Gust Carlson

Gust Carlson immigrated to the U.S. from Sweden at the height of the late 19th century Scandinavian emigration, settling in Hibbing in 1893. By 1910 he and his wife, Hanna, were building one of the most impressive houses in Duluth’s East End at 202 North 24th Avenue East. Carlson actually began his career in banking, serving as president of the Merchants & Miners bank in Hibbing and the First National bank of Chisholm.

He soon established his own firm, the Carlson Exploration Co., which did business on both the Mesabi and Cuyuna Iron Ranges. Carlson introduced technological innovations with regards to diamond drilling that greatly improved the efficacy and economics of mining. In addition, he pioneered the development of taconite resources in the area with the establishment of the Mesabi Syndicate, which began taconite experiments in the 1920s. As he and his innovations became well known, his activities expanded westward—he was responsible for the discovery and development of the Interstate Callahan mine at Wallace, Idaho, the nation’s largest producer of zinc during World War I.

Between 1905 and 1915 he was a member of the staffs of Governors John A. Johnson, Adolph O. Eberhart and Winfield S. Hammond. Carlson, a member of the American Scandinavian Foundation of New York, became so prominent among Swedish immigrants in this country, King Gustaf V of Sweden knighted him in 1913. Thus this property, through its association with Carlson, contributes to the historical significance of the neighborhood. Carlson never retired but died suddenly at age 87 while en route from Helena, Montana to Duluth in 1956.


 Gust Carlson

Closely connected with the wonderful development of the drilling business from crude pioneer business to the present modern system, and always an important factor in the civic life of the communities in which he has lived and worked, Gust Carlson, of Duluth, is easily one of the most important figures of the Mesaba Range, and one to whose energy, practical knowledge and executive ability much credit is due. He is a native of Sweden, where he was born September 17, 1869, a son of Louis Carlson.

In 1879 Louis Carlson came to the United States alone, and at first worked in the mines of Menominee, Marquette and the Gogebic Ranges, and was also in charge of several exploring camps, and when ore was struck on the Biz Norah Mines he was among the first there. In 1891 he came to the Mesaba Range as an explorer and was employed by the Longyear interests, and ever afterward lived on this range. Later he worked for Barnes & Upton, and discovered the Clark mine at Chisholm.

This was long before the towns on the Mesaba Range were established, and he and his men had to live in camps. As soon as Hibbing was laid out Mr. Carlson moved there, and continued his connection with mining work until his death, which occurred in 1897. He was a quiet, unassuming man who was recognized as being a miner of much more than average ability. In 1880 his son Charles came to this country and obtained employment on the Mesaba, largely as a mechanic with boilers and engines.

A daughter, Bridget, came over in 1892, and she later became the wife of J. H. Carlson of Hibbing.

In February, 1888, Gust Carlson joined the family in this country, being at that time nineteen years of age, with a practical experience of five years as a machinist. While at that time he could not speak a word of English, he found compatriots at Hurley, Wisconsin, and being very intelligent and anxious to learn it was not long before he had an excellent working knowledge of the new language. At the time he was a resident of Hurley that city was in its “wild and wooly” days, and he remembers those frontier experiences very well. Leaving Hurley Mr. Carlson worked in various mines, and in the fall of 1890 went to Seattle, Washington, thence to California, and on April 1, 1893, landed on the Mesaba Range, coming by rail as far as Mountain Iron, from whence he went to the present site of the Pillsbury Mine, as an explorer in the employ of Barnes & Upton of Duluth, who had an option on what is now the Clark Mine. While making his explorations Mr. Carlson lived principally at Hibbing. While he followed mining and exploring, he gradually drifted into other avenues of endeavor. He worked as a test digger, mined in the Sellers Mine for a time, and then embarked in business as a driller contractor. For five years he continued in this line, and then organized the Carlson Exploration Company at Hibbing, of which he is yet president, although G. A. Wellner is now the active head. For years he was vice president of the Miners & Merchants State Bank of Hibbing, and for the past two years has been its president.

Mr. Carlson is also president of the First National Bank of Chisholm. He is a part owner of the Morton Mine, and is financially interested in the concentrating plant at Old Mesaba, which is for the purpose of utilizing the low grade magnetic ores of the Eastern Mesaba Range. This bids fair to become one of the great industries of the ore business. In 1911, Mr. Carlson moved to Duluth, which has since been his home. He belongs to the Duluth Commercial Club and the Northland Country Club.

At present he is actively interested in the development of the Cuyuna Range, and owns a one-third interest of the ore body which has been under lease located on the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter, and the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of section 17-46-29 on the Cuyuna Range, containing about 1,500,000 tons of good average grade of Cuyuna Range ore. This has admirable conditions for open pit working. Mr. Carlson also owns a third interest of the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 17-46-29, consisting of large deposits, some 3.000.000 tons, of merchantable ore. Another holding of his is the Brainerd-Cuyuna mine fee of that range, which is equipped and developed to ship.

In 1896 Mr. Carlson was married to Hannah Forsman, and they have five children, namely: Oregon Catherine, Lars M., Virginia, Gustav, and William. Lars M. at the age of nineteen years was a student at the Minnesota State University, to which he had gone after being graduated from Culver Military Academy, and was in the Students Reserve Corps, prepared to go abroad for service during the World war, when the signing of the Armistice made such action unnecessary.

Mr. Carlson is one of the interesting figures of Duluth, and his influence in the development of the great ore industries cannot be overestimated.

His knowledge of drilling and mining is practical and thorough. and combined with it has been a firm and abiding faith in the possibilities of the Mesaba Range, which has enabled him to undertake large enterprises and carry them through to successful completion. His connection with an undertaking today means its ultimate success, and his name gives added strength to any concern, for it is admittedly a fact that he will not go into anything until he is certain that it and the people backing it are thoroughly dependable. Having played so important a part in the progress of the Northwest, he naturally takes great pride in it and the results which have come through his practical application of his knowledge and abilities.


  • Larson, Jill. Intensive Survey of Historic Resources in Duluth’s East End (Part 1). City of Duluth, Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission, Duluth, Minn.: August 2007.
  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.
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