Edward W. Davis
(1888 - 1973) Known as "Mr. Taconite," Professor Davis, along with other scientists and engineers, developed the process by which iron is extracted from taconite ore, revitalizing the economy in northeastern Minnesota. Taconite is a hard, flint-like type of rock containing low-grade iron ore. Vast reserves of taconite were discovered in Minnesota in 1870, but while high-grade natural iron ore was plentiful, taconite was considered waste rock and not used because extracting the iron was difficult and costly. Davis anticipated the need for extracting iron from taconite when abundant high-grade iron ores were seemingly inexhaustible. When he began his work Professor Davis was virtually alone in his belief that someday this apparently worthless rock would yield its rich particles of magnetite for steelmaking. Years of experimentation led to the process of extracting and upgrading the ore by "pelletizing" the iron into briquette-like taconite pellets. He earned 19 patents for everything from particle washers to conveyors to furnaces. His inventive ability is best measured by the contribution he made in the selection, adaptation and coordination of many types of mechanical equipment into a technically and commercially feasible method for processing taconite-type materials. It took four decades of perseverance and a multimillion-dollar research grant before his process could be used commercially. Taconite processing saved Minnesota's iron ore mining industry and rescued the economy of the Iron Range after the high-grade ore was gone.
Davis developed his ideas over four 43 years of patient work, from 1913 to 1946. As director of the University of Minnesota Mines Experiment Station for 33 of those years, Davis was the key figure and the driving force through a period when other personnel came and went. It was largely through his personal confidence, perseverance, and dedication to the goal of finding the secret to unlocking this valuable resource that the taconite industry has come of age.
As the result of his work, by 1979, seven companies were in full operation in Minnesota producing taconite pellets, employing 16,000 men and women. In addition, taconite-type operations were operating or planned in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, Missouri, and Wyoming. Elsewhere, there were iron ore pellet operations in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Sweden, the USSR, and Yugoslavia. Others were under construction in Africa, India, Australia, and South America.
In addition to his technical developments, Davis made other valuable contributions to the taconite industry. In his writings, speeches, and daily contacts, he sought to acquaint people with facts relating to taconite. He is the author of more than 50 publications, including a detailed history of the development of taconite processing in Minnesota. At the invitation of the Legislature, he was a star witness testifying concerning various taconite measures and tax laws without which the taconite industry could not have developed to maturity in this state. He was frequently consulted by government and industry for counsel concerning use of iron ore resources. He was internationally known as an authority on iron ore and was called to foreign countries for consultation. The very high regard for Dr. Davis is demonstrated by the decision of Reserve Mining to name its taconite processing facilities in Silver Bay the "Dr. E.W. Davis Works."