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Anundsen, Brynild
(December 28, 1844–March 25, 1913)

–Decorah, Iowa, editor and publisher—was a poor immigrant who lived the Americandream. One in every seven Iowans was a Scandinavian in 1900, and virtually every Norwegian in the state, as well as many Danes and some Swedes, knew the name of Brynild Anundsen. He founded a small-town Iowa weekly, published in his native Norwegian, and built it into the largest circulation of any Norwegian-language newspaper in the world. In 1900 Decorah had only 3,246 residents, but Anundsen's Decorah Posten had 35,000 subscribers throughout Iowa, the nation, and Norway.

    Brynild Anundsen was born in Skien, Norway. His parents were poor laborers, and he went to work at the age of seven, attending school and taking night classes as time allowed. In his early teens, he got a job in a printing shop, which gave him the opportunity to learn a skilled trade. In his late teens, he went to sea. After a couple of years before the mast, he emigrated to America in 1864. In LaCrosse, Wisconsin, he became a typesetter for a Norwegian American newspaper. The Civil War was raging, and Anundsen enlisted in the Union army during the last year of the war.

    Back in LaCrosse in 1865, he married Mathilde Hoffstrom (1838-1889), a native of Sweden. They purchased a small printing press and in 1866 began to publish a Norwegian journal, Ved Arnen (By the Hearth). To pay the bills, Anundsen took a day job, and together they worked evenings in their garret printing shop.

    Meanwhile, Luther College, sponsored by the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, had been founded in 1861 and moved to Decorah the following year. By 1867 the college was flourishing. The synod wanted Anundsen to print its journal, Kirkelig Maanedstidende (Church Monthly), as well as hymnals and other books, so the Anundsens loaded their printing press and all of their belongings into two horse-drawn wagons and set off for Iowa in the depths of winter. They had one infant, and Mathilde was in the eighth month of her second pregnancy. They arrived in Decorah on December 15, 1867.

    Anundsen set up shop. He printed Kirkelig Maanedstidende, Ved Arnen (until 1870), biennial reports of the governor of Iowa (in Norwegian translation), and other Norwegian books and pamphlets. In 1870 he started a newspaper, Fra Fjærnt og Nær (From Far and Near), which only lasted a year. Undeterred, he launched another weekly newspaper, the Decorah Posten, in 1874. That one kept going for 99 years, until 1973.

    Previously, Anundsen had been editor, typesetter, printer, and publisher. Now, with business growing, he hired an immigrant schoolmaster, Bernt Askevold (1846-1926), to edit the newspaper. In years to come, Askevold would be followed by a series of distinguished editors, mostly immigrants from Norway or Denmark.

    Anundsen and his editors used all the tricks of 19th-century journalism to build up circulation. They printed popular Norwegian songs in the newspaper, ran off extra copies, and bound them to make a songbook. In 1884 Anundsen revived Ved Arnen as a literary supplement to the Decorah Posten and serialized a novel, Husmandsgutten (The Crofter Boy), by H. A. Foss (1851-1929), about a poor Norwegian boy who struck it rich in America and came home to marry the girl of his dreams. It was tremendously popular, and the Decorah Posten 's circulation soared to over 20,000. In 1889 it became the first Scandinavian newspaper in America to appear from a rotary press. In 1897 the newspaper became a biweekly, and for a short time in 1903 there was a daily edition. From 1918 to 1935 the Decorah Posten even contained an original comic strip, "Han Ole og Han Per" (Ole and Pete), drawn by Peter J. Rosendahl (1878-1942).

    The Decorah Posten emphasized news of politics, religion, human interest, and local events from Norway and Norwegian and Danish communities across North America. The paper paid little attention to sports and economics; readers could read about them in English publications. Unlike most newspapers of the era, the Decorah Posten remained strictly nonpartisan in politics and religion.

    Anundsen's first wife died in 1889. In 1901 he married Helma Beatha Hegg (1872-1951). In 1906 he represented the state of Iowa at the coronation of King Haakon V and Queen Maud and was dubbed a Knight First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. Brynild Anundsen died in Decorah. A century later the fourth generation of the Anundsen family was still running the Anundsen Publishing Company in Decorah.
Sources The Anundsen Publishing Company Papers are in the archives of the Winneshiek County Historical Society, Decorah, and the newspaper's history is in Odd S. Lovoll, " Decorah-Posten : The Story of an Immigrant Newspaper," Norwegian-American Studies 27 (1977), 77–100. Biographies of Anundsen include "Anundsen, Brynild," in History of the Scandinavians and Successful Scandinavians in the United States, ed. O. N. Nelson, 2nd ed. (1969); Edwin C. Bailey, "B. Anundsen," in Past and Present of Winneshiek County Iowa (1913); and Odd S. Lovoll, "Anundsen, Brynild," in Norsk Biografisk Leksikon (1999).
Contributor: John Robert Christianson