Carlson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Carlson Meaning
Karl or Carl is a Scandinavian
first name that is derived from the German word karl
meaning “man” or “free man.”
Karl/Carl as a patronymic surname became Karlsson/Carlsson in
less frequently Karlsen/Carlsen in Denmark and Norway.
Ingvar Carlsson was the Swedish Prime
Minister in the 1990’s; while Magnus Carlsen from Norway is the current
chess champion.
Scandinavian surnames were rarely
hereditary in the manner of German or British surnames until the 18th
at the earliest.  In fact the use of hereditary surnames that were
down from father to son only became mandatory in the mid-19th century.  Thus it was that Carl and Helga Erickson came to America in 1861 with their son Swan Carlson.

Carlson Resources on

Carlson Ancestry

is the third most common
surname in Sweden.  Swedish immigration
to America began in the 1850’s.  Many
came from the province of Smaland in southern Sweden where there had
been much
social distress and poverty at that time.

However, the Karlssons or Carlssons arriving in America
invariably had
their spelling changed to Carlson.  Thus
Emil Karlsson who came through Elis Island in 1922 had his name changed
Karlsson to Carlson at that time. Carlsons
in America number around 60,000.

America.  Swedes like the Carlsons
generally made for
the American Midwest.  The largest number
then and still today are to be found in Minnesota.

Minnesota.  Many came, like Gustaf
Carlson in 1858, with
little money and no English.

“Gustaf Carlson arrived in Winona county with only
a few hundred dollars.  Neither he nor
his family could speak a word of English and knew nothing of the
customs of the
land.  Yet he secured some land, owned a
fine farm, and prospered.”

Carl Carlson made his home in Stockholm township in
Wright county in 1867.  He cleared the
land for his farm and helped in the building of the Lutheran church.  His son Carl moved
to Cokato in 1888 and ran the Western Hotel there for
twenty-five years.

Carlson meanwhile came with his family to Hibbing, Minnesota in 1893 in
the early
days of the mining boom town on the Mesabi iron range.
Lois Carlson Willand’s 2007 book The Carlson Family
in Hibbing
his family.

Charles Carlson arrived in the 1890’s and made
his home in Minneapolis.  He went to work
for a wholesale grocery firm and later started his own neighborhood
store.   His son Curt Carlson, born in 1914,
started a retail trading stamp business
during the Great Depression which, after the War, expanded into one of the largest
family-held corporations in America.

Leroy F. Carlson,
born in 1892, opened the Main Motors car dealership in Anoka in 1919
and it has
remained in family hands ever since.  A
descendant Gretchen Carlson was crowned Miss America in 1989 and later
became a
TV commentator.

Arne Carlson became
Governor of Minnesota in 1990.  He had,
however, been born to Swedish immigrant parents in New York and had
first come
to Minnesota as a graduate student in 1957.

Kansas.  Carlsons also made it
to Kansas.  Swan Carlson came to farm in Saline county in 1869.  John August Carlson, just a boy at the time,
came in the same year.  He worked as a
cattle herder and farm hand and then in the packing business in Kansas
City.  Eventually, in 1898, he was able
to buy farming land in Wyandotte county.

Charles and Anna Carlson arrived in the
1890’s and made their home near Concordia in Cloud county.
Their son Frank Carlson
was a farmer who accidentally became a politician.

“Frank Carlson served as Governor of Kansas, Kansas
State Representative,
US Representative, and US Senator for Kansas.
He is the only Kansan to have held all four offices.  His political career spanned forty years,
beginning in November 1928 and ending in January 1969.”

.  John
early in California, first arriving in San Francisco by sea in the
1840’s and
then starting a hotel up the coast in Mendocino county.

Among other Carlsons found West were:

  • Billy Carlson who came to San
    Francisco from Sweden in 1870.  He can be
    considered one of the founders of San Diego and served as its mayor
    during the
    1890’s.  However, he was a land
    speculator of dubious practices and spent time in federal prison.
  • Eddie
    Carlson, born in Tacoma, Washington in 1911, who became a civic leader
    Seattle and later ran United Airlines.  
  • and Paul Carlson, the son of Swedish
    immigrants Gustav and Ruth Carlson, who was born in Culver City in
    1928.  He was a medical missionary in the
    Congo murdered by rebel insurgents in 1964.  He
    is commemorated by the Carlson Park in
    Culver City today.

Canada.  The Canadian West opened up
later than the American West so that Carlsons arrived there later.

Nels Carlson came to Manitoba from Sweden in
1888.  After trying different things, he
made his home in Whitewater in 1891 and brought his wife and children
over from
Sweden.  In 1932 Nels and Karna Carlson
celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Whitewater.

Sven and Huloa Carlson came to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1911.  They
homesteaded at Spearhill nearby.   Their story was covered in
Dianne Olmstead’s 1996 book Journey
in the Footstps of Our Forefathers

Some arrived from
Emil Carlson came from Illinois
to Melville, Saskatchewan in 1912; Anton Carlson from South Dakota to
Preeceville, Saskatchewan around the year 1920; and Victor Carlson from
Minnesota to Vancouver at a slightly later date


Select Carlson Miscellany

Carlsons, Karlssons and Karlsens Today

Numbers (000’s) Carlson Karlsson/Carlsson Karlsen/Carlsen
Denmark    4/7
Norway 24/3
Sweden   189/33
America 60

John Carlson, California Pioneer.  In 1843, at the age of
sixteen, John Carlson left his home in Sweden and began his seafaring
life.  He based himself in California,
first sailing to Rio de Janeiro, then to China, and then to Panama.

