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Elmer Andersen Biography - Page 1

Elmer Lee Andersen was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 17, 1909, the son of a Norwegian immigrant father (Arne Andersen) and a Swedish-American mother (Jennie Johnson Andersen). When Elmer was about six, his parents separated and he moved to Muskegon, Michigan, with his mother and sisters. He and his family were part of the "working poor" and young Elmer did laundry, sold newspapers and vegetables on the street, and worked in a furniture factory. After graduating from junior college in Muskegon, he became a traveling salesman, which brought him to Minnesota.

He enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1929 and graduated two years later with a degree in business. Elmer Andersen would later write that the "greatest gift" he derived from his years at the university was meeting the woman who would become his wife. Elmer Andersen and Eleanor Johnson met in 1929 and were married three years later on September 1, 1932.

Andersen quit his job as a traveling salesman in 1934 and went to work in the sales promotion department for the H.B. Fuller Company, a St. Paul manufacturer of industrial and home use adhesives. Six years later he owned the company and began to expand it into one of the leading industrial companies in the country. He remained president of the firm until 1960 and CEO until 1976.

During the later 1930s and 1940s, Andersen became involved in state and national politics and active in the Republican Party. In 1949 he successfully ran in a special election for a St. Paul seat in the state Senate. During his nine-year tenure, Andersen carved out a role for himself in legislative areas such as education, child welfare, and the environment. In 1955, he was the chief Senate sponsor of the first modern-era civil rights legislation in the state, the Fair Employment Practices Act, which banned hiring discrimination.

Elmer Andersen gave up his Senate seat in 1958, intending to go back to business fulltime. But in 1960, he decided to challenge popular DFLer Orville Freeman in his bid for a fourth term as governor. On Election Day, Minnesotans returned Democrat Hubert Humphrey to the U.S. Senate and voted for Democrat John F. Kennedy for President, but elected a Republican as governor—Elmer Andersen. As governor, Andersen worked to bring economic stability to Minnesota's Indian reservations and to the Iron Range, where the mining industry was undergoing upheaval. He pushed for the creation of several new state parks and pressed the state Senate to pass the Fair Housing Bill, another landmark in civil-rights legislation. The highway safety legislation he championed resulted in a substantial drop in fatal accidents.