Montgomery County

Focus on History: The story of immigrant Carl Johnson

Karl August Johanesson, who went on to be a respected citizen of Amsterdam, N.Y., was born a woodsma

Karl August Johanesson, who went on to be a respected citizen of Amsterdam, N.Y., was born a woodsman’s son in the village of Torp, Sweden, in 1872. He got up very early to deliver newspapers on his way to school three miles away, sometimes in 50-below-zero weather. He read the papers before delivering them, and picked up grocery orders to deliver on his way home.

His mother died. When he was 15, Karl and his sister Kristina set sail for a new life in America. In America, his name became Carl August Johnson. According to his granddaughter, Diane Hale Smith of Amsterdam, “He wrote his new name over and over again in a journal to begin the transformation. I treasure that journal.”

From 1890 to 1896, Johnson worked at Inman Manufacturing Co. on Guy Park Avenue in Amsterdam, receiving training as a machinist, tool maker, coppersmith and electrician.

Smith wrote, “When he turned twenty six he joined the Army, trained at the local armory and was sent to fight in the Spanish American War in 1898. Unfortunately he stepped on a scorpion and was sent home to recuperate. He re-enlisted on September 6th 1899.”

Back in Amsterdam, Johnson was a chauffeur for the Greens and Warnicks, prominent families. They treated him well. He drove one of the first motor cars in the city.

Smith wrote, “He spent any free time he had at the local YMCA on Division Street. It has been said that he initiated basketball at the YMCA by hanging a coal scuttle on the wall, the way they often played in Sweden.”

In 1905. he married Mina Kaiser at St. Luke’s Church. They raised four daughters, including Smith’s mother, Dorothy.

Auto business

Johnson became partners with Clarence Birch, operating a small garage at 78 Stewart St. Johnson and George Calhoun later became partners and opened a large garage at 12-14 Market St., behind what then was the Barnes Hotel.

Smith wrote, “They sold and serviced Case, Marmon and Huppmobile cars and parked over one hundred cars a night at the rate of $1 each. They were well on their way to becoming wealthy businessmen when the stock market crashed. Due to a great amount of outstanding credit they had given to their customers, the business closed. Their non-paying customers became some of the wealthiest in Amsterdam.”

Johnson found work at Fownes Glove in Amsterdam and retired at age 79 in 1951.

Smith wrote, “He was known for his honesty and was actually quite famous for it. Once when I was a teen I met an elderly man who remembered his generosity in accepting a Bible in exchange for mechanical work. He read that Bible completely four times and took it to heart applying it to his everyday life. My mother told me that when she wanted to be liked when meeting new people she would always say that she was Carl Johnson’s daughter. Years later I did that myself, mentioning that I was Dorothy Johnson Hale’s daughter.”

Johnson never returned to Sweden and lost touch with his Swedish friends. He enjoyed listening to records by Harry Stewart who performed as Yogi Yorgesson, with an exaggerated Swedish accent.

Johnson died of a heart attack in 1955 shortly after his 50th wedding anniversary and after receiving his 60-year Masonic pin.

Smith said, “He would stay up until three in the morning reading National Geographics and dreaming of the day that we would walk on the moon. Sadly, he passed away before they did but I imagine he was watching from somewhere else with that twinkle in his eye. He never wanted to miss anything!”

Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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