J. O. Lenning

With the enormous prestige of Duluth as a distributing and wholesale center for the northwestern country the wholesale grocery house of Gowan-Lenning-Brown Company has been intimately and vitally connected for many years. The present great company, with its model plant in close proximity to the unrivalled rail and water transportation facilities, is the result of consolidation of two older organizations.

The older of the constituent houses in the Gowan-Lenning-Brown Company was the Wright-Clarkson Mercantile Company, three of whose members are part of the modern organization, W. S. Brown, president, R. H. Redman, treasurer, and J. O. Lenning, vice president and general manager. The other factor in the combination was the Gowan-Peyton-Twohy Company, which on the death of Andrew Gowan, a prominent lumberman, who was succeeded by Chester A. Congdon as president, became the Gowan-Peyton-Congdon Company. These two companies were consolidated in 1913 and at that time additional warehouses were acquired for the increased stocks, and in the past seven years immense strides have been made in the manufacturing end of the business. The new and modern building occupies a site of 320 by 260 feet, the main portion being four stories in height.

J. O. Lenning is a business man of wide and varied experience, and well qualified for his responsibilities in the Gowan-Lenning-Brown Company.

He was born in Lee County, Illinois, August 22, 1859, a son of O. O. and Christie (Maakstad) Lenning. His father, a native of Norway, brought his wife and oldest child to America during the ’50s and became an Illinois farmer in Lee County, but in 1883 removed to Iowa and lived on a farm in that state until his death.

J. O. Lenning, the second oldest of four children, acquired his education in the public schools of Illinois, attended Mt. Morris Academy in that state, and subsequently the Bryant & Stratton Business College of Chicago. At the age of seventeen he was buying grain and subsequently was manager for a co-operative company. Leaving those business associates, he entered a commercial college at Chicago, and had a varied metropolitan employment in that city.

In the spring of 1882, then a young man of twenty-three, Mr. Lenning went to Hamilton County, Iowa, near the town of Radcliffe, to improve and develop a farm previously purchased by his father. That was a year of strenuous labor in the preparation of a home and other improvements for the family. At the end of this year he located at Ellsworth, Iowa, where he engaged in the real estate business and for a time conducted the post office in connection. Later the real estate business expanded as a bank, known as the State Bank of Ellsworth, of which he was cashier. In 1889 Mr. Lenning entered upon his duties as county treasurer of Hamilton County, Iowa, and served four years. In 1894 he became assistant chief clerk of the Lower House of the Iowa State Legislature, and following that was cashier of the Hamilton County State Bank at Webster City, Iowa. His duties with that institution continued until he came to Minnesota. During his management this bank increased its deposits from a hundred thousand to a million dollars.

Leaving Iowa, Mr. Lenning on coming to Minnesota engaged in the wholesale grocery business at Crookston as president of the Lenning-Brown-Wright Company. With the sale of his interests he removed to Duluth in 1906 and became vice president and general manager of the Wright-Clarkson Mercantile Company, mentioned above, and subsequently was an influential factor in the consolidation of 1913 as described.

Mr. Lenning is a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason and Shriner and is a past high priest of the Royal Arch Chapter and past commander of the Knights Templars. He has always been a strong Republican in politics. He married Miss Carrie Cragwick, of Norwegian parentage. Six children were born to their marriage and four are still living.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
  • Menu