3M Birthplace Museum

In 1902, five Two Harbors Businessmen: Henry S. Bryan, Dr. J. Danley Budd, Herman Cable, William A. McGonagle, and John Dwan formed the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. Duluth Prospector Ed Lewis discovered a potential deposit of corundum near the Baptism River in 1901. He initially formed the Minnesota Abrasive Company, but ran out of money before he could set up his operation.

The mission of the new company was “to engage in mining, quarrying, crushing, analyzing, smelting, shipping, and marketing of abrasives, all kinds of minerals and metals, plus the manufacturing of all kinds of mineral products.” The company purchased mineral rights and 300 acres of land at Crystal Bay and built a large processing plant including a crushing plant near present day Illegen City. Unfortunately this venture failed because the mine’s mineral holdings were anthracite, not corundum, which had no commercial value.

Co-founder John Dwan would solicit funds in order to provide the company with the capital to continue in exchange for stock, but the early stock certificates were jokingly not worth a “two bit shot of whiskey.” If you owned one of these original stock certificates today it would be valued at approximagely 1.7 million dollars.

Edgar Ober and Lucius Ordway took over the company in 1905. The company moved to Duluth and began research and producing sandpaper products. William L. McKnight, later a key executive, joined the company in 1907 and A.G. Bush joined in 1909. 3M entered the sandpaper manufacturing business at the most perfect time in history, arriving on the scene to provide booming auto manufacturers with the products to help finish car bodies. 3M finally became financially stable in 1916 and would be able to begin paying dividends. The company’s resilience and innovation turned a failed mining venture on the North Shore to the fortune 500 company it is today.

The 3M Birthplace Museum is located in the original Dwan Law Office Building. The Lake County Historical Society purchased the Dwan building in 1991. A year later it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and opened as a museum depicting 3M’s early years.