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July 7, 1971: The Death of Bert Onsgard

On this day in 1971, Bert Onsgard—founder of Duluth’s Fairmount Park Zoo (today’s Lake Superior Zoo)—died in Duluth. According to his obituary, Onsgard was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1888 and moved to Duluth in 1892 when he was four years old. A printer by trade, Onsgard opened West Duluth’s Onsgard Printing Co., later called teh West Duluth Printery, in about 1912. Onsgard founded the Duluth Zoo in 1923 after rescuing a fawn during a fishing trip. He named the deer “Billy” and approached city leaders with a new plan for a zoo at Fairmount Park. Commissioners gave him the go-ahead, and Billy became the zoo’s first resident. Onsgard acted as the zoo’s curator from 1923 to 1937. Onsgard later owned and operated the Arrowhead Amusement Co. and brought his merry-go-round and other rides to fairs in the region. He was active in the West Duluth Commercial Club, the West Duluth Business Men’s Club and was an organizer of the West Duluth Industrial Club. Onsgard was elected to the Duluth Hall of Fame in 1926. You can read a much more complete biography of Onsgard here.

Bert Onsgard holding chimpanzees Tom and Jerry at the Duluth Zoo within Fairmount Park, 1927. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections