Anoka County History: Charlie Horn’s gift to Anoka

Inscribed on the wall behind the receptionist’s desk at city hall are the words, “Anoka City Hall: A Gift to the City of Anoka from the Federal Cartridge Corporation. 1955.” On the landing of the stairwell as you walk from the first floor to the second is a bigger-than-life portrait of a handsome and distinguished looking man. Wearing a gray suit with vest, red tie, and matching carnation in his lapel, the commanding presence of this slightly balding man is accentuated by his waxed mustache. He stands with his right hand resting easily on a desk; his left hand holding what seems to be an air mail letter, so common to many during the days of World War II. Commissioned by the citizens of Anoka, this impressive portrait of Charles (Charlie) L. Horn was hung in this prominent place on June 16, 1956 “in order that the community might express collectively through a visible and enduring symbol the high esteem accorded Anoka’s friend and benefactor.”

Born in 1889, Charlie Horn took over a struggling machine shop on the outskirts of Anoka in 1922 and turned it into a major munitions manufacturer, Federal Cartridge. Anoka old-timers remember Horn as an astute businessman and national leader in the ammunition industry. His listed achievements include president, chairman of the board and director of Federal Cartridge; chairman and founder of Olin Foundation; president and director of Anoka Drop Forge Co. Inc.; president of American Ball Co. And he was the original founder of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute.

Horn was also a philanthropist; an effective advocate for education, conservation and human rights. His achievements in those areas included memberships on the Federal Fair Employment Practices Commission and the Minnesota Water Resources Board. He was both a member and a director of the Minnesota Energy Conservation Commission; vice-president and director of TAF Research Corporation; and chairman of the Minneapolis HRDA Commission.

Of Horn, a longtime Federal Cartridge employee wrote in the company magazine, Monarch, “He wasn’t just at the helm of Federal Cartridge Corporation, in a very real way, Charles L. Horn was Federal Cartridge.” During his 55 years at Federal Cartridge, Anoka’s largest employer, Horn’s company was the prime contributor to the city’s economic strength for four generations. But he was much more that a job provider.

In 1943 the Anoka City Council had had the foresight to authorize the purchase of the site of the former Pillsbury (Lincoln) Mill, destroyed in the tornado of 1939, but lacked the funds to build. A longtime employee of Federal Cartridge, Robert B. Ehlen, pitched the idea to Horn of making a series of gifts to create a building fund for a city hall. Actually, Ehlen was more than just any old employee. Starting as a messenger boy with the company, he had risen to the position of vice-president and manager. He was second only to Horn in command.  (Robert Ehlen may have had an ulterior motive in mind, considering he was also the mayor of Anoka from 1941 to 1953. A street intersecting with Seventh Avenue in Anoka is named for him.) All in all, the gifts Horn made both privately and though his company and foundation totaled $635,000, enough to not only build a city hall for Anoka, but to furnish and equip it as well. And for good measure he threw in a municipal swimming pool for the kids to enjoy.

The ground-breaking ceremony took place on a sub-zero day in February, 1955 and the building was completed in the spring of 1956. Horn officially presented the building to Mayor Carl Bonnell on June 16, 1956. The ceremony was accompanied by rousing speeches and festive music. Gov. Orville Freeman delivered the dedicating address and the city honored its benefactor, Horn by unveiling his portrait, the one now gracing the landing of Anoka City Hall.

In 2006 the city of Anoka installed four more historic panels – one below Horn’s portrait, the other three in the upstairs hallway – to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Anoka City Hall. Pictures and text tell the story of this great city father and the building of city hall.

Reflecting on the site chosen for the city hall in an editorial dated June 14th, 1956, the Anoka Herald editor wrote, “It’s appropriate that Anoka’s new city hall rises from the banks of the Rum River. It was the Rum and Mississippi Rivers that determined the city’s site and shaped its future. As the river dictated the early growth and development of Anoka, so will the future decisions concerning its welfare be made by the side of that same river, and history will continue to be made on its east bank at Anoka — in the new city hall.”

In today’s world where crony capitalism and corporate greed run rampant, we would do well to heed the advice of Charles L. Horn and follow his example. “Alone we can do nothing, but we can do something together in community service.” Horn died in 1978 at the age of 89. He lived a long and useful life. He was a great man.

June Anderson is a volunteer member of the Anoka County Historical Society. Join her and other docents this month for more history and mystery in the Ghosts of Anoka Tours. If you have a story to share, please contact her at [email protected]

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