May 20, 2020 — Warren Magnuson died on this date in 1989; he was the adopted son of Emma Anderson, of the Fort Ransom area. Emma and her husband, Bill Magnuson, lived in Moorhead, where Emma ran a bootlegging business. One of her money-making strategies was to invite wealthy people to dinner, during which she served alcohol. If her guests didn’t leave a generous tip under their plates, they didn’t get invited back.

Magnuson’s birth date was said to be April 12, 1905, but his actual records are sealed. There are differing stories about his birth parents – one, that they died shortly after his birth, and another, that his mother was a North Dakota farm girl who worked as a waitress, and a friend of Emma’s.

As a young man, Magnuson was good looking and well-liked, especially by the girls. He got the nickname “Maggie” when he became quarterback for the Moorhead High football team. It became the name his Washington constituents used, but his friends and family called him Warren.

Magnuson made money delivering newspapers and telegrams in Moorhead and Fargo. He met banker Alex Stern and became lifelong friends with Stern’s son, Bill, who was known as “Mr. Republican” around North Dakota. Bill helped pay for Warren’s tuition at UND and also helped him move to Seattle to finish his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington in 1925.

Magnuson delivered ice while attending the UW School of Law and was in the Teamsters Union. He became good friends with legendary labor leader Dave Beck, a connection that would later help Magnuson when he entered politics. In 1928, he married “Miss Seattle,” Peggins Maddieux, but his lifelong interest in the ladies soon brought the marriage to a halt.

Warren’s father had left the family when he was just a teenager, and father and son were distant after that. Warren always adored his bootlegging mother, though; and in 1930, he bought her a house on Bainbridge Island so they could be closer.

When Warren decided to go into politics, Bill Stern gave him some surprising advice; the state’s republican party was going through a scandal, so Mr. Republican told Magnuson to run as a democrat. Magnuson won and later wound up serving 36 years as U.S. Senator.

Magnuson’s counterpart was Senator “Scoop” Jackson, who served with him from 1952 to 1980. During their tenure, their legislative skill and seniority won Washington an unprecedented share of federal funds – especially for Boeing. Magnuson promoted product safety long before Ralph Nader arrived, and his work on dams, bridges and highways changed the face of the state.

He also fell in love with Washington’s rich marine environment and promoted landmark bills to protect marine mammals, conserve American fisheries, and make Puget Sound off-limits to supertankers. After the Valdez oil-spill disaster, he supported legislation to require oil tankers to have double hulls. He also helped launch two World’s Fairs and helped promote the preservation of Pike Place Market.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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