Edward J. Thye Biography

Edward John Thye, born to Norwegian immigrant parents in South Dakota, soon moved to a farm near Northfield, Minnesota. He attended a local business college then served in Italy during World War I. Afterward, Thye was a salesman for the Deere and Webber Company of Minneapolis. In 1922 he became manager and, later, owner of a dairy farm near Northfield.

After serving on his rural township council, Thye became president of the Dakota County Farm Bureau in 1929. During his long tenure there, he befriended fellow Republican Harold Stassen, actively supporting his candidacy for governor in 1938. With Stassen’s victory came Thye’s appointment as Minnesota’s dairy and food commissioner and deputy commissioner of agriculture (1939–1942).

In 1942 Stassen supported Thye for the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor; both men won. Soon thereafter, Thye became governor when Stassen resigned to join the Navy. Voters re-elected Thye in 1944. As chief executive, he created the Governor’s Interracial Commission to document and challenge racial discrimination, signed legislation approving increased payments to dependent children and for old age assistance, planned for the post-war economy, and poured monies into highway construction.

In 1946 Thye defeated incumbent Henrik Shipstead in the Republican primary for U.S. senator and then vanquished his Democratic-Farmer-Labor opponent.

Senator Thye consistently supported the interests of farmers and small businessmen. He served on the committees on Agriculture and Forestry, Civil Service, Expenditures in the Executive Departments, Appropriations, and Small Business—which he chaired—as well as several subcommittees. Firmly anti-communist but committed to civil liberties, he garnered attention as one of the seven cosigners of the 1950 “Declaration of Conscience,” written by Senator Margaret Chase Smith in reaction to red-baiting by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Thye served in the Senate until defeated by DFLer Eugene McCarthy in 1958. He returned to his Northfield farm and died there in 1969.