but changed the colors? You could do the rusty red and a forest-y green and a more subtle blue?

  2. Steve Peterson says

    With a little tweaking, I think we have a beautifully designed flag staring right at us.
    Mesabi is Magic

  3. Gray Camp says

    I like the second flag. Not sure that I wouldn’t like another color more than the yellow though. Did you try any colors other than yellow in the second flag? Maybe a nice shade of blue or green – or possibly both?

  4. Second one looks like the side of a Missabe locomotive….

    Still it’s an attractive combination of colors.

  5. Funny, I have been thinking about this lately too. Since mining is not on the Minnesota flag mining needs representation. Sometimes it seems like the rest of Minnesota does not identify with those of us that live literally and figuratively on the edge of a mine pit. Great idea Aaron!

  6. Jane Hooper says

    The University Regents might frown on a Maroon-and-Gold flag. I have a suggestion:

    A horizontal band of rust/maroon on the bottom (for the ore). Next up a thinner horizontal band of blue (for the lakes) then a horizontal band of green (for the forests) and at at the top a horizontal band of white (for the snow).

  7. ron skrbec says

    Great idea. As a displaced ranger, I think this is a very cool idea.

  8. Dave Butcher says

    Next step… Secession!

  9. Garrett Orazem says

    I like the red and yellow flag, but I would darken the yellow until it matched limonite. The combination made the Hull Rust beautiful.

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