Skip to Main Content
Minnesota State Law Library Logo

Minnesota State Law Library

Robert A. Smith, Territorial Librarian 1853-1858

Robert A. Smith

Robert A. Smith portrait


Robert A. Smith held public office for 48 years, sometimes holding two offices at the same time





Robert Armstrong Smith was born June 13, 1827 in Boonville, Indiana to parents William Smith and Elizabeth Graham. He received his law degree from Indiana State University in 1850. He married Mary E. Stone, also of Indiana, in 1851. His first public office was County Auditor for Warwick County, Ind. where he served for 4 years, from 1849-1853. He then moved to Minnesota to work as secretary to territorial governor Willis A. Gorman (his brother-in-law). This was a joint position and he was also the Territorial Librarian from 1853-1858. In 1856 he was appointed Ramsey County Treasurer and he held that position until 1868, while still Territorial Librarian for the first two years. He worked with Dawson & Co. to establish the Bank of Minnesota in 1882. He acted as President and Vice President at different times. He also invested in real estate.

Smith was elected to the city council in 1883 and served until 1887. He was elected to the Minnesota Legislature in 1884 and served one term. He was then elected to the Minnesota Senate and served 1887-1890. He was appointed mayor of St. Paul in 1887 to complete the term of a mayor who had resigned. He served as mayor until 1892, when he lost the election, but after that term, he was elected again and served from 1894-1896 when he was appointed Postmaster. He resigned from that after four years to go back to being St. Paul mayor, serving from 1900-1908. He ran for lieutenant governor in 1902, but was not elected. In 1910 he was elected a Ramsey County Commissioner and held the position until his death in 1913.

One of the notable events during his career was the failure of his bank in 1896. He owed the bank large sums of money and in order to pay them back, he sold all of his property and investments, including his home on Summit Ave. and went bankrupt. He lived the rest of his life on his income from his political positions.

He and his wife raised three children to adulthood, Willis G. Smith, Lucy Smith Copley and Mina Smith Page.

He died of pneumonia February 12, 1913; his daughter Lucy was with him. He was one of the few pioneer settlers left alive at that time.

You may read more about the life and work of Robert A. Smith in the research resources linked in this guide, which are the sources of this brief biography.

Image Credits: Robert A. Smith, 1875, Photograph courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society Photographic Archives (por 20976 r3).