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Frank Carlson

Portrait of Frank Carlson, Kansas Governor, 1947-1950Politician. Republican. Born: January 23, 1893, Cloud County, Kansas.  Died: May 30, 1987, Cloud County, Kansas. Served in U.S. House of Representatives, 6th District: January 3, 1935, to January 3, 1947. Served as 30th Governor of Kansas: January 13, 1947, to November 28, 1950. Served in U.S. Senate: November 29, 1950, to January 3, 1969.

Frank Carlson, the son of Swedish immigrants, was born January 23, 1893. Prior to entering politics he made a living as a farmer in his native Concordia, Kansas. Anecdotally, Carlson was in a wheat field, cutting wheat, when four businessmen approached him in 1928 urging him to run for the Kansas House of Representatives. He won that election and served two terms. Following his tenure in the Kansas Legislature, he ran for election for the U. S. House of Representatives, winning three elections in 12 years. From there, Carlson turned his sights on the Kansas governor’s office, winning in 1946 and in 1948. After four years as governor, Carlson continued his political career in the U. S. Senate, serving there for 18 years. In all, Carlson won 13 out of 13 elections and spent 34 years in public office.

While governor, Carlson presided over the removal of prohibition in Kansas. “I’m a teetotaler,” claimed Carlson. “I don’t smoke or drink, but I have no quarrel with those who do. I’m a great believer in letting the people decide.”

When U. S. Senator Clyde Reed died in 1949, Governor Carlson appointed Harry Darby, a prominent Kansas City industrialist, to fill the vacancy.

Carlson’s administration as governor was known for extensive highway building programs, rural health programs, and reforms and improvements to Kansas’ mental hospitals. Prior to Carlson’s administration, Kansas had been rated as being in 40th place nationally in terms of the condition of its mental hospitals. By the summer of 1950, Kansas jumped to 11th place as a result of Carlson’s efforts to improve Kansas’ state mental health facilities.

Portrait of Frank Carlson, 1961While in the U. S. Senate, Carlson served on the committee that investigated the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy, censuring him in 1954. Carlson developed a reputation as being opposed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and supportive of President Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legislation. Carlson attributed his success to his serious attitude in handling matters of state and having a “common touch” in dealing with people.

After 18 years in the Senate, Carlson retired to his Cloud County farm where he died May 30, 1987.  Governor Mike Hayden remarked that Carlson was “one of [Kansas’] finest statesman and citizens.” Senator Bob Dole claimed that Carlson “wrote the book when it came to class,” and former Kansas governor and presidential candidate Alf Landon said that Carlson was “an outstanding Kansan, a faithful and dedicated public servant.”

Entry: Carlson, Frank

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2009

Date Modified: March 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.