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Elmer L. Andersen

Elmer Lee Andersen
30th Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 2, 1961 – March 25, 1963
Lieutenant Karl Rolvaag
Preceded by Orville Freeman
Succeeded by Karl Rolvaag
Personal details
Born (1909-06-17)June 17, 1909
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died November 15, 2004(2004-11-15) (aged 95)
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
United States
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Eleanor A. Johnson
Profession businessman, philanthropist
Religion Lutheran

Elmer Lee Andersen (June 17, 1909 – November 15, 2004) was an American businessman, philanthropist, and the 30th Governor of Minnesota, serving a single term from January 2, 1961, to March 25, 1963, as a Republican.


  • Early life and education 1
  • HB Fuller Company 2
  • Dairy Farm 3
  • ECM Publishers, Inc. 4
  • Politics 5
  • University of Minnesota 6
  • Voyageurs National Park 7
  • Book collector 8
  • Notes 9
  • External links 10

Early life and education

He was born on June 17, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. Andersen's father was Arne Kjelsberg, an immigrant from Solør, Norway, who changed his last name to Andersen after arriving in America and settling in Chicago. Elmer's mother was Jennie Olivia Johnson, of North Muskegon, Michigan. Her father was a seaman from Luleå, in northern Sweden, who came to America as a young man and worked in the timbering business. Elmer's father was a streetcar motorman in Chicago, operating on the Halsted streetcar line out of the Ashland Avenue car barns. "My earliest memory," Andersen wrote in his memoirs, "is of riding with him on the streetcar and being permitted to clang the bell as we came to street crossings."[1] At about the age of six his parents separated. Elmer moved with his mother and infant sister, Caroline, to Muskegon, Michigan.[2] His two older brothers, Arnold and Marvin, arrived in Muskegon at a later date. At the age of nine Andersen contracted a mild form of polio, but was able, through exercise, to regain his strength.[3]

Andersen's brothers worked for E. H. Sheldon and Company in Muskegon, a manufacturer of specialty school furniture. Too young to work in the factory, Elmer's first job was helping his mother, who took in washing. From there he moved on to selling newspapers, vegetables, specialty products, candy bars and soft drinks. He also carried travelers bags from the boat docks to the train station. "I love selling," he wrote. "I love the interchange with people. A good salesman gains influence on another person's mind. That makes selling quite a serious undertaking." At the age of fourteen, Elmer joined his brothers at the Sheldon furniture factory (while simultaneously writing short essays on birds that were published in the Muskegon Chronicle). "The thrill I had seeing those columns in print was the start of an abiding attraction to the newspaper business."[4]

Andersen's mother was devoted to church work and saw to it that the children were raised in the Lutheran church; Elmer was confirmed at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Muskegon. During the winter of 1925, when Elmer was fifteen, his mother contracted a cold that developed into pneumonia. She died at home on March 3, 1925 with Elmer at her bedside. Within a year, Andersen's father was gone as well, dying of a heart attack on a street in Chicago.[5]

Andersen graduated from high school in 1926 and became a member of the first class of the newly established Muskegon Junior College. On graduating, two years later, he received the first diploma from the school. While in college, he held a sales job with J. J. Fagan and Company, a real estate firm, and also worked as a stringer for the Muskegon Chronicle, while starting a newspaper, the Bay Window, for the junior college. Not long after, Elmer and his brothers started their own company, Muskegon Realty, which also sold casualty insurance for the Mercury Insurance Company. "I matured fast in those years. I was selling homes and farms. I was selling insurance. I was editing a college newspaper and stringing for a daily newspaper. I was studying and learning about things I had never known existed. It was almost an incredible time."[6]

Elmer graduated from junior college in 1928. For the next year he worked as a salesman for the Sheldon Company, working out of Minneapolis. "A year in Minneapolis left me convinced that I wanted something more. I wanted to enroll at the University of Minnesota. I usually approach a new venture with specific objectives. In aiming for the University of Minnesota, I had three: I wanted to get a degree for reasons of job protection. I did not want somebody to push ahead of me because he had a degree and I did not. Another object was to meet a woman whom I might marry. I was beginning to long for a home life and a family. I was lonely. I discovered that being a traveling salesman, on the road all the time, was no way to meet the kind of women I wanted to meet….My third objective was to have a good time! I had been a fairly successful salesman and quite frugal with my earnings....So, having fun, finding a girl, getting a degree—those were my objectives. If I was able to learn anything along the way, that would be purely incidental!" Andersen graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1931.[7]

Elmer met Eleanor Anne Johnson at Grace University Lutheran Church while they were both students. They were married September 1, 1932, almost three years from the day they met. Eleanor decided to leave the university when they were married, and postpone the completion of her degree. After their honeymoon the Andersens settled in the Twin Cities.[8] By the summer of 1934 Andersen was growing dissatisfied with life as a traveling salesman. He heard through an associate that H. B. Fuller Company in St. Paul, a manufacturer of school paste, was looking for someone to hire in sales promotion. Andersen discussed the position with owner and president Harvey B. Fuller Jr. and on October 8, 1934 he joined the company.[9]

HB Fuller Company

Andersen managed sales for the HB Fuller Company over the next seven years until, in 1941, he purchased a controlling interest in the company and took over as president. Under his leadership, the firm became an early model of corporate responsibility, recognized for offering generous benefits to employees, their spouses, and retirees. Andersen's corporate philosophy was built around four priorities in a definite order. The highest priority was service to the customer. "Anything the customer wanted should be seen as an opportunity for us to provide it. Number two was that the company should exist deliberately for the benefit of the people associated in it. I never liked the word employee. It intimated a difference in class within a plant. We always used the word associate. Fuller's third priority was to make money. To survive, you have to make money. To grow, you need money. To conduct research and develop new products, you must have money. The need for money can be desperate at times. But corporations must put the quest for money in its proper place. Our philosophy did not leave out service to the larger community. We put it in fourth place, behind service to customers, our associates, and the bottom line. Community service cannot be paramount to a business, but it ought not to be omitted, as it too often is. Business must concern itself with the larger society—for reasons of self-interest if nothing else."

Under Andersen's guidance, Fuller grew from a small St. Paul plant to an international Fortune 500 company. Fuller's expansion strategy kept the competition baffled. Competitors thought the company was struggling to keep all the new plants afloat, but the opposite was true. Other leaders in the adhesives industry operated in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. "They had huge plants and big established investments. They could not start a new plant. What would they do with their big old plant? By comparison, we were popping around the country and setting up small plants in lively little markets. We kept our real estate costs down. We did not have large freight charges to pass on to the customer. National Adhesives, the biggest company in the industry, was very focused on making money. They maintained their prices at a high level, even when their share of the market dropped, in order to make more money. That was a blessing for little companies like Fuller."[10]

In 1968, Fuller became a publicly traded company. By 1970 Fuller had become an adhesives industry leader, with twenty-seven plants and offices in the United States and ten in foreign countries. The goal Andersen had set decades before of doubling their sales volume every five years was still being met. In 1970, Fuller reached about $48 million in sales.

Andersen retired as President and Chief Executive Officer of Fuller in 1974, at the age of 65, turning the company over to his eldest son, Tony.

Dairy Farm

In 1953, twelve years after becoming president of H. B. Fuller Company, Elmer entered the dairy business, buying a farm held by Eleanor's family on Deer Lake near St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. It was the start of thirty-five years in the dairy business, with about two hundred head of cattle. The herd was slowly converted to registered Holsteins. In 1984 Deer Lake Farm received the National Holstein Association's Progressive Breeder Award. Additional land was acquired in the 1950s and environmental restoration projects undertaken on the expanded farm. After Andersen moved out of the dairy business in 1988, eighty acres of land surrounding one of the ponds was placed into a land preserve to honor the memories of Eleanor's parents.[11]

ECM Publishers, Inc.

