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Publishing giant Swan Turnblad made his mark on Minneapolis

photo of swan turnblad
Swan Turnblad in the 1890s
Swan Turnblad was a prominent Swedish Minnesotan and the manager, editor, and publisher of Svenska Amerikanska Posten, a Swedish American newspaper. He donated his family home and the newspaper to the newly founded American Institute of Swedish Arts, Literature and Science (later renamed the American Swedish Institute) near the end of his life.

Swan Turnblad was born October 7, 1860, in Vislanda, Småland, Sweden. When he was about eight years old, he and his family moved to the United States, and eventually to Vasa, Minnesota. He was interested in printing from an early age, and in 1877 he obtained a printing press and printed a book on arithmetic after learning to set type on his own.

In 1879, at the age of nineteen, Turnblad moved to Minneapolis and worked as a typesetter at various Swedish-American newspapers, including Svenska Folkets Tidning. He was a strong advocate for temperance, and around 1880 became the chief organizer of the first Scandinavian temperance society in Minneapolis.

In April of 1883, Swan married Christina Gabrielsdotter, who was a fellow Swedish immigrant, and in 1884 their daughter, Lillian, was born. In 1886, he became the manager of Svenska Amerikanska Posten, which was struggling.

By 1889, Turnblad had become the primary stockholder, and publisher, of Svenska Amerikanska Posten, which he helped develop into the largest Swedish American newspaper in the country. In 1894, he began to shift the focus of the paper away from prohibition and temperance to independent Democratic politics. This helped increase circulation from 1,400 to 40,000 by the end of the century and to 55,000 in 1915.

Turnblad was an innovator, and became the first Swedish publisher to set his paper on a linotype machine. He was also the first owner of a Mergenthaler press and the first Swedish newspaper publisher to introduce political cartoons and color illustrations.

In 1897, in a controversial deal, Christina Turnblad bought the paper from her husband. Turnblad then gradually bought stock from shareholders (who were under the impression that the business was failing) before buying the paper back from his wife in 1901. Once the paper’s success was apparent, many were upset and accused Turnblad of deceiving them.

In the spring of 1899, Turnblad purchased a Waverly Electric car, which was the first commercially produced automobile owned by a Minneapolis resident. In 1899, Turnblad also purchased property that extended into what is now Loring Park in order to build a new house for himself and his family. The Minneapolis Park Board opposed his purchase.

After a legal battle that reached the Minnesota Supreme Court, Turnblad conceded to the Park Board. He bought six lots on Park Avenue and began planning his new home in 1903. It was ready for occupancy in 1908.

Turnblad was involved in a number of lawsuits from 1908 to 1911 in which shareholders claimed fraud and deception and sued him for various amounts of money. Turnblad avoided additional lawsuits in the years following 1911.

1915 was a milestone year for the paper and for Turnblad. The paper reached 55,000 subscribers and moved into its own building. In 1920, he sold Svenska Amerikanska Posten to Magnus Martinson for $150,000. After Martinson drove the paper to the brink of bankruptcy, the board of directors asked Turnblad to return as president, general manager, publisher, and editor in 1927.

For many years, Turnblad expressed interest in donating his home to a Swedish cultural institution. After a series of conversations with the Swedish consul, Nils Leon Jaenson, and one letter of encouragement from the Crown Prince of Sweden, Turnblad decided to donate his mansion and Svenska Amerikanska Posten to the newly founded “American Institute of Swedish Arts, Literature and Science.” Turnblad served as the first president of the Institute from 1929 to 1933.

Turnblad died on May 17, 1933, at the age of seventy-two, at Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. The funeral was held on Saturday, May 20, at Lakewood chapel.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/20/2019 - 04:02 pm.

    My mom, who grew up in the 20s, never went by the Swedish Institute without making mention of the crooked dealings of its’ founder and how he took advantage of the farmer/worker class she belonged to. Now I know why…

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