Roger S. Munger was born in North Madison, Connecticut, in 1830 and married Olive Gray in Maine in 1858. A year before he wed he and his brothers Russell and William opened a music store in St. Paul and performed as “The Munger Brothers Orchestra.”
Munger became an early Duluth pioneer, his family being the twelfth to settle in Duluth Township. Partnering with other Duluth settlers, Munger built the first flour mill, first coal dock, first sawmill, first opera house, and served on the first board of trade, first school board, and first city council. He would later become president of Duluth’s Imperial Mill and the Duluth Iron & Steel Company. Munger also took charge of a task that changed Duluth forever, the 1870–1871 digging of the Duluth Ship Canal. Although Munger himself hired the W. W. Williams & Co. and their dredging tug Ishpeming in September, 1870, years later he would perpetuate the false legend that Duluth citizens dug the canal by hand. Munger’s brother Gilbert was a noted painter; his 1871 depiction of Duluth hangs in the Duluth Public Library’s North Shore room. Olive Munger died in 1894 and Roger Munger left the house in 1899. He lived for another fourteen years.
Roger S. Munger, a territorial pioneer of Minnesota, and for years one of the leading business men of the city of Duluth, was born at North Madison, Conn.. February 25, 1830. He is a son of Sherman and Lucretia (Benton) Munger, both natives of Connecticut, and of old New England families. His maternal ancestors were among the very first settlers of New Haven county, Connecticut. Mr. Munger’s boyhood was passed in New Haven, to which city the family had moved. He was educated in the public schools and completed a course at the Hopkins Grammar School, preparatory to entering Yale College. At the age of twenty-one he engaged in business, and for six years had charge of a large music store in New Haven. At the end of this time he came west, spent one year in Iowa, and in 1857 came to St. Paul, where he engaged in the music business with his brother, Russell C. Munger. The “Munger Brothers Orchestra” was a well-known musical organization in the early days of St. Paul, comprising R. S. Munger, R. C. Munger and William H. Munger.
Roger S. was largely instrumental in securing the capital and organizing the company that built the old Grand Opera House in St. Paul, on Wabasha, between Third and Fourth streets. In 1869 Mr. Munger settled in Duluth and formed a partnership in the lumber business, with R. A. Gray, which continued about six years. In 1872 the firm of Munger, Markell & Co. was organized, consisting of Mr. Munger, Clinton Markell, Russell C. Munger and another brother, Gilbert Munger, a distinguished American artist, who for several years resided in Paris and died there in 1903. The firm built the second elevator at the head of Lake Superior, known as Elevator No. 1, and which was burned in 1880. After a few years Russell C. and Gilbert Munger withdrew and the firm then became Munger & Markell. Mr. Munger was always closely connected with the grain and elevator business of the city. Under the joint management of himself and Col. C. H. Graves, the elevators of the Lake Superior Elevator Company, furnishing storage for 8,000,000 bushels of grain, were constructed. In 1883 the firm of Munger and Markell built the Grand Opera House in Duluth. A favorite project of Mr. Munger’s had long been the building of a large flouring mill in Duluth, and his hopes in that direction were at last realized by the building of the Imperial Mill. Through his exertions on June 30, 1888, the Imperial Mill Company was organized and capitalized for $1,000,000, with R. S. Munger, president; T. A. Olmstead, vice-president, and B. C. Church secretary and manager.
In September, 1889, the mill began grinding with a daily capacity of 6,000 barrels; soon afterward it was increased to 8,000 barrels, and was at one time the largest flouring mill in the world.
It was later absorbed by a trust and finally dismantled. Mr. Munger was also president of the Duluth Iron & Steel Company, which was organized in 1898, with a capital of $1,000,000, entirely through his efforts. Scarcely any large enterprise was for many years undertaken in Duluth in which Mr. Munger was not financially interested and to the success of which he did not materially contribute. At the time of the organization of the Duluth Iron & Steel Company in 1896 the Duluth “News- Tribune, ” in an editorial article, had the following to say: “It is Mr. Munger and Clinton Markell who have proved that Duluth was destined to be the great primary wheat shipping market of the country. To them belongs the credit of bringing here the great elevators that line both shores of the harbor. At that time there was little money for investment in Duluth or the country. Mr. Munger went east and by the indomitable presentation of a worthy cause, he raised the money for the building here of the first elevator system. The company complete, and the warehouses ready for grain, he made a long campaign out in the West and actually started the first movement of grain to Duluth.
Mr. Munger’s part in the birth of the flour-making industry is more generally appreciated, but the trials he experienced and the difficulties he overcame will never be fully realized even by a people grateful to him for his efforts. Mr. Munger was the laughing stock of Minneapolis when he began a campaign for the building of the first flour mill here. He finally succeeded in winning over Mr. B. C. Church, president of the Imperial Mill Company, and his friends, and the direct result of his efforts is to be seen in the present development in the flour-making industry at the head of the lakes. To Mr. Munger and his associates—he, chief of all—is due the credit of interesting lumbermen in the manufacture of lumber at West Duluth, and for the building of large sawmills and the investment in this city of one of the greatest lumber markets in the country. In the acquisition of other great industrial institutions, Mr. Munger has been very prominent, and, in fact, to his efforts, no less than to those of any other man, may be ascribed the building of West Duluth and the development of the commerce of the Zenith City as a whole. No one but a man of nerve and courage would at this time launch this great project for the building of a wire nail mill in Duluth.” In 1898, by an overwhelming majority of the votes cast, Mr. Munger was elected register of deeds, which office he held two years.
Mr. Munger was married at Vasselboro, Me., in 1858, to Miss Olive Gray. Of this marriage there are two daughters living, both married, in Duluth. One other child, a son, died while a young man. Mrs. Munger died in 1894. Roger S. Munger has always assisted, with both his influence and his purse, any enterprise that would advance the prosperity of Duluth and the country tributary to the city. His record of forty-one years as a resident of Duluth has caused his name to be known and respected throughout the Northwest, and he is admired for his enterprise and ambition and esteemed and honored by all.