John Olson

John Olson, who is now living retired in Sheboygan, is one of the best known lake men in this section, as for more than thirty years he owned and commanded a schooner, which sailed from this port. Prior to locating here, he followed the sea for several years, and during that time visited many of the most important ports of the world, rounding the Cape of Good Hope twice and Cape Horn four times.

He was born in Demnark on the 2nd of May, 1851, and is a son of Ole Peterson, as under the old nomenclature the son took the first name of the father. The father was likewise a native of Denmark, where he engaged in farming until his death, which occurred in 1871.

The education of John Olson was acquired in the common schools in the vicinity of his home, the first seventeen years of his life having been passed on his father's farm. The sea had a wonderful fascination for this youth and in 1868, he left the parental roof and shipped on a sailing vessel, plying between ports on the North Sea and also the Baltic. Later he engaged in the ocean service, visiting various ports of Europe, South America and Africa. His first long voyage was from Hamburg to Africa and back, following which he went to South America with a cargo of general merchandise, returning to Barcelona, Spain, whence he again sailed for South America, their port being Valparaiso, where they unloaded a cargo consisting largely of wines. He was there at the time of the terrible earthquake of 1872, and upon his return to Europe, went to Denmark, spending a few months in his old home. In the spring of 1873, he sailed for the United States, with Milwaukee as his destination, and soon thereafter obtained a position as sailor on one of the lake boats.

He later held the position of second mate on the Schooner Delaware for two seasons, and in 1877 bought the Schooner Cynthia Gordon. Much to his surprise he then learned he could not obtain a captain's license as he was not a citizen of the United States, so he turned her over to the command of Captain John C. Jessen, a stanch friend of his, under whose name it sailed for two years thereafter. During that time Captain Olson took out his citizen's papers and subsequently took command of his schooner. Captain Jessen, who was absolutely faithful to his trust, later became the owner of several boats on the lake, largely used for freighting lumber and wood. In 1881, the year following his marriage, Captain Olson bought a farm of fifty-three acres located on the Black River road, two miles south of Sheboygan, where he resided for many years. In connection with the cultivation of his land he bought and sold tan bark to the various tanning industries and also sailed the lake. In 1888, he purchased the Schooner J. H. Stevens, which he rebuilt and two years later lengthened twenty feet, increasing her capacity to eighty-nine tons. He still owns this schooner, which is now sailed by his son, as he has not followed the lakes since 1906. while for three years he has been living retired. He sold his farm in 1909 and removed to Sheboygan, where he is now residing.

Captain Olson was married to Mrs. Louisa Larson, the widow of Captain Peter Larson, and a daughter of Captain Martin Johnson. The father is a native of Norway, and one of the pioneers of Sheboygan county, having located here in 1854. He engaged in ship-building, assisted in the construction of some of the largest boats that ever left this port, and also sailed the lakes. He has attained the venerable age of eighty-seven years and is now living retired in Sheboygan.

To Mr. and Mrs. Olson there were born seven children: Louis, captain of the J. H. Stevens, who is married and residing in Sheboygan; Porter, a plumber, who is also married and residing in this city; Agnes, the wife of William Bickle, connected with Bodenstein Brothers Clothing House, of Sheboygan; Julia, who married W. H. Labb, who is engaged in the amusement business; Emma, the wife of Arthur Smith, who is employed in the clothing house of Browning, King & Company, of Milwaukee; Henrietta, who married Dr. Charles G. Shannon, a practicing physician, of Chicago, Illinois; and Eleanor, who is at home with her parents.

Captain Olson is a genial, affable man and has many interesting reminiscences to relate of his life at sea and on the lakes, gathered through his wide and varied experiences by keen observation. He has never regretted becoming a citizen of the United States, as he has prospered in his undertakings, and is perfectly loyal to the institutions of the country, where he numbers many stanch friends.


Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL