December 17, 1991: Death of John A. Blatnik

On this day in 1991, John A. Blatnik—the long-time congressional representative of Minnesota’s 8th District—died of a heart attack in his home  in Forest Heights, Maryland. He was 81. Blatnik was born in Chisholm in 1911. He spent eight years in teaching in St. Louis County schools until he was elected to the Minnesota Senate at age 29 in 1940. In 1946 he was elected to Congress and served 13 terms, until 1975. According to a 1991 St. Paul Pioneer Press story about his passing, “Blatnik entered Congress in 1947 at age 35 in a freshman class that included Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. At the time, he was the only Democrat from the Upper Midwest in a House controlled by Republicans…. By the mid-1960s, the political pendulum had swung to the Democrats, and Blatnik became a powerful force in the House.” In 1957 he chaired a House subcommittee that investigated the tobacco industry’s claim that filter cigarettes were “safer to smoke”; the study called the statement “completely phony.” While he rescued a bill to create Voyageur’s National Park, but when Reserve Mining was dumping taconite tailings into Lake Superior, he was initially reluctant to take action. Blatnik was a big supporter of the St. Lawrence Seaway, helped pass the 1972 Clean Water Act. When he retired after 28 years in office (1947–1975), Jim Oberstar—Blatnik’s administrative assistant—took his place in Congress. Oberstar served until January, 2011. In 1971 the Duluth-Superior Bridge was renamed in his honor.

John A. Blatnik. (Image: Library of Congress)