May 18, 1926: Death of “Duluth Rip-Saw” editor John Morrison

On this day in Duluth in 1926, John Morrison—founder and editor of Duluth’s controversial Rip-Saw newspaper died of a “brain clot.” Morrison, a “rabid tee-totaller,” was an avid Prohibitionist and reckless newspaperman whose unconventional journalistic techniques often put him in legal hot water. According to Morrison biographer John Ramos, “For some time [before his death], he had been suffering from ‘pleurisy following an attack of influenza, a general nervous breakdown and attacks of syncope.’” Morrison’s condition was in part due to his most recent battle with the law. Earlier that year the Rip-saw accused the mayor of Minneapolis of adultery and Duluth’s public utilities commissioner of graft. Soon after a warrant was sworn out for Morrison’s arrest. A state judge, invoking the powers of the Public Nuisance Act, placed a restraining order on the Rip-saw. News vendors were forbidden to sell the paper. The Rip-saw’s publishing house, the Finnish Publishing Company, was forbidden to print it. Morrison died before he could be arrested. In 1927, a gag law inspired by the Rip-saw would be used to shut down the Saturday Press, an anti-Semitic, anti-gangster scandal sheet in Minneapolis. That event would ultimately lead to Near v. Minnesota, a pivotal Supreme Court decision that struck down the Public Nuisance Act and affirmed freedom of the press in America. Read much more about the Rip-Saw in Ramos’s biography of Morrison, here.

John Loyal Morrison. (Image: Duluth Public Library)