In 1974 Elmer “retired” to begin a new career as a newspaper publisher and writer. He acquired two newspapers to form the Princeton Union-Eagle, which eventually became part of ECM Publishers, Inc., which still publishes a number of weekly local newspapers and shoppers. Elmer wrote editorials for the ECM papers, many of which are gathered in Views from the Publisher's Desk (1997). His newspaper work gave him "more personal satisfaction than almost anything else I have done." His editorial goal was to make his readers think, but not tell them what to think.[12]


A progressive Republican, Elmer served in the Minnesota Legislature from 1949 until 1958. Among the many causes he championed were educational programs for exceptional children, recognition of alcoholism as a health problem, the Metropolitan Planning Commission in the Twin Cities, and the Fair Employment Practices Act (Minnesota was the fifth state to pass legislation around this issue).

In 1960, the year Minnesota helped elect John F. Kennedy to the Presidency and re-elected Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Elmer ran for governor, winning by more than 20,000 votes. During his term, the Common Loon became the Minnesota state bird, several state parks were established, the Taconite Amendment was passed, as was Fair Housing legislation. He lost his reelection bid two years later in the closest margin ever in United States history. The election was held on November 6, 1962 but the results were not known until March 21, 1963. After recounts and court challenges, it was determined that then-Lieutenant Governor Karl Rolvaag had defeated Andersen by 91 votes out of nearly 1.3 million cast. Rolvaag collected 619,842 votes to Andersen's 619,751. His friend and colleague, Wheelock Whitney, noted, Elmer "has touched the lives of more Minnesotans than anyone else who has ever lived in this state."

Andersen remained in the Republican Party for the rest of his life, but he became unhappy about how conservative the party had become. Even in the 1960s, his views were in the minority of the party.

In a 2003 interview with the George W. Bush as president of the United States.

He was so disenchanted with the Bush administration that he wrote a commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune claiming that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "spew outright untruths with evangelistic fervor" and calling Cheney an evil man who was the real decision maker in the administration.[13]

University of Minnesota

Few Minnesotans have held the University of Minnesota closer to their hearts than Andersen. He served on the Board of Regents from 1967 to 1975, as Chair from 1972 to 1975. From 1968 to 1988 he was a Trustee of the University of Minnesota Foundation, presiding over it from 1978 through 1981. During the Minnesota Campaign, the University’s major fundraising effort from 1985 to 1988, Governor Andersen played a major leadership role in what was, at the time, the most successful fundraising effort by any public university in the United States.[14]

During his tenure as Regent, the Board was sued for denying employment to James Michael "Mike" McConnell on the basis of McConnell's sexuality. The Board of Regents did not approve the application of McConnell to head, at the rank of Instructor, the cataloging division of the University's St. Paul campus library on the ground that his "personal conduct, as represented in the public and University news media, is not consistent with the best interest of the University." The Eight Circuit court of appeals decided in favor of the Regents in October 1971. McConnell acknowledged that no contract of employment was ever finalized since the Board of Regents refused to approve his application.[15]

Voyageurs National Park

One of Elmer Andersen's proudest achievements came in April 1975, when the U.S. Congress passed the legislation establishing Voyageurs National Park—thousands of acres of forests and lakes along Minnesota's northern border. Along with people like naturalist Sigurd Olson, legislator Willard Munger, and famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, Elmer Andersen had devoted thousands of hours doing the hard work of persuading landowners, timber industry leaders, politicians, and citizens of the value of this park to future generations. For his work, Elmer Andersen will always be remembered as the "father of Voyageurs National Park."[16]

"It is flattering to have been called the father of Voyageurs Park. I think that I made a difference. But so did many, many other people, more than I could possibly name, who kept the dream alive until it came to fruition. Some of the real heroes were people in the region who opposed their friends or employers to support the park. The park also had help from another real hero—Charles Lindbergh....Charles A. Lindbergh's name deserves a prominent place in the annals of Voyageurs National Park. The man who did so much for the development of aviation also did much for his home state, for the cause of wilderness preservation—and for me."[17]

