Val Peterson, Governor

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Val Frederick Demar Erastus Peterson

Birthplace: Oakland, Burt, Nebraska, United States
Death: October 17, 1983 (80)
Fremont, Dodge, Nebraska, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Henry C. Peterson and Hermanda Fredericka Swanberg
Husband of Elizabeth Howells Peterson
Brother of Frederick N. Peterson

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Val Peterson, Governor

Frederick Valdemar Erastus Peterson (July 18, 1903 – October 17, 1983), also known as Val Peterson, was an American politician who served as the 26th Governor of Nebraska from 1947 to 1953; as director of the Federal Civil Defense Administration from 1953–1957; as U.S. ambassador to Denmark 1957–1961; and as U.S. ambassador Finland, 1969–1973.


Peterson was born in Oakland, Nebraska the son of Henry C. Peterson and Hermanda (Swanberg) Peterson. He received his BA degree from Wayne State Teachers College and a master's degree in political science from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Following 1933, Peterson maintained his permanent residence in Elgin, Nebraska.


Peterson worked as a teacher, school administrator, and newspaper man. He was the Elgin superintendent of schools and was the publisher of The Elgin Review for ten years. During World War II he served as lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Air Forces.

Peterson first entered politics as the campaign manager for the Hugh Butler 1940 U.S. senatorial bid. He also was the administrative assistant and secretary to Governor Dwight Griswold from 1941 to 1942. Peterson next secured the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and was elected governor in November 1946. He was reelected to a second term in 1948, and to a third term in 1950.

During his tenure, the Missouri River basin development was endorsed and highway revenue initiatives were sought. Also during Peterson's term, he chaired the State Governors Conference and presided over the Council of State Governments in 1952. In December 1951, Governor Peterson appointed Fred Andrew Seaton to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Kenneth S. Wherry.

Peterson served in the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration as director of the Federal Civil Defense Administration from 1953–1957. As Federal Civil Defense Administrator, Peterson is reputed to have speculated about the possibility of creating a cobalt doomsday bomb. Peterson served as U.S. ambassador to Denmark, from 1957–1961 and U.S. ambassador to Finland, from 1969–1973.

Peterson died October 17, 1983 in Fremont, Nebraska. He is interred at Oakdale Cemetery, Oakdale, Nebraska.

Peterson Fine Arts Building

The Peterson Fine Arts building at his alma mater, Wayne State College, was named in his honor. A variety of autographed photographs representing his political career (particularly a full Eisenhower Cabinet photo with autographs of each member, as well as a personally inscribed color photograph of Richard Nixon) were on display for many years at the Wayne State library. However, the photos began to deteriorate due to exposure, and had to be removed; they are still in the possession of the college.

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Val Peterson, Governor's Timeline

July 18, 1903
Oakland, Burt, Nebraska, United States
October 17, 1983
Age 80
Fremont, Dodge, Nebraska, United States