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J. Harold Kittleson Papers

Identifier: M/A 0024

Description of Contents

J.H. Kittleson has played a significant role in developing two special collections in the Minneapolis Public Library, now housed in the Special Collections Department: the 19th Century American Studies Collection and the Kittleson World War II Collections. He also made significant contributions (books and nonbooks materials) to the various other special collections in the Special Collection Department including the abolition and anti-slavery, Christmas book, miniature book, Mark Twain and other collections. The materials he acquired reflected his subject interests, his love of books and the book business and it demonstrates his connections with significant players in the field of books. He also diligently clipped and collected supplemental materials to the books.

He was an ardent bookseller, book collector, and library patron.

The collection consists of 48 boxes of material from throughout Kittleson's life.

Box 40, "Oversize photos and ephemera" contains the following: JHK's high school diploma Minnesota Historical Society photo of a display of JHK's 1936 Queen Mary trip 1986 City of Minneapolis resolution 1986 mayoral proclamation Signs from the Emerson Room "Power's Photo News" slips mentioning JHK 1985 wall calendar 1973 wall calendar JHK baby photo 1941 photo of Frank Jones's testimonial dinner Photo c. 1925 of Larkin Plant, Buffalo, NY (Bessie Kittleson in photo) Photo of Minnesota State Guard 4th Class, Camp Ripley dated August 5, 1943 Wall calendar page from Bessie Kittleson's date of death (November 1972)


  • 1920 - 2002


Access Restrictions

The collection is available for use in Special Collections during the department's open hours.


J. Harold Kittleson was born May 8, 1905. His father, John Custer Kittleson, worked for the Milwaukee Railroad. In 1917, the Kittleson family moved to south Minneapolis. Kittleson graduated from South High School in December 1922, his father died that same spring. After his father's death, both Bessie and J. Harold Kittleson then began work at Dayton’s (now Macy's) in downtown Minneapolis; she in the infant department and he in shipping and receiving. By 1924, he had tranferred to the book department. He saved his earnings and was able to take his first trip to Europe in 1929.

In January 1930, he became a book buyer and later manager of the Mabel Ulrich Book Shop in Minneapolis. September of that year he went to work for the Powers Department Store in the book department (this was the premier bookstore in Minneapolis pre-World War II). Leonard Wells, the book department manager died in 1933 and Kittleson became the buyer and manager of the department. In 1936 he was able to take a second trip to Europe, partially paid for by Powers, in his capacity as a book buyer. After WWII, Kittleson joined Random House as a sales representative. In his capacity as a sales representative, he traveled from Duluth to Corpus Cristi, Texas to Buffalo N.Y. to Miami Beach, Florida Beach. Kittleson retired from Random House after 23 years to take care of his mother who passed away in 1972.

Kittleson began collecting World War II material including books, posters, pamphlets, periodicals and maps relating to all aspects of World War II in the 1940s. He first approached the library director about establishing a World War II collection in December 1944. This collection has grown to over 9,000 books, 2,000 posters, and 3,500 miscellaneous materials. The Kittleson World War II Collection is housed in the Special Collections Department, at the Minneapolis Public Library.

Upon his retirement, Kittleson became active with the Friends of Minneapolis Public Library. In 1969, he donated his New England writers collection to MPL. It was housed in the Emerson Room at North Regional Library until 1988 when it was moved to the Central Library to the newly formed Special Collections Department and the collection was renamed the 19th Century American Studies Collection. Kittleson continued to add materials to both of these collections throughout his life.

MPL hosted tributes to Kittleson in both 1986 and 2000. Kittleson also donated materials to other institutions and collections including the Kerlan Collection, Macalester College, and various collections at the University of Minnesota. He received the Kay Sexton Award at the 1996 Minnesota Book Awards "for Outstanding Contibutions to the Minnesota Community of the Book".

Kittleson was a life long member of the Ampersand Club, the Skylight Club in Minneapolis, and Grolier Club in New York. He was president and honorary board member of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library and a trustee of the Minneapolis Public Library from 1972-1982. In his retirement, he again took up travels to Europe, most often Great Britian.

He died September 27, 2002.


Minneapolis Star Tribune Obituary (Tuesday, October 1, 2002):

J. Harold Kittleson of Minneapolis, a collector and donor of rare books, was so well-known in the Twin Cities scholarly book world that he sometimes was called "Mr. Book.'' He died Friday at age 97.

At his final home, the Walker Methodist Health Center in Minneapolis, he read, accepted visitors, talked about books and argued about authors until days before his death. He had dispersed most of his multitude of books, but friends who gathered his possessions afterward found a favorite (Thoreau's "Walden''), a newly published book (about Emily Dickinson) and a poem he found riveting (Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'').

Kittleson made extensive contributions to the special collections of the Minneapolis Public Library. He donated the nucleus of the library's 19th-century American Studies collection and its World War II collection and enriched them over time. Even before World War II had ended, Kittleson had the brainstorm that it would be wise to begin gathering books and other war materials. He also donated personal papers and items for other library special collections, including the Huttner Abolition and Anti-Slavery collection.

Edward Kukla, head of the library's special collections department, said he teased Kittleson in recent years that what the library most needed from Kittleson was a successor as premier benefactor. Kukla would tell Kittleson , "It would be nice to have someone in his 30s, but I'd take someone in his 50s, or even 70s,'' Kukla said Monday. "He'll be sorely missed.''

Said Robert Rulon-Miller, an antiquarian bookseller in St. Paul: "He was a great inspiration to lots of people in the book community - booksellers, book collectors and librarians.''

Kittleson was honored with a reception two years ago by the Minneapolis Public Library Board. He said with a smile that "not everyone is able to attend his own memorial service.''

He spent his entire career in the book business. In December 1924, when he was 19, Kittleson worked in the shipping room of Dayton's department store and was given a temporary assignment in the books department. The best Christmas gift he ever got, he said later, was being told on Christmas Eve that he could stay in the books department.

He went on to become the buyer/manager of the books department at Powers department store from 1933 to 1945 and then a salesman for Random House until his retirement in 1969. He served on the Library Board and was a member of prestigious local and national book and library groups.

Kittleson was enthusiastic and generous but not wealthy. He didn't have the resources to donate all the materials he wanted preserved. But he knew who did. Partly through his charm and hard work and partly through the resources of the library, the collections grew. He also made significant donations to the Minnesota Historical Society.

There are no family survivors. His longtime friend, Richard Zgodava, said a memorial service will be held the morning of Nov. 9 at one of the sites of the Cremation Society of Minnesota. The time and place will be announced later.


20.75 Linear Feet (44 boxes)

Language of Materials


Kittleson Materials at Other Repositories

Minnesota Historical Society

Jenny Cullen Collection at University of Minnesota;cc=umfa;rgn=main;view=text;didno=PA12O

