Knute Nelson Biography

Knute Nelson was born in Evanger, Voss, Norway, in 1843. In 1849 he and his widowed mother emigrated to the United States, settling first in Chicago (1849–1850) and then in Wisconsin, where he enlisted in the Fourth Wisconsin Infantry Regiment (1861–1864) during the Civil War. Following the war he graduated from the Albion Academy and studied law in a Madison, Wisconsin law office, being admitted to the bar in 1867. He served as a representative in the Wisconsin assembly from 1868 to 1869.

In 1871 he moved with his family to Alexandria, Minnesota, where he practiced law while farming a homestead tract. A Republican, he served as Douglas County attorney (1872–1874), Minnesota state senator (1875–1878), presidential elector (1880), University of Minnesota regent (1882–1893), and fifth district representative to Congress (1883–1889). He was elected governor of Minnesota in 1892 and 1894, resigning that post in 1895 to run successfully for the U.S. Senate, where he remained until 1923.

Legislation passed during his term as governor included the creation of the Board of State Capitol Commissioners to oversee the construction of the new Capitol; a law that allowed companies other than railroads to build warehouses and elevators along right-of-ways; and a law that prevented the discrimination of employees on religious or political grounds. He also advocated for school districts to supply textbooks to students free of charge.

In Washington, Nelson was chairman of the Senate judiciary committee and the Senate committee on public lands. He was also active on the commerce and Indian affairs committees and in the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission. His most notable legislative measures included the Nelson Bankruptcy Act (1898) and the act creating the Department of Commerce and Labor (1902). Nelson supported a low tariff, a federal income tax, Prohibition, the Sherman Act, and the League of Nations.

Knute Nelson died in 1923, during his fifth senatorial term. He is buried in Alexandria, Minnesota.