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Atsum Effengood


A first-generation immigrant, Atsum Effengood first stepped foot on American soil somewhere between 1880-1885. In 2010 an old cabin was discovered in the Great Lakes region of Minnesota. There was no chain of title found for the property, only one owner, Atsum N. Effengood. County records did not have a survey for the property, so it was initially believed the plot of land was simply missed in original mapping, and never corrected. However, much more light was shed on the mystery of the land and cabin when we found an old chest in the loft of a barn on the property. Through artifacts in the chest, and a very detailed journal, we were able to piece together the extraordinary life of Atsum N. Effengood. In re-launching the Effengood Trading Co. brand, we wanted to share pieces of Atsum's life that illustrate his truly incredible journey.

Based on papers found in the journal, Atsum appears to have been on the Gallia, a ship that traveled from Queenstown, Ireland to New York City, NY. Though other items in the chest suggest he may have arrived earlier. He arrived with his brother, Itsum, and were to find an uncle in New York City and live with him until his parents could make the trip to America. However, Atsum and Itsum learned their uncle died of typhoid soon after his arrival to Ellis Island, leaving the two young boys orphaned in a new country with only the money in their pockets and the clothes on their back. Atsum's journal entries from this time describe, in detail, what it meant to be in America. He instantly felt a rush of inspiration, ambition and opportunity.

Atsum N. Effengood is born.


Atsum arrives in America.


Atsum wins a railcar in a poker game with J.P. Morgan and a few of his friends.


Using his newly acquired railcar for both transportation and his first shipping company, Effengood Trading & Shipping Co. Atsum sets out for the Great Lakes region of Minnesota.


Atsum arrives in the Twin Cities and quickly begins networking and making plans to continue North to the Great Lakes region.


After arriving in the Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Atsum wastes no time in setting up his Great Lakes Shipping and Steam company.


Atsum begins traveling the world purchasing herbs and spices. He discovers coffee, and it quickly becomes the flagship product of Effengood Trading Co.


Other cool photos found in the Effengood Chest...

We handpicked a few additional items and photos we found in Atsum's chest. We were able to date and figure out where and who were in the photos based on the details Atsum wrote on the backs, but some we had to deduce and make assumptions. We plan on adding other items and photos sporadically. Enjoy! 

It all started with this journal. When we found it in an old chest in the attic of the barn we had no idea the stories and information it held about Atsum Effengood and his travels around the world, the fascinating people he met and, of course, the detailed accounts of his various businesses.

The date of this photo was partly missing, but the portion of the date still intact read, June 1, 19—. We sent the photo to several Minnesota historians, and each of them believe the year to be around 1900-1910. Given the fact that we know Atsum was in Northern Minnesota as early as 1903, we feel it’s probably sometime between 1900-1903. Though, of course, he certainly did make trips to the Twin Cities now and then, so it could be later.  

You may be wondering why we included this photo. Well, what we learned through reading the journal was the importance Atsum placed on diversifying his life, both in business and in private. It was important for Atsum to have a place to retreat to, a place to go to relax and relieve the stresses of running his businesses. On the right side of the photo you can see a lake, and the road in the foreground, if traveled, would lead you to a small cabin. According to the entries, nobody knew of this place, and Atsum would often go here, and we believe, do most of his writing in the journal.

We believe this to be Atsum’s secret cabin, though, we debated with each other if he would have taken a picture or had any documentation proving its existence. That said, there are photos of other cabins and homes owned by Atsum and given the intricate details and documenting of his life, it’s certainly possible he would have made sure to have a photo of the secret cabin.

Effengood Trading Post

This photo was found paper-clipped to the journal entry dated December 16, 1907. Based on what the journal reads, we are assuming this gentleman is Roy Hansen, the General Manager of Effengood Trading Post on the banks of Lake Superior. This appears to be the first retail store Atsum opened, which he also used as a test market to get customer feedback on new products and contraptions.


We found this old panorama of the New York City skyline folded in an old Delmonico’s menu. The year on the back indicates the photo is taken in 1910. We believe this may have been taken during one of his trips to visit Elsa, a longtime friend that was possibly more than a friend.

We believe this photo is of Thisum Effengood and his brothers. The room the men are photographed in appears to have been taken in the study of the Effengood estate (location unknown) that is in other photos identified as such.  


The back of this photo read “Duluth, 1902.” We believe this is a photo of Atsum’s railcar (middle), but one historian we sent it to believes it to be one of the main stations Atsum would have frequented while shipping goods via railway. Though Effengood Trading Co. did utilize the American railway for transporting goods, most of their business was done via ship on the Great Lakes, so this one may forever be a mystery.


This photo was labeled “Superior St, 1902.” This street pops up often throughout the journal because Effengood Trading Co had an office in one of the buildings.

Surprisingly, there were many portraits, and one we felt was important to add to the Effengood history. Atsum father, Thisum Effengood, is mentioned sparsely throughout the journal, but when he is mentioned, it’s obvious Atsum had tremendous respect for his father, and a gratitude for what his father did to ensure Atsum and his brother could make it to America. (Some of the photos, unfortunately, did not have a date or any form of identification. That said, many of the photos without dates or identification were clipped to specific journal entries, so we were able to deduce their identify through some amateur sleuthing).

