February 9, 1913: Birth of lift bridge supervisor Harold Bilsey

On this day in Duluth in 1913, future aerial bridge boss Harold Bilsey was born in West Duluth. Bilsey, who lifted the bridge for the first time on September 16, 1946, grew up in West Duluth and graduated from Denfeld High School in 1931. His father owned Bilsey Grocery in West Duluth, but when he died in 1925, Harold and his stepbrothers and mother were left to run the store; young Harold learned how to cut meat. In World War II he signed on with the Navy and served two years aboard the USS Iowa. He returned to Duluth with a taste for the sea, and after a brief stint with Coolerator took a job that allowed him to stay in close contact with ships and ore boats. The skills he learned in his father’s grocery never left him; even after he took the job as bridge operator, Bilsey moonlighted as a butcher. Bilsey and his wife Clara raised two daughters in Duluth. He retired in 1976 after serving just two years as supervisor, the shortest tenure of any Lift Bridge boss except Larry Lyons, who spent most of his career working alongside Billsey and replaced him when he retired. (Lyons and Billsey started on the bridge at about the same time; Lyons would work on the bridge only twenty-three months and fifteen days more that his work companion of over thirty years.) Bilsey and Clara moved to Apple Valley, Minnesota, after he retired to be closer to their daughter Barbara and her children. He died in 2003. Read about other bridge bosses and operators here.

Long-time Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge operator and supervisor Harold Bilsey. (Image: Zenith City Press)