Oral History Interview with Karl F. Rolvaag

DATE: December 11-12, 1978

INTERVIEWER: Mark E. Haidet

Karl F. Rolvaag was born in 1913 in Northfield, Minnesota, the son of author Ole E. Rolvaag. He was chairman of the state Democratic Farmer Labor Party (1950-1954), Minnesota lieutenant governor (1955-1962), Minnesota governor (1963-1967), and U.S. ambassador to Iceland (1967-1969). 

Subjects discussed in the December 11 interview include: family background and early life in Northfield, Minnesota; education at St. Olaf College in Northfield; military career in World War II; early involvement in DFL politics and campaigns for Congress in 1946 and 1948; DFL state chairman 1950-54; election of 1954; Rolvaag's election as lieutenant governor and reasons for DFL success; functions of lieutenant governor; Rolvaag's relationship with governors Orville Freeman and Elmer Andersen; power groups in the state senate; impressions of Freeman; Rolvaag's governorship, including major issues of reapportionment, weather disasters, major achievements, key advisors, and purchase of the governor's mansion; Rolvaag's appointment as ambassador to Iceland in 1967; activities since 1967; evaluation of the DFL Party following the 1978 election; and the Fraser-Short rivalry.

Subjects discussed in the December 12 interview include: reasons for Governor Freeman's defeat in 1960; impressions of Governor Elmer Andersen and his administration; the decision to run for governor in 1962 and action taken to secure the DFL endorsement; the movement to draft Mondale for governor in 1962; the 1962 gubernatorial campaign; the Highway 35 issue; recount proceedings; the relationship with party leaders and Keith during the recount; key advisors, problems encountered, and the "broom closet" office; Rolvaag's relationship with DFL leaders and Keith during Rolvaag's administration; Keith's promise not to oppose Rolvaag in 1966; the Sugar Hills meeting in 1965; the campaign to secure delegates to the state convention; the 1966 DFL convention, including impressions of proceedings, the role of national politicians, and strategy; the decision to oppose Keith in the primary election; the primary election campaign; attempts to unify the party following the primary; the general election campaign; and his opinion of David Lebedoff's book The 21st Ballot as being "full of errors."

LENGTH OF INTERVIEW: 4 hours 50 minutes

TRANSCRIPT: 54 pages

Oral history interview with Karl F. Rolvaag
Karl F. Rolvaag