Elmer L. Andersen

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Elmer L. Andersen
Elmer L. Andersen.jpg
Andersen as Governor
30th Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 2, 1961 – March 25, 1963
LieutenantKarl Rolvaag
Preceded byOrville Freeman
Succeeded byKarl Rolvaag
Member of the Minnesota Senate
from the 42 district
In office
February 2, 1949 – January 5, 1959
Preceded byClaude Henry Allen
Succeeded byClifton T. Parks
Personal details
Elmer Lee Andersen

(1909-06-17)June 17, 1909
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedNovember 15, 2004(2004-11-15) (aged 95)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Eleanor Johnson
(m. 1932)
Professionbusinessman, philanthropist

Elmer Lee Andersen (June 17, 1909 – November 15, 2004) was an American businessman, philanthropist, and politician who built a successful business career with the H. B. Fuller Company. Andersen was most notably the 30th Governor of Minnesota. A Republican, Andersen was a well-regarded moderate who passed many social and environmental regulations.

Andersen, in a historic election that was one of the closest in the history of Minnesota and the United States, lost the 1962 Minnesota gubernatorial election by 91 votes with a margin of 0.00734% between him and his opponent Karl Rolvaag.

Early life and education[edit]

Andersen was born in Chicago. His mother, Jennie Olivia Johnson (1877–1925), was the daughter of a seaman from Luleå, Sweden, who came to America as a young man and worked in the timber business. Elmer's father, Arne Kjelsberg Andersen (1866–1926), was an immigrant from Solør, Norway, who had settled in Chicago and became a streetcar motorman, 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] His parents separated when he was six years old. Andersen never understood why his parents separated and never questioned them. Elmer moved with his mother and infant sister, Caroline, to Muskegon, Michigan.[2] His two older brothers, Arnold and Marvin, arrived in Muskegon later. The Andersens had only sporadic contact with their father after the separation.[3] At the age of nine Elmer contracted a mild form of polio but, through exercise, regained his strength.[4]

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, Andersen joined his brothers at the Sheldon furniture factory. He also wrote 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."[5]

Andersen's mother was devoted to church work and saw to it that the children were raised in the Lutheran church; Andersen was confirmed at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Muskegon. During the winter of 1925, his mother contracted a cold that developed into pneumonia. She died at home on March 3, 1925, with Andersen at her bedside. Within a year, his father also died, of a heart attack on a street in Chicago.[6]

Andersen graduated from high school in 1926 and became a member of the first class of the newly established Muskegon Junior College. Upon graduating two years later, he received the first diploma awarded by 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 for the junior college. Not long after, he 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."[7]

Andersen graduated from junior college in 1928. For the next year he worked as a salesman for the Sheldon Company, working out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. "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!" He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1931.[8]

H. B. Fuller Company[edit]

By the summer of 1934 Andersen was growing dissatisfied with life as a traveling salesman. He heard through an associate that the H. B. Fuller Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, a manufacturer of school paste, was looking for someone to hire in sales promotion. Andersen discussed the position with the owner and president, Harvey B. Fuller Jr., and joined the company on October 8, 1934.[9] Andersen managed sales for the H.B. 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." [10]

Under Andersen's guidance, Fuller grew from a small St. Paul plant to an international Fortune 500 company.[11] The company'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 City, 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."[12]

In 1968, Fuller became a publicly traded company. By 1970 the company 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.[13]

Dairy farm[edit]

In 1953, twelve years after becoming president of the H. B. Fuller Company, Andersen entered the dairy business, buying a farm held by his wife'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 were 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 in a land preserve to honor the memories of his wife's parents.[14]

ECM Publishers[edit]

In 1974 Andersen began 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, which published a number of weekly local newspapers and shoppers. Andersen 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.[15][16] The Andersen family sold ECM to Adams Publishing Group in 2016.[17]


Andersen in 1957

A progressive Republican, Andersen 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 on this issue).[18]

In 1960, Andersen ran for governor against incumbent Democrat Orville Freeman. Andersen said in 1999 that he decided to run after hearing Freeman wish he could again call the Minnesota National Guard to bust a strike at an Albert Lea meatpacking plant, after a federal judge blocked that decision.[19] Andersen won 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, by 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.[20][21]

Andersen remained in the Republican Party for the rest of his life, although 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 Saint Paul Pioneer Press he said, "I remind people I want to be known as a liberal Republican. If that's a dirty word, so be it." In 2004, he broke with party ranks to endorse Democrat John Kerry over incumbent Republican President George W. Bush.[19] 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.[22]

University of Minnesota[edit]

Andersen served on the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota from 1967 to 1975 and 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, he played a major leadership role in what was, at the time, the most successful fundraising effort by any public university in the United States.[23]

Andersen believed there was an additional mission to the three central missions—teaching, research, and community service—of the university: an archival one. The building housing the archives and special collections of the university's libraries is named for him, in recognition of his deep 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 his honor. The Elmer L. Andersen Library opened to the public in April 2000.[24]

Voyageurs National Park[edit]

One of 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 the naturalist Sigurd Olson, the legislator Willard Munger, and the famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, 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, Andersen Is remembered as the "father of Voyageurs National Park." [25]

"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."[26]

Book collector[edit]

Andersen developed a passion for books as a child and collected them all his life. As a young traveling salesman he saved his loose change and 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 catalogues; paging through them became a welcome break in a busy day. Andersen 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 and inspirational poetry were of particular interest to him, 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, he made sure that the University of Minnesota owned the printer's entire archive.