Book collector

Andersen developed a passion for books as a child, collecting them all his life. As a young traveling salesman he saved his loose change and then spent it on books. His hunt for books brought him into contact with dealers, other collectors, printers and librarians. He was well-acquainted with book and auction catalogs; paging through the catalogs became a welcome break in a busy day. Elmer bought books with a purpose, to build a library. He intended to read his books, know them well, catalog them, and care for them. American and English history and literature, along with inspirational poetry, were of particular interest to Elmer, but as his interests expanded so did his reading and his library. When he came to Minnesota he became interested in the state's history. When he learned more about fine printing and printers his eyes turned towards William Morris and the Kelmscott Press. And when he discovered something new, like the Whittington Press, Elmer made sure that the University owned the entire printer's archive.

Eleanor was wonderfully supportive of her husband's bibliomania. Together, their book buying was intimately connected with book giving and support for libraries and reading. Public libraries around the state as well as other book concerns benefitted from their support and interest. They were major benefactors of the University of Minnesota and its Libraries. Much of the collection at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Library, which bears the Andersen name, is a direct result of their generosity. The gift of the Governor’s personal library of 12,500 rare volumes in March 1999 was described in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as “a gift of the heart.”[18] Elmer didn't stop collecting, however, and the Eleanor J. and Elmer L. Andersen Collection now numbers about 16,000 volumes.[19]

Andersen believed there was an additional mission to the three central missions—teaching, research, and community service—of the University: an archival one. It is especially significant that the building housing the archives and special collections of the University Libraries is named for the man who expressed his deep personal belief in the University's "fourth mission." On May 14, 1999, the University's Board of Regents unanimously voted to name the newest library in honor of Andersen. The Elmer L. Andersen Library opened to the public in April 2000.

Andersen wrote three books, a 2000 autobiography called A Man's Reach, a collection of newspaper articles titled Views from the Publisher's Desk and a collection of speeches and reflections, I Trust to be Believed.

Andersen died in Minneapolis on November 15, 2004 just months after a gala celebration for his 95th birthday held in the library that bears his name.


  1. ^ Elmer L. Andersen, A Man's Reach, edited by Lori Sturdevant. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 3.
  2. ^ Andersen, Reach, 3–4.
  3. ^ Andersen, Reach, 13.
  4. ^ Andersen, Reach, 7–12.
  5. ^ Andersen, Reach, 16–18.
  6. ^ Andersen, Reach, 25–28.
  7. ^ Andersen, Reach, 39–45.
  8. ^ Andersen, Reach, 46–58.
  9. ^ Andersen, Reach, 59–60.
  10. ^ Andersen, Reach, 66–101.
  11. ^ Andersen, Reach, 158–166.
  12. ^ Andersen, Reach, 328–341.
  13. ^ MPR: Elmer L. Andersen dead at 95. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  14. ^ Andersen, Reach, 320-316
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ [2] Archived March 1, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Andersen, Reach, 275–285.
  18. ^ Mary Jane Smetanka, Staff Writer. (1999, April 1). Former governor's gift is voluminous. [METRO Edition]. Star Tribune,p. 01A.
  19. ^ Andersen, Reach, 385–399.
  • Ex-Gov. Andersen, true public servant. Saint Paul Pioneer Press. November 16, 2004
  • Summary of McConnell v. Anderson Summary of the case against the Regents of the University of Minnesota (McConnell v. Anderson).
  • Elmer's Tour: A Former Governor's Loving Look at the Minnesota State Capitol. Nodin Press, 2005. ISBN 1-932472-38-X
  • Minnesota Legislator Past and Present
  • Governors of Minnesota

External links

  • Elmer L. Andersen at Minnesota Legislators Past & Present
Political offices
Preceded by
Orville Freeman
Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Karl Rolvaag
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Frank Morrison
Oldest living U.S. governor
April 19, 2004 – November 15, 2004
Succeeded by
Albert Rosellini
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