Samuel R. Van Sant Biography

Samuel Van Sant began his career as a riverboat builder on the Upper Mississippi. As Minnesota’s fifteenth governor, he sought to enforce the state law preventing the merger of parallel and competitive railroad lines.

Van Sant was born in Illinois in 1844. As a teenager, he enlisted in the Union army, fighting for three years. He attended college and then followed his father into the boat-building business. In 1883 he moved his family to Winona, where his resourcefulness and congeniality earned him wealth and popularity.

Van Sant entered politics in 1892 as a member of the state legislature and was Speaker of the House during his second term. Undaunted by two failures to secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination, he succeeded in 1900 and then narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent John Lind. At Van Sant’s urging, the legislature translated some of Lind’s tax-reform proposals into law. An anti-merger action he initiated against the railroad industry led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s eventual dissolution of the Northern Securities Company, a consolidation of the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroads that monopolized travel to the Pacific Northwest.

Van Sant was the first governor to occupy the executive suite of the present state capitol. He later presided over a Minneapolis investment firm and maintained his interest in matters military and civic. As the tenth and last Civil War soldier to govern Minnesota, he took pride in his role as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ organization. Like several of his robust Dutch ancestors, Van Sant lived into his nineties, dying in 1936.