Petersen, Hjalmar, 1890-1968Variant names
Hjalmar Petersen was born on January 2, 1890, in Eskildstrup, Denmark, near Svendborg. He migrated to Chicago, Illinois, with his parents, Lauritz and Anna Petersen, in 1891. He was naturalized through his father's papers. Petersen spent his childhood on a farm in Lincoln County, Minnesota, and in the village of Tyler. His education consisted of grammar school, and what he often referred to as "the school of experience." At age 14 he took his first job, working for the Tyler Journal . He then moved on to other printing jobs in Minnesota and South Dakota. From 1908 to 1914 he worked for a large printing firm in Milwaukee.
In 1914 he moved to Askov, a Danish settlement in east-central Minnesota. Here, in September 1914, he founded the weekly newspaper the Askov American and was joined by his brother Svend in 1916. Hjalmar remained as editor of the Askov American for the rest of his life. Petersen developed the small paper until it claimed to have the largest circulation of any newspaper in the United States published in a community of Askov's size.
Petersen became active in government and politics shortly after the founding of the Askov American . In 1918 he helped to incorporate the village of Askov and was elected village clerk (1918-1924). In 1928 he was elected mayor. In 1926 and 1928 Petersen made unsuccessful bids for election as state representative from Pine County. In 1930 he ran again and this time was elected. He was re-elected in 1932.
In the 1933 session of the state legislature, Petersen was named chairman of the House Committee on Tax and Tax Laws. Throughout his legislative career Petersen was known for his taxation proposals and stands. He was the chief author of the first Minnesota state income tax law (1933). In 1934 the Farmer-Labor Party endorsed Petersen for the position of lieutenant governor, and he won that office in the general election that fall.
On August 22, 1936, Governor Floyd B. Olson died and Petersen assumed the governorship for the five remaining months of Olson's term. In this time he made several important judicial appointments, settled strikes, and called a special session of the legislature to enact an unemployment insurance law. It was during 1936 that Petersen developed a distaste for the Farmer-Labor Party machine, run by what he called the "Mexican Generals." He felt that he deserved the party nomination for governor, but lost out to Elmer Benson. He was nominated instead for a six-year term on the Railroad and Warehouse Commission, an office he won in the general election.
In 1938 he tried to win the Farmer-Labor Party endorsement for governor by running against the incumbent, Elmer Benson, in the primaries but was defeated. Benson in turn lost the general election to the Republican Party candidate, Harold Stassen. In 1940 and 1942 Petersen was the Farmer-Labor candidate for governor but was defeated both times by Stassen. Since Petersen's term as Railroad and Warehouse Commission expired in 1943, he retired to private life for the next four years. Late in 1943 he found a job with the Office of Defense Transport, which he held until the middle of 1945. Petersen ran for governor again in 1946 by switching parties and challenging Luther W. Youngdahl for the Republican nomination in the primaries, which Youngdahl won. It was eight years before Petersen again tried for public office. He was elected Railroad and Warehouse Commissioner for another six-year term in 1954, running on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor ticket.
In the 1956 Minnesota presidential primary, Petersen managed the campaign of Senator Estes Kefauver, who defeated Adlai Stevenson. Petersen attended the Democratic National Convention in August as a Kefauver delegate. In 1958 he sought the DFL endorsement for United States senator, running against Representative Eugene McCarthy in the primary election. McCarthy won the nomination and the general election. Petersen was re-elected to the Railroad and Warehouse Commission in 1960. After serving his term, which ended in 1967, he retired from active politics. He died on March 29, 1968.
Hjalmar Petersen married twice. His first wife, Rigmor Christine Laursen Wosgaard, died in childbirth in August 1930. They had one daughter, Evelyn (Mrs. Arthur Metzger, of McLean, Virginia). He married Medora Belle Grandprey in 1934, and they had one daughter, Karla (Mrs. Robert Tinklenberg, of Santa Barbara, California).
Biographical information on Hjalmar Petersen was taken from the collection; from Who's Who in America, Vol. 22, 1942-1943, p. 1741; from an article in the Minneapolis Star, September 7, 1964, p. 10A; and from his obituary in the Minneapolis Star, March 29, 1968, p. 1.
From the guide to the Hjalmar Petersen papers., 1907-1968., (Minnesota Historical Society)
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