The smiling metal face of Rocky Taconite welcomes visitors to Silver Bay, Minnesota. Rocky is made out of two thick iron spheres: one for his body and another for his head. He stands as a mascot to the town and a monument to the history of iron mining in Minnesota.
He stands on a seven-foot-tall chunk of taconite, a low-grade iron ore that saved Minnesota’s mining industry in the 1950s. Nearly a century earlier, vast reserves of taconite had been discovered on the Mesabi Iron Range. Those reserves were initially passed over in favor of rocks with higher concentrations of iron ore. But when the supply of that ore started to dry up, the industry was in trouble. After many years of experimenting, Edward Wilson Davis, a researcher from the University of Minnesota, found an effective way to extract iron ore from taconite. The process resulted in small round pellets of iron ore.
In 1956, one of the state’s first taconite processing plants opened at Silver Bay. Within a few years, that plant was producing millions of tons of taconite pellets. (The process created a large amount of waste rock, which was discharged into Lake Superior.)
The friendly mineral statue was built to highlight Silver Bay’s status as the birthplace of taconite production. It was completed in 1962 and assumed his perch in 1964. The name “Rocky Taconite” was selected through a local contest (the second-place option was “Petey Pellet”). A plaque on the boulder where Rocky stands notes that the statue is dedicated to “those whose genius and labors are responsible for converting… a useless rock into a useful, valuable product.”