Processing Information

J. H. Kittleson Subject List 9 2004/rev.1/21/2005 - GCH

Adages/Maxims, etc. Address Book American Transcendental Quarterly Anderson, Elmer L. Articles about JHK/Collections Biography Birthday Book Birthday Cards (by year)[not yet sorted] Book Collection Lists/Related Materials Bookmarks Bookplates Books (uncataloged, kept for association value) British Festival of MN Business Cards Calendars Calligraphy Cartoons/Illustrations Christmas Cards (by year)[not yet fully sorted] Clubs/Memberships: Ampersand Club Clubs/Memberships: Emily Dickenson International Society Clubs/Memberships: Grolier Club Clubs/Memberships: Haverhill Whittier Society Clubs/Memberships: Hill Monastic Library Clubs/Memberships: Manuscript Society Clubs/Memberships: Norwegian Explorers Clubs/Memberships: Skylight Club Clubs/Memberships: Thoreau Lyceum Clubs/Memberships: Thoreau Society Clubs/Memberships: ‘Voice of Minneapolis’ Convention Center Pipe Organ Clubs/Memberships: Walden Forever Wild Clubs/Memberships: Walden Woods Project Clubs/Memberships: Walden’s Future Coffee House Press Corcoran Neighborhood Correspondence: (by year)[not fully sorted/and need to pull out special friends and colleagues to file by name] Cullen, Jenny English as the “official” language Estate Sale Financial Friends of MPL Gaines, Ervin J. Genealogy Gift Cards/Tags Gifts (other than MPL) Honors: 11 Who Care Honors: Active Seniors Honors: Certificates of Appreciation/Recognition Honors: MPL Reception 6/22/2000 Honors: Tribute 7/20/1986 Honors: United Way Honors: Library Board Resolution 5/3/1995 Honors: Kay Sexton Award 1996 Invoices Kittleson, John Custer (father) Kittleson, Bessie Johnstead (mother) Knopf Lectures/Talks/Tours Charles A. Lindbergh Fund Lists of Activities Lists of Gufts/Cards/Letters Lists of Materials Lists of Materials: Sold/Given Away Macalaster College Library Magleson, Ralph Medical Memorial Programs for friends Memorial Service: 11/9/2002 Memorial Service: 11/9/2002: Guest Book Military Service Milkweed Editions Minneapolis Institute of Arts Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Library Council MPL MPL: Displays MPL: Friends of MPL MPL: Library Board MPLS: Minneapolis Portrait of a Life Style MN Book Awards MN Center for the Book Arts MN Historical Society Muckley, Rose: Poetry Muir, Barbara Muir, Percy My Aunt Visited Longfellow 19th Century American Studies Collection 19th Century American Studies Collection: Emerson Room 19th Century American Studies Collection: Emerson Room: Guest Book Notes to Self Obituaries Passports Pease, Cyril Pease, Robert Poetry: Miscellaneous Clippings Powers Department Store Powers Department Store: Book Department (JHK): Correspondence with Authors Programs: Art Programs: Art: Correspondence with Mary Abbe Programs: Books Programs: History Programs: Music Programs: Theater Quam, Louise (cousin): Creative writing (not included with letters) Random House Random House: Sales Materials Random House: Stockholder Information Religion Rosenthal, Robert Rota Christmas Cards Rota Correspondence Rota, Anthony Rota, Bertram Savings Passbooks Science Museum of MN Ships: Cunard Lines Ships: Souvenirs Thoreau Quarterly Travel Items (by year)[not yet fully sorted] Travel Items: Postcards: 1926 Travel Items: 1929: Europe Travel Items: 1929: Europe: Clippings Travel Items: 1936 Travel Items: 1936-2000 Unitarian Society U of MN: Libraries U of MN: Friends of the Libraries U of MN: James Ford Bell Associates U of MN: James Ford Bell Library U of MN: Kerlan Collection U of MN: Sherlock Holmes Collections Wells, Elizabeth (Mrs. Leonard): Letters/Invoices Wells, Leonard Wells, Leonard: Correspondence with Authors Whitman Centennial Conference: March 26-29, 1992 World War II Writings Writings: MN Collects

J.H. Kittleson Subject List – Photos – 9 2004/Rev. 1/21/2005 - GCH

Automobiles Birthday Party 5/11/1997 Birthday Party 5/9/1998 Family Friends Kittleson Houses Bessie (Johnstead) Kittleson (mother) John Custer Kittleson (father) J. Harold Kittleson MPL MPL: Alastaire Cooke Dinner 11/5/1973 Negatives 19th Century American Studies Collection Random House Reception 6/22/2000 Sinclair Lewis Collection/Macalaster College Travel (by year) Wells, Leonard: Book Buyer at Power’s 1895-1933

Items in italics are those which need clarification/change/correction. GCH 9/16/04

J. Harold Kittleson Papers
Sonja Isaacson
August 2012
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections Repository

Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis MN 55401 U.S.A.