Quote of the Day
Nothing. I keep other people awake at night.
— General Jim Mattis. His answer to the question, "What keeps you up at night?"
My vacation/retirement cabin is in the iron mining region of Minnesota. The rock throughout the area shows the reddish hue of iron. I recently heard some old-timers talking about how the intensity of mining operations during WW2 took the last of the high-grade iron ore (hematite –Figure 1) and left only low-grade ore (taconite). This comment made me curious about mining during WW2.
Because metals were so important to the war effort during WW2, I thought it would be interesting to look at how the war affected iron and aluminum mining. Since I have often heard people say that WW2 pulled the US out of the Great Depression, this data may help illustrate what really happened.
All of the data is from the US Census Bureau's The Historical Statistics of the United States 1789 - 1945 (link – 55 MBytes). I am not going into the nuances of gathering the data because it required only doing Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on the document. All I did was make a couple of simple graphs. However, the graphs are interesting.
For this exercise, I defined the war years as 1940 through 1945. Technically, the US did not enter the war until late 1941, but the US had started supplying materials almost immediately after hostilities started on 1-Sep-1939. Production greatly increased with the passing of the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940.
Figure 2 shows how WW2 affected iron ore production. Note how iron ore production had dropped to less than 30 million tons in 1938 (see Recession of 1937-1938), but rose steadily to its peak in 1942. Production then declined each year during the rest of the war (1943-1945). We see that iron ore production increased, but it was not an order of magnitude. Aluminum ore was a different matter.
Figure 3 shows how WW2 affected aluminum ore (bauxite) production. Ore is key to the production of primary (non-recycled) aluminum. Note the dramatic rise in bauxite production as compared to that of iron ore. Since aluminum is important to the production of aircraft, this chart shows the massive increase in the production of aircraft that occurred during the war.
For those who are curious, my Excel workbook is here.