At this unique shop, they sold milk cans and motorcyles

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 20, 2002

Before the era when motorcycles in Albert Lea became synonymous with the names of Vandegrift and Bergdale, there was an earlier name which could been really responsible for these two-wheel vehicles gaining their initial popularity in the area. This name was Knatvold, and the firm which sold these pioneer motorcycles was the Northern Creamery Supply Co.

The person responsible for this rather unusual combination of creamery supplies and motorcycles was Edward W. Knatvold and his family. He was born on April 11, 1851, near Drammen, Norway. The Knatvold family came to the U.S. by way of Canada in 1862 and by the fall of that year arrived in Freeborn County.

Within a few years this family was living on a farm place near the east end of Albert Lea Lake and not far from Hayward. Edward stayed on the family farm until the age of 21, then bought his own farm acreage in Hayward Township.

Email newsletter signup

He became married in 1874 and eventually became the father of seven children. Edward farmed until 1891, then moved to Albert Lea to join two of his brothers in the retail hardware business.

In 1897, this particular member of the Knatvold family recognized there could real potential in the business of providing area creameries with a source for equipment and supplies. One historical account says he was the founder of what was originally named the Northern Creamery Supply House. Another historical source implies that this firm was already existing by 1897 when Knatvold purchased the business..

The firm’s building was located at the corner of South Newton (then designated as a street, and now an avenue) and East William Street. About 1904 this corner location was appropriated for the construction of a new Albert Lea Post Office which was completed in 1905.

Knatvold then moved his business to the next building to the north which was shared with the Albert Lea Corset Co., a harness shop, and Motor Supply. (This structure is now the recently remodeled Knutson Building.)

Edward Knatvold became involved with local political life and served several terms as an alderman (council member), as president of the city council, and as the city’s mayor in 1903-04, and again in 1915-17. He died on Sept. 20, 1933, and is buried in the Hayward Cemetery.

In 1910 Edward decided to retire and turn the business over to his two sons, Burt (sometimes referred to as Bert) and Haldor.

At this time there were 28 operating creameries in Freeborn County. Every hamlet in the region seemed to have a creamery as one of its landmark firms. As a result, business for the Northern Creamery Supply House was expanding to meet this increasing demand for supplies and equipment.

Just who can be credited for the firm becoming a dealer for the Indian brand of motorcycles may now not be known. It could have been Edward, and more likely his sons.

Bicycles had become a national fad in the 1890s. In the early 1900s, several mechanics and inventors devised a way to put a small gas engine and a chain drive on a basic bicycle to create a crude form of the motorcycle. Thus, another popular fad was created for the young men of the nation.

A letterhead for this firm dated 1916 declared it was a jobber and retailer of creamery, dairy and thresher’s supplies, plus motorcycles and motorcycle supplies.

Burt Knatvold later sold his portion of the business to his brother Haldor. And when Haldor Knatvold died in July 1940, ownership and management of the Northern Creamery Supply Co. went to his son, also named Edward, a third generation member of this pioneer Freeborn County family.

In time, the popularity of motorcycling declined and the Harley-Davidson brand replaced the Indian models in this area. Also, the number of creameries and dairies continued to decrease. Thus, the two major pillars of business for this firm gradually faded away. The last listing for the Northern Creamery Supply Co. was in the 1950 city directory.