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Fred W. Johnson, State Librarian 1899 - 1901

Fred W. Johnson

Fred W. JohnsonFred W. Johnson, State Librarian January 24, 1899 to January 29, 1901


Frederick Wilmar Johnson was born in St. Peter, Minnesota on November 18, 1870. He was the youngest son of Swedish immigrants Gustav and Caroline Christine Hadden Johnson. Gustav was an alcoholic who abandoned the family, leaving them destitute. Four of the eight Johnson children died. Caroline worked to make ends meet by taking in wash and the oldest son (John A. Johnson, 16th governor of Minnesota) left school at 13 to help support the family.

Fred grew up and followed his brother John into the newspapers. He worked in St. Peter and then moved to New Ulm where he was an editor and journalist. In 1889, he took over the New Ulm Review and managed it until 1899. In New Ulm, he stayed in the Dakotah House, where he met his wife Emma H. Seiter and they married on December 14, 1893. Her parents owned the Dakotah and they eventually passed ownership to Fred and Emma.

In 1898, John Johnson was elected to the state senate and through his political connections, Governor John Lind appointed Fred to be the State Librarian in 1899. At that time he moved to St. Paul, but he didn't stay long. After two years, he left the job and moved back to New Ulm.

While in New Ulm, he ran the newly named Dakota Hotel and also ran the Turner Theater. He was deeply involved in the community, and helped establish the Brown County Historical Society as well as the New Ulm Public Library.

Fred was an avid collector of photographs of local pioneers and history. He exhibited his collection and eventually donated it to the Historical Society.

In 1930, Fred and Emma passed management of the hotel to their two sons, Russell and Norman.

Fred and Emma also had a daughter, Helen and at least one grandchild. They were married for over 50 years, celebrating their anniversary in 1943. Emma died two years later and Fred died soon after collapsing in the street on August 12, 1948.

Image Credits: Fred W. Johnson, Minneapolis Journal, October 7, 1906, Photograph courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society Digital Newspaper Archives.