Minnesota Historical Society M-Flame Logo

Knute Nelson Biography

Knute Nelson was born in Evanger, Voss, Norway, on February 2, 1843. In 1849 he and his widowed mother emigrated to the United States, settling first in Chicago (1849-1850) and then in Dane County, Wisconsin, where he enlisted in the Fourth Wisconsin Cavalry 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. Knute Nelson married Nicolina Jacobsen in 1867. He served as a representative in the Wisconsin assembly from 1868-1869.

In 1871 he moved with his family to Alexandria, Minnesota, where he practiced law while farming a homestead tract. 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, which post he resigned in 1895 to run successfully for the United States Senate, where he remained until 1923. Nelson was chairman of the Senate judiciary committee and the senate committee on public lands, and was active on the commerce and Indian affairs committees. His most notable legislative measures included the Nelson Bankruptcy Act (1898) and the act creating the Department of Commerce and Labor (1902), and he was also active in the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Nelson supported a low tariff, a federal income tax, Prohibition, the Sherman Act, and the League of Nations.

Knute Nelson died on April 28, 1923, during his fifth senatorial term. He is buried in Alexandria, Minnesota.