Iron-ore resources of the United States including Alaska and Puerto Rico, 1955

Bulletin 1082-C




The importance of iron ore, the basic raw material of steel, as a fundamental mineral, resource is shown by the fact that about 100 million long tons of steel is used annually in the economy of the United States, as compared with a combined total of about 5 million long tons of copper, lead, zinc, and aluminum. Satisfying this annual demand for steel requires about 110 million tons of iron ore and 70 million tons of scrap iron and steel.

The average annual consumption of iron ore in the United States from 1951 to 1955, inclusive, was about 110 million long tons, which is about twice the annual average from 1900 to 1930. Production of iron ore in the United States in this 5-year period averaged approximately 100 million long tons annually, divided by regions as follows (in percent): Lake Superior, 84.1; southeastern, 6.7; western, 6.7; northeastern, 1.4; and central and gulf, 1.1.

Mining of iron ore began in the American Colonies about 1619, and for 225 years it was limited to eastern United States where fuel and markets were readily available. Production of iron ore from the Lake Superior region began in 1846; the region became the leading domestic source by 1890, and the Mesabi range in Minnesota has been the world's most productive area since 1896. Proximity of raw materials, water transportation, and markets has resulted in centralization of the country's iron and steel industry in the lower Great Lakes area. Increased imports of iron ore being delivered to eastern United States as well as demands for steel in nearby markets have given impetus to expansion in the steel-making capacity in this area.

The four chief iron-ore minerals - hematite, liminite, magnetite, and siderite - are widely distributed but only locally form deposits of sufficient tonnage and grade to be commercially valuable at the present time. The iron content of these minerals, of which hematite is the most important, ranges from 48 percent in siderite to 72 percent in magnetite, but as these minerals are associated with other rock-forming minerals, the iron content of marketable ore has a lower range from 30 to 67 percent.

Chemical constituents other than iron also are important in determining the marketability of iron ore. Although some iron ores can be used in the blast furnace as mined, others must first be improved either chemically by reduction of undesirable constituents, or physically by aggregation. Phosphorus and sulfur particularly are common deleterious elements; excessive silica is also undesirable but within certain limits can be controlled by additional flux. Lime and magnesia are beneficial in specified amounts because of their fluxing qualities, and a small amount of alumina improves the fluidity of slag. Manganese is especially desirable as a deoxidizing and desulfurizing agent. Titanium, chromium, and nickel must also be considered in the use of ore containing these elements.

The principal iron-ore deposits in the United States have been formed by three processes. Hematite-bearing bedded deposits such as those at Birmingham, Ala., are marine sedimentary rocks which, except for weathering along the outcrop, have remained practically unaltered since deposition. Deposits of the Lake Superior region, also in sedimentary strata, originally had a slightly lower iron content than those at-Birmingham, but ore bodies of hematite and limonite were formed by removal of other constituents in solution after deposition of the beds, with a relative increase of iron content in the material remaining. Limestone adjacent to igneous intrusions has been replaced by magnetite deposits at Cornwall, Pa., and by hematite-magnetite deposits near Cedar City, Utah. Magnetite deposits in New Jersey and in the Adirondack Mountains of New York are generally believed to have been formed by replacement of grains of other minerals in metamorphic rocks.

Iron-ore resources are made up of reserves of iron ore, material usable under existing economic and technologic conditions; and potential ore, material likely to become usable under more favorable conditions. The tonnage and grade of material of combined reserves and potential ore in each of the deposits known or believed to contain at least 200,000 long tons of iron-ore resources are tabulated in this report, and numerous sources of additional information are given in a selected bibliography.

The total domestic iron-ore resources are estimated at approximately 75,000 million long tons of crude ore. About 10,000 million tons of the resources is reserves of crude ore that will probably yield 5,500 million tons of concentrates and direct-shipping ore. About 65,000 million tons is potential ore and may yield 25,000 million tons of concentrates and some direct-shipping ore.

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Iron-ore resources of the United States including Alaska and Puerto Rico, 1955
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U.S. Government Printing Office
Report: iv, 74 p.; Plate: 39.36 x 33.27 inches
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Contributions to economic geology, 1958
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