Atsum craved knowledge and experience. Within 48 hours of arriving in New York City, Atsum had his first job as a delivery boy for Delmonico’s, a bustling restaurant established by two Swiss brothers, John and Peter, and located at the intersection of Beaver, William and South William streets in the heart of the financial district. His primary job of delivering chocolates, wines, liquors and Havana cigars afforded him unfettered access to not only some of the country’s most coveted buildings, but the personal offices of the country’s foremost tycoons of power and wealth.  

One Delmonico delivery, which appears to have been his last, Atsum writes in his journal: 

"I was to deliver a large order of Bindles scotch and Havana cigars to a location I haven't delivered before. Instructions on the order receipt said, Tell man at door ‘ROOSEVELT.’ When I got to the place I followed the instructions and then was led to the bowels of the building, down a long corridor, through a variety of small rooms that ended at a large, steel door. The large man gave the door a knock. When it opened, I was shocked to see a party, with live music, nearly naked women and well-dressed men, some I recognized while others I’d never seen before. The large man just pointed to a door in the back of the large room. When I walked through the door a deep voice yelled my name, when I looked to see who it was, it was J.P. Morgan, sitting at a poker table with 4 other men...very powerful men. Behind them was an automobile unlike anything I ever seen. I was summoned to the table and ordered to hand out cigars to the men. Two beautiful women took the box of scotch from me. Mr. Morgan, then asked if I would like to play a hand. I didn't have money, nothing in my pocket. Then one of the men offered to spot me for the hand, and if I lost, my debt will be paid with a free delivery of their scotch and cigars."  

The journal entry, one of Atsum's longest and more detailed accounts of what is obviously a landmark event in his history, goes on to recount the event. There is some damage, however, to some of the section of the journal, so what we could piece together is the car Atsum was admiring was a 35 horse-power automobile built by Wilhelm Maybach that could do an astounding 53 MPH, and it was called a Mercedes, and it was from Europe. This is important, because what Atsum describes next is truly remarkable:

"One of the men, instead of green backs, throws a set of keys into the pot and states the winner is the new proud owner. I looked around to see if this was a joke, but nobody was laughing. But, bygolly (we believe that's what it says) I won the hand. I had a shot with the men, lit a cigar and grabbed those keys fast. But those keys didn't fit no keyhole on that damn auto. Then they all started laughing at me, and Mr. Gould then told me that wasn't the car I just won..."

"..that's when those men walked me out back, behind the building, and sitting there on the tracks is an old rail car. They got a good chuckle and one of them just said, 'it’s all yours!'

But I made sure to let them know I could take a joke, and I grabbed the keys, opened that railcar door and hopped in. I gave it a few moments, then I jumped out looking all mad and yelled, 'You cheapskates, it’s out of gas!' Those old, powerful men nearly died laughing right there, I think one of them even wet himself cause he quickly ran to the bathroom . Tonight I had a taste of being one of them."

It did nothing more than to throw gasoline on the fire inside him to become a tycoon in his own right, in his own way.

Atsum's clandestine poker game appears to have been a key event that inspired him to set out on his own. Based on journal entries following that night, Atsum's urgency to start taking calculated risks to build his business hits a new high.

"I'm not gonna sit around and wait for some strike of luck to put me on the right path, I need to forge my own path. I need to go out and take it. Times-a-wastin'."

 He writes extensively about the Great Lakes becoming more and more important to businesses both in New York and on the East Coast, but also, to the country's westward growth. He knew he would always be a small fish in the big pond of New York City, so he decided to travel to Minnesota, and North to the shores of Lake Superior, to get ahead of the opportunities surely to boom in the years to come. First stop, however, Chicago.

Atsum negotiated his travel to the Twin Cities by leasing out his newly acquired railcar to businesses looking to transport goods to Chicago. He was able to secure 3 contracts with three different businesses willing to use the young entrepreneur's fledgling transport company to deliver their goods. An herbs and spices company, a paper company and a poultry farmer looking to deliver 25 live chickens to his brother's farm outside Chicago. After getting all the product and live chickens loaded in his railcar, there was barely enough room for Atsum...but he pulled it off. He now had a pocket full of money, his own railcar and mini-transport company and dreams nearly too big to fit within the boundaries of his imagination.  




Atsum spent some time in the Twin Cities, presumably working on either raising money for his venture North, or working on purchasing land, or both. Based on his journal, it appears his time was spent primarily near the Lake Minnetonka area, with mentions of Excelsior, MN. Based on other journal entries, photos and records found in the chest, we are assuming his time was spent here because this is the area many of Minnesota's wealthy either resided or vacationed. 



Atsum purchases a large plot of land on Lake Superior, restores an old steamboat and starts Effengood Trading Company, moving grain, lumber and other materials throughout the Great Lakes.


A young Atsum keeping up on the days business news and markets. Probably not, but we thought this photo was a crystal ball giving us a glimpse of the future business tycoon.