Frank Carlson, Governor, U.S. Senator

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Frank Carlson

Death: 1987 (93-94)
Immediate Family:

Son of Carl Erik Carlson and Anna Cajsa Carlson
Brother of Edna Margareta Carlson

Managed by: Private User
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About Frank Carlson, Governor, U.S. Senator

Frank Carlson (January 23, 1893 – May 30, 1987) was an American politician who served as the 30th Governor of Kansas, Kansas State Representative, United States Representative, and United States Senator from Kansas. Carlson is the only Kansan to have held all four offices. His political career spanned 40 years, beginning in November 1928 and ending in January 1969.


Born in 1893 near Concordia, Kansas, he attended public schools and Kansas State University before serving in World War I as a Private. After the war, he returned to Concordia to farm. He was elected as a Republican to first the Kansas House of Representatives in 1928 and then to the United States House of Representatives where he served from 1935 to 1947.

In 1946 he was elected governor of Kansas. As governor, he pushed mental health programs as well as a long-term highway project. In 1949, Kansas State Senator Clyde M. Reed died, and Carlson appointed Harry Darby to fill the seat. Darby continued his service in the Senate until Carlson himself was elected to fill the seat in 1950. Instead of waiting until January to be sworn in, he took his seat on November 28, 1950 (it is very common for someone who is elected to a Senate seat that is at the time occupied by an unelected appointee to be sworn in early), leaving the office of governor to Frank L. Hagaman who served less than two months.

In 1952, he campaigned to get fellow Kansan Dwight D. Eisenhower into the White House, and then brokered a deal through Ohio Senator Robert Taft, known as "Mr. Republican", and became majority leader. According to Billy Graham's biography Just As I Am, Carlson invited Eisenhower to the Senate Prayer Breakfast, which thus became the first Presidential Prayer Breakfast, thereafter an annual assembly of all three branches of government, continuing to this day. Carlson was re-elected twice, in 1956 and 1962, before returning to Concordia for retirement.

Senator Carlson served a term as president of the United States Senate Prayer Breakfast Group. He was therein featured by U.S. News & World Report on July 1, 1968 by editor, David Lawrence, for his strong moral and spiritual influence in the nation's capital. He was also a member of the board of directors of World Vision.

Carlson died in 1987 in Concordia and was buried there in Pleasant Hill Cemetery. The federal court building in Topeka is named in his honor, US 81 from the Nebraska state line north of Belleville to Salina is named the "Frank Carlson Memorial Highway", the Frank Carlson Library in Concordia is named in his honor, and Wichita State University hosts the Frank Carlson Lecture Series.

Frank Carlson: Prairie Politician

In April 2011, the Frank Carlson Library in Concordia, Kansas received a mini grant from the Kansas Humanities Council to renovate the library’s Frank Carlson Room. The grant funded the development of a new exhibit dedicated to telling new generations of Kansans about Carlson’s life and political career. Coinciding with the yearlong Kansas 150 Commemoration, the renovation was part of a statewide initiative to preserve the memory of important people and events in the state’s past. Senator Frank Carlson is the only Kansan to have held four major public offices and is known as “Kansas’ Favorite Son”.

The renovation project replaced the original Frank Carlson display, created in 1976 and shown until the summer of 2011. The new exhibit, Frank Carlson: Prairie Politician, tells and preserves Senator Carlson’s story through an updated exhibit and modern archival techniques. The exhibit showcases Carlson memorabilia, photographs, and items from the Senator’s personal collection, which is housed in the Frank Carlson Library. Senator Carlson’s story is told in three parts, beginning with his childhood and church leadership in Concordia, Kansas, following him through his forty-year political career, and celebrating his legacy as a political figure and an important local figure.

Frank Carlson: Prairie Politician opened to the public on November 5, 2011. The open house was attended by Carlson’s family and friends, members of the local community, and state representatives. Library visitors can view the exhibit. Guided tours are available upon request.

The “Frank Carlson: Prairie Politician” exhibit is the only tribute of its kind to Senator Carlson’s life and political career. Until the publication of a forthcoming Carlson biography, the exhibit will serve as the primary space for the preservation and presentation of Carlson’s story. This effort to create a cohesive narrative about Senator Carlson will appreciate in value over time, as fewer Kansans have personal recollections of the senator.

The exhibit portrays Carlson as both a well-liked local farmer and a beloved senator who worked hard to represent the needs of his constituents. It conveys the positive feelings that the people of Concordia and Kansas have toward Carlson and their interest in celebrating his life. Carlson often said, “There are no self-made men. It is your friends who make you what you are.” The new display recognizes both his national importance and his legacy as a significant local figure. He is remembered politically as a great compromiser for his ability to garner support for legislation from both Republican and Democratic congressmen. He is also remembered for his dedication to local youth programs, such as 4-H and FFA, for his determination to keep his farm running while serving in office, and for being an active and positive member of the Cloud County community throughout his life.

Among the items on display are a check from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, written to Carlson in settlement of a friendly bet, several pens used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign important legislation that Carlson supported, and Carlson’s elephant figurine collection. The exhibit also includes artifacts that tie Carlson to his hometown and home state. On display are the school bell from the schoolhouse Carlson attended in Cloud County, Kansas, caricatures and political cartoons drawn by fellow Concordian Don Musik, and keepsakes on loan from Carlson’s friends and family.

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