Elmer L. Andersen Biography

Born in Chicago in 1909, Elmer Lee Andersen grew up in poverty in Michigan. He worked numerous jobs, graduated from junior college, and became a traveling salesman, which brought him to Minnesota.

In 1931 he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a business degree and in 1934 began working at H.B. Fuller, a St. Paul manufacturer of adhesives. Six years later he owned the company, which became a leading industrial-supply firm. He remained its president until 1960 and CEO until 1976.

In 1949 the active Republican won a seat in the state Senate. In nine years there, Andersen specialized in education, child welfare, and the environment. In 1955 he was the chief Senate sponsor of the state’s first modern-era civil rights legislation, the Fair Employment Practices Act, which banned hiring discrimination.

Andersen gave up his Senate seat in 1958, returning to his business. But in 1960, he challenged popular DFL Governor Orville Freeman and won. As governor he worked to bring economic stability to Minnesota’s Indian reservations and Iron Range. He pushed to create new state parks and pressed the Senate to pass the Fair Housing Bill, another civil-rights landmark.

In 1962 Andersen lost re-election to Karl Rolvaag. The closest race in Minnesota history, it triggered a recount and litigation that lasted 139 days. Andersen lost by ninety-one votes out of more than 1.2 million. He never again sought public office.

One of Andersen’s proudest achievements came in April 1975, when Congress established Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. Andersen worked tirelessly to persuade landowners, timber-industry leaders, politicians, and citizens of the value of this park.

In 1976 Andersen bought and combined two Minnesota newspapers, forming the Princeton Union-Eagle. Later, he purchased ECM Publishing, which produced weekly newspapers in central Minnesota.

As a volunteer, Andersen was committed to the University of Minnesota, serving as a regent and president and chair of its foundation. The Elmer and Eleanor Andersen Library at the university’s Landscape Arboretum and the Elmer L. Andersen Library in Minneapolis honor his generosity.

Andersen died in 2004 in Minneapolis.