In 1852 he
departed San Francisco and headed up the coast to Big River in
county.  He sailed as a seaman with the
opportunity of working at the mill, the machinery for which was on
board the
vessel.  He remained at work there at
various employments for a term of six years.

In 1857 he started in the hotel
business.  In 1870 his hotel, uninsured,
was totally destroyed by fire.
Undeterred, he had built a new hotel and soon outgrew his loss.  It was said that he so well-known and liked
along the coast, and in fact all over the country, that a stranger
would be
told to go to his hotel for the best of accommodations.

Swan Carlson in Kansas.  Swan
Carlson was only nineteen when he came to
America in 1869 with his parents and settled in Kansas.

He soon found work
during the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and for nine
years was
engaged chiefly in railroad labor.  In
1871, after just two years in Kansas, he took up a homestead some two
north of the present town of Falun in Saline county.
That farm was to be his place of residence
for the next forty-five years.

Over that time he had acquired all those things
which men of ambition most desire.  He
had bought land front time to time until he was the owner of more than
acres, making him one of the largest landowners in Saline county.

However, his
death was premature.  On August 7, 1916 he
was driving a hay rake when the horse ran away.
In falling his skull was fractured and he died.
He left behind a wife, five sons and three

Frank Carlson, Kansas Farmer.  In a 1983 interview, Senator Carlson said that he had never intended to enter politics. But in 1928, while
he was busy harvesting wheat at his farm, a group of friends came to
his farm
and asked permission to file his name as a candidate for the state

“I told them I didn’t have time to fool with that,” he
remembered. “They assured me I wouldn’t have to worry, that I wouldn’t

They were wrong.  Between 1928 and 1968, he ran for
thirteen times and was victorious in every election.

After leaving politics, Senator Carlson and his wife
Alice went home to
the 500-acre family farm near Concordia.
For more than a decade after leaving office, he could be seen
driving a
tractor, plowing a field or baling hay.
He died in 1987 at the age of ninety-four.

Curt Carlson and His Trading Stamp Venture.  Curt Carlson was the son of a Swedish immigrant who became a neighborhood grocer in Minneapolis
in the
early 1900’s.

He was a golf caddy at
nine, had his first newspaper route at eleven and quickly added two
others. He
also operated a newsstand at a busy intersection, worked his way
college driving a soft-drink truck and engaged in a little light
loansharking.  He would lend
cash-strapped tellers $5 on a Friday and collect $6 on payday the

At a time when some local department stores were seeking
to assure
repeat business by giving customers Security Red trading stamps
for premiums, Curt Carlson realized that such stamps would be ideal for
stores, whose identical products left them little room to distinguish
themselves from the pack.

Acting on his vision, Carlson created the Gold Bond
Stamp Company in 1938, with a $55 loan and a bit of skulduggery:  He paid a department store secretary $10 for
a copy of the Security Red Stamp master contract.  This
became his blueprint.

The idea was that a
grocer would pay Mr. Carlson $14.50 for stamps that could be exchanged
products that cost $10 wholesale but had a much higher retail value.
That made
the stamps attractive to the grocer and to the store’s customers, but
not at
first glance to Carlson, whose $4.50 spread would barely cover costs

The magic of the business was that while the grocer would
pay for the
stamps as they were issued, it might be months before customers
enough stamps to redeem them and some would not be redeemed at all,
leaving Mr.
Carlson with the float – the use of the money – for other investments.

The trick
was to sell the program to enough stores to create a sizable float.  But as a salesman, Curt Carlson – who married
his college sweetheart, Arlene Martin about the time he started the
business –
was shameless. To draw attention to his program he had his wife dress
up in an
eye-catching drum majorette uniform and march through prospective
extolling the glories of Gold Bond stamps.

1941 he had signed up two hundred accounts.
But shortages created by World War Two made sales incentives
and for a while he had to take a job with his father-in-law’s clothing

Carlson was the first entrepreneur to develop a
loyalty program for the grocery chain through the issuance of trading
What began as a simple loyalty program for grocers in the Midwest grew
World War Two into one of the largest service providers of frequent
shopper/buyer programs across a variety of retail and hospitality


Carlson Names

  • Frank Carlson served as Governor and as
    Senator of Kansas in a political career that lasted from 1928 to 1969. 
  • Chester Carlson was the inventor of the
    photocopying process which he patented in 1937 and which was later taken up by
    the Xerox Corporation.   
  • Curt Carlson expanded his retail
    trading stamp business started in Minneapolis in 1938
    into one of the largest
    family-held corporations in America. 
  • Eddie Carlson was a Seattle business executive who organized the 1962
    World’s Fair and later became the CEO of United Airlines

Select Carlson Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Carlson and Like Surnames.

These were originally Scandinavian patronymic surnames, with conversion usually from the Scandinavian “-sen” and “-sson” to the American “-son” on arrival or soon afterwards.  Here are some of the Scandinavian surnames that you can check out.




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