N. O. Nelson

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N. O. Nelson

Nils Olas Nelson (September 11, 1844 - October 5, 1922) was an American industrialist and businessman who was the founder of the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company.


Nelson was born the son of Anders Nelson at Lillesand in Aust-Agder, Norway. His family immigrated to the United States in 1847. He grew up on the farm of his parents near St. Joseph, Missouri. After serving in the American Civil War, he was introduced into a career in accounting. He became a bookkeeper for a plumbing fixtures firm in St. Louis, Missouri.[1]

N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Co.[edit]

In 1877, he started the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company in St. Louis, Missouri. Once he had established his business, he moved from simply wholesaling items to manufacturing items dealing with the area of plumbing. The company manufactured and distributed plumbing supplies of all kinds, including faucets, water closets, water heaters, valves and fire hydrants. In 1888, Nelson decided to relocate the manufacturing facility from St. Louis to a rural area. In 1890 a suitable location was found across the Mississippi River in Madison County, Illinois. The complex was designed by St. Louis architect Edward A. Cameron (1861-1899) specifically for the Nelson Manufacturing Company.[2][3]

Leclaire, Illinois[edit]

In 1890, N.O. Nelson founded the village of Leclaire as a model company town. The development of Leclaire started with the original plat design by engineer, surveyor and city planner Julius Pitzman (1837-1923). Nelson named the community after French economist and businessman, Edme-Jean Leclaire, who had inaugurated employee profit sharing in France. Leclaire was a model cooperative offering affordable homes, free education, opportunities for recreation, and employment at the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company. Nelson implemented profit sharing and employee benefits. In 1902, he founded a cooperative store in Leclaire.[4][5]

Nelson's vision was influenced by the progressive theory his era including that of Sedley Taylor, professor at Trinity College, Cambridge and his 1885 essays On Profit Sharing Between Capital and Labor. In 1895, Nelson had been a delegate to the meeting in London, England of the Co-operation and Profit Sharing Associations of the World. Nelson was also responsible for the organization within the Greater St. Louis area of many recreational and cultural activities for the underprivileged.[6][7]

In 1934, the city of Edwardsville, Illinois annexed the village. Today the LeClaire Historic District has most of the original structures and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. The renovated N. O. Nelson factory buildings are now the historic N. O. Nelson Campus of Lewis and Clark Community College.[8][9][10] The complex is host to college classes, the Confluence Fab lab and the LeClaire Room reception venue.

Personal life[edit]

He was married in 1868 to Almeria Posegate (1844-1918). They were the parents of five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood: Julia (1869-1960) and Charlotte (1878-1963). N.O. Nelson died in Los Angeles, California at the age of 78. Both N. O. and Almeria Nelson were buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis City, Missouri.[11]


  1. ^ Norwegians in the Civil War (Vesterheim Civil War Database)
  2. ^ N. O. Nelson Co. - St. Louis, MO (Former Hydrant Manufacturers)
  3. ^ From Our History (WinWholesale Inc.)
  4. ^ "The Idea That Became A Village". Friends of LeClaire. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 
  5. ^ John S. Garner (October 1971) Leclaire Illinois: A Model Company Town 1890-1934 (Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 30 No. 3)
  6. ^ Bob J. Holder and Carl Lossau. "The N.O. Nelson and Leclaire Story". The CEO Refresher Archives. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 
  7. ^ James H. Quill (June 1954). "Profit Sharing - A Means of Economic Cooperation between Labor, Management, and Government". Loyola University. Master's Theses. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 
  8. ^ McDonough, David L. (January 19, 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form: LeClaire Historic District" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 
  9. ^ The History of Leclaire (Explore Historic Leclaire)
  10. ^ N.O. Nelson Complex (Lewis and Clark Community College)
  11. ^ "N. O. Nelson, Founder of Leclaire Dies in the West" (PDF). Edwardsville Intelligencer. October 6, 1922. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 

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