Andersen revealed in his autobiography[27] that while writing his Princeton Union-Eagle editorials, he wrote a column on book collecting using the name, Arne Kjelsberg, his father's first two names. He did not reveal his authorship of the column for many years, though a close friend correctly guessed. Long a member of the bibliophilic Ampersand Club, Andersen's Arne Kjelsberg articles were published the year following his death in honor of the Ampersand Club's 75th anniversary, in 2005. Compilation of the volume commenced while Andersen lived, and he expressed hope to attend its publication party.[28]

Andersen's wife was wonderfully supportive of his bibliomania. Together, their book buying was intimately connected with book giving and support for libraries and reading. Public libraries around the state and other book concerns benefited 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 his personal library of 12,500 rare volumes in March 1999 was described in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as "a gift of the heart."[29]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Andersen met Eleanor Anne Johnson (1911–2011) at Grace University Lutheran Church while they were both students. She was the eldest child of Gustav A. and Elizabeth Johnson, both Swedish immigrants. The Andersens were married on September 1, 1932. Her sister Edith Johnson later married future Minnesota Senator Stanley W. Holmquist. The Andersens settled in the Twin Cities. Eleanor decided to leave the university when they were married and postpone the completion of her degree. The two had a very happy marriage, and Andersen credited his wife for many of his accomplishments.[30] They were the parents of three children. Several years later, she earned her bachelor's degree.[31][32][33]

Andersen wrote a number of books, including his autobiography, A Man's Reach; a collection of newspaper articles entitled Views from the Publisher's Desk; a collection of speeches and reflections, I Trust to Be Believed; and Elmer's Tour, a guide to the Minnesota state capitol building.

The Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation was founded in 1957.[34][35]

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.[19] The Minnesota Department of Human Services Building in St. Paul is also named for him.[36]


  1. ^ Andersen, Elmer L. (2000). A Man's Reach. Edited by Lori Sturdevant. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 3–4.
  3. ^ Andersen, Elmer L. (2000). A Man's Reach. U of Minnesota Press. p. 419. ISBN 9781452905099. separation.
  4. ^ Andersen. Reach. p. 13.
  5. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 7–12.
  6. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 16–18.
  7. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 25–28.
  8. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 39–45.
  9. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 59–60.
  10. ^ "1941: Harvey Fuller Sells Company to Elmer Andersen". H.B. Fuller. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  11. ^ "1984: H. B. Fuller Named to Fortune 500 Based on 1983 Performance". H. B. Fuller. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  12. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 66–101.
  13. ^ "1971: Tony Andersen Becomes H. B. Fuller President". H. B. Fuller. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  14. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 158–166.
  15. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 328–341.
  16. ^ "Publications: Princeton Union-Eagle". ECM Publishers. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  17. ^ "Adams Publishing Group to acquire ECM Publishers Inc". Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  18. ^ "Elmer L. (Lee) Andersen, Thirtieth State Governor". Minnesota Historical Society. Archived from the original on March 1, 2007. Retrieved May 15, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  19. ^ a b c Whereatt, Robert; Smith, Dane (November 16, 2004). "A Minnesota statesman dies". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on November 18, 2004. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  20. ^ "Taconite Amendment No. 1 Approved by Overwhelming Vote". Hibbing Daily Tribune. November 3, 1964. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  21. ^ "Elmer Lee Andersen". Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  22. ^ Elmer L. Andersen Dead at 95. News.minnesota.publicradio.org. Retrieved April 12, 2014.
  23. ^ "Governor Elmer Lee Andersen (1909–2004)". Regents of the University of Minnesota. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  24. ^ "About Andersen Library". Regents of the University of Minnesota. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  25. ^ "Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota's Only National Park". Destination Voyageurs National Park. November 3, 1964. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  26. ^ Andersen. Reach. pp. 275–285.
  27. ^ Andersen. Reach. p. 338.
  28. ^ Kjelsberg, Arne (Anderson, Elmer L.) (2005). On Book Collecting. The Ampersand Club.
  29. ^ Smetanka, Mary Jane. (1999). "Former Governor's Gift Is Voluminous". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Metro ed. April 1. p. 1A.
  30. ^ "The Elmer L. & Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation 2011 President's Report". The Elmer L. & Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation. December 26, 2011. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  31. ^ "Eleanor Anne Johnson Andersen". Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  32. ^ Miller, Pamela (January 15, 2011). "Eleanor Andersen, 99, Widow of Former Governor". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  33. ^ "Victor Holmquist". Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  34. ^ "The Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation". Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  35. ^ "2016 990: The Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation" (PDF). Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  36. ^ Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board. "Elmer L. Andersen Building". State of Minnesota. Retrieved July 1, 2020.

Other sources[edit]

  • Andersen, Elmer L. (1997) Views from the Publisher's Desk (Nodin Press LLC) ISBN 978-0931714733
  • Andersen, Elmer L. (2004) Man's Reach (University of Minnesota Press ) ISBN 978-0816637393
  • Andersen, Elmer L. (2004) I Trust to Be Believed (Nodin Press LLC) ISBN 978-1932472073
  • Andersen, Elmer L. (2005) Elmer's Tour: A Former Governor's Loving Look at the Minnesota State Capitol (Nodin Press LLC) ISBN 978-1932472387

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1960, 1962
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Oldest living U.S. governor
April 19, 2004 – November 15, 2004
Succeeded by