April 1, 1909: William J. Olcott named president of the Oliver Mining Company

On this day in Duluth in 1901, William J. Olcott was elected president of the Oliver Iron Mining Company. Olcott was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 22, 1862, and raised in Marquette; Marquette in his native state. He attended the University of Michigan, studying chemistry and mining while playing a starring role on the Wolverine football team as the starting “three-quarter back” from 1881 to 1883 and captain of the 1882 and 1883 teams. After graduating in 1883 he took a job as assistant engineer for the Chapin mine on the Menominee Range on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before becoming chemist and engineer for the for several other U.P. mining companies in Wakefield and Hurley before going to work for John D. Rockefeller’s Penokee and Gogebic Consolidated Iron Mines in Bessemer. In February, 1894, Rockefeller made Olcott superintendent of the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mines shortly after he had taken control of the company from West Duluth’s Merritt family. In 1901 he was made president of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway, leaving on this day in 1909 to take the Oliver Mining presidency. That same year he also filled in as the temporary general superintendent of the mines controlled by the United States Steel Corporation—a job that, coincidentally enough, also started on April 1. Olcott retired in 1928 and died April 29, 1935. Virginia, Minnesota’s Olcott Park, is named in his honor. In 1904 Olcott and his wife Fannie hired Duluth architect William Bray to design a Colonial Revival home at 2316 East First Street by William Bray. Historian Jill Larson notes that the house “served as the Music Conservatory for the University of Minnesota Duluth from 1939 to 1960.” After that the Golden Hour Evangelistic Association owned it until about 1989. Since then the house has operated as the Olcott House Bed & Breakfast Inn.

A sketch of William J, Olcott ca. 1910. (Image: Duluth Public Library)