Duluth Christmas History
And Now a Bit of Northland Christmas History
By Nick Schutz & Kyle Chisholm
Last year we introduced a bit of Christmas history – specifically a history of the Christmas tree itself! This year, we’re focusing a little closer to home and delving into a historic business that played a major role in many, many Northland Christmas celebrations… Halvorson Tree Company.
Halvorson Tree Company was started in 1929 by Roy Halvorson – the son of Norwegian Immigrants and a lifelong Duluthian. Roy’s homegrown business produced small, colored Christmas trees – silver, gold, white, and even pink! And by the late 1930’s, Halvorson Tree Company was one of the largest Christmas tree farms in the United States and sold its unique trees across the country. At its height, the company’s preserved spruce tree tops were so popular that its sales topped 1.5 million trees per year by 1960!
Here’s how it worked… Christmas tree production began by cutting off the tops of black spruce which didn’t have a lot of economic uses. Black spruce trees were tall and spindly, but the top 3-4 feet were perfect for miniature Christmas trees. The spruce tips were cut, bundled, and shipped to Duluth for processing at a plant located on South Lake Avenue (near the Dewitt-Seitz Building). The trees were dipped into a fire-resistant colored sealer – to give the trees their characteristic green, silver, white, or pink color – and placed on a conveyor-system of drying racks.
Halvorson also invented an innovative synthetic sap called “the sap of life” that prolonged prolong the tree’s shelf life. The colored Christmas trees were then packed into cardboard boxes and placed cold storage until shipment.
Ho, ho, ho… and the story doesn’t end there… Halvorson Trees used Bombardier tractors in their harvesting operations – as you can imagine these “sleds” were pretty helpful. So seeing another great opportunity, Halvorson Equipment, Inc. was formed in 1956 and became a regional Bombardier tractor distributor. Halvorson Equipment introduced the first Ski-Doo snowmobiles in the area during the winter of 1959-1960… you’ve probably heard of that brand. No joke, at one time Halvorson Equipment was the largest snowmobile distributor in the world.
Let’s take it one step further. Halvair, located at the Duluth International Airport, was the aviation division of Halvorson Equipment. The company sold and serviced Cessna and Beechcraft airplanes and provided maintenance services for business and private aircraft. They operated an aircraft radio service center and provided flight instruction in addition to other charter plane service.
This is a great story of a local entrepreneur creating an economic opportunity that benefitted the entire community. Ok… kudos to Halvorson… let’s move on to some info about this year’s community tree in Downtown Duluth.
The 2017 Duluth Community Christmas Tree
On October 3, Minnesota Power announced the start of its annual Christmas tree search. According to their specifications, Minnesota Power was looking or a tree that had been cultivated within 10 miles of Downtown Duluth. The tree needed to be a minimum of 40ft tall and, of course, it had to be a spruce or pine.
Minnesota Power received 26 entries and the ultimate winner was a 45-foot tall white pine from the Lakeside neighborhood home of Laurie and Rodney Carlson. The tree was cut down on Wednesday, November 8th and transported to the Minnesota Power Plaza – on the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street – on a large flatbed truck and hoisted into place by a giant crane.