Seventeenth Minnesota governor Adolph Olson (A.O.) Eberhart lived the classic American story of an immigrant who achieved success through hard work and ability.
Eberhart was born Olaf Adolf Olsson in Kil, Värmland, Sweden, on June 23, 1870. His parents were farmers in Sweden, but hard economic times led them to immigrate to the United States in 1881. They did not have enough money to move the entire family, so they left Adolph behind with his aunt and uncle, who wanted to adopt him. One year later, at age eleven, Adolph joined his parents in St. Peter, Minnesota, because he missed them. The next year, 1883, the family moved to Nebraska.
Adolph stayed in Nebraska for the next eight years, farming and getting an education where possible. In 1891, at age twenty-one, he left farming and returned to St. Peter to attend Gustavus Adolphus College.
Adolph studied there from 1891 to 1895. He had about a fourth grade education when he arrived at the college. Four years later, he graduated at the top of his class after completing both high school- and college-level courses on an accelerated schedule. While at Gustavus Adolphus College, he gave himself a new last name, Eberhart, so he would not be confused with the many other Olsons on campus.
He took his new name, Adolph Olson Eberhart, and his college degree to Mankato, where he studied law and set up his own private practice within a few years. In 1898, he married Adele Koke, who also lived in Mankato. They eventually had five children.
Eberhart had long been determined to improve the condition of public schools, especially in rural areas, and he saw politics as the best way to do it. Shortly after starting his law practice, he decided to run for office. He won his first race, securing a state senate seat in 1902. At age thirty-two, he was the youngest state senator in the 33rd legislative session.
Eberhart, a Republican, became lieutenant governor in 1907 under legendary Democratic governor John A. Johnson. After Johnson's untimely death in 1909, Eberhart took over as governor and subsequently won the office twice on his own merits. He served as governor of Minnesota from September 21, 1909, to January 5, 1915.
Eberhart was an efficient administrator and a skilled politician, but he was unable to earn a third full term as governor. Another defeat, this time in the 1916 US Senate primary, marked the end of his political career. After working as a real estate and insurance executive in Chicago, he retired to a rest home in Savage. He died on December 6, 1944.
Adolph Olson (A.O.) Eberhart's choice to enter Gustavus Adolphus College in 1891 changes the course of his life from that of a farmer to that of a lawyer, politician, and governor of Minnesota.