Mons Anderson was born in Norway in 1830 and came to America when he was sixteen, settling in Milwaukee. Anderson moved to La Crosse in 1851, recognizing La Crosse as a growing city with great business opportunities.
Upon his arrival, Anderson began working as a clerk in S.T. Smith’s store on Front St. Smith quickly made Anderson a partner and in 1852 Anderson became sole proprietor. In 1856, Anderson built a one-story brick building at 2nd and Main streets and moved his business to this location. The building underwent several additions throughout the years and Anderson had tripled the size of the business area by 1870.
During this time, it was common for businesses to use some sort of emblem as a way to advertise. Anderson adopted the lion to act as his store’s emblem. Two life-size lion statues flanked Anderson’s store for many years, one of which is pictured here.
Anderson’s use of the lion emblem went beyond the life-size statues. He used the lion emblem on a variety of business documents including stationary, bills, cards, and paper notes.
Anderson also had his own coins minted with the emblem on them. The earliest known coin is dated 1863. It is believed that Anderson halted the production of these coins around 1880. The coins were the size of a modern penny and were engraved on one side with “Mons Anderson—dealer in dry goods, clothing, boots and shoes—La Crosse, Wis.” The other side featured the lion emblem beneath the words, “Sign of the Lion.”
It was believed that the coins were used as a way to advertise and that they operated like modern-day coupons. However, it is also said that the coins were widely accepted by businesses in La Crosse in place of an actual penny.
Anderson also manufactured men’s work clothes and labeled them “Lion Brand.” The work clothes often featured buttons that were printed with the lion emblem with the words “Lion Brand” beneath it.
Anderson was so connected to his lion emblem that he even had the doorknobs in his home cast in the shape of a lion’s head.
Anderson ran a very successful business for many years. He was so successful, in fact, that he was commonly known as the “Merchant Prince.” Anderson was also known as the “Lion of La Crosse,” as a result of his association with the lion emblem.
Following Anderson’s death in 1905, the two lion statues were separated. One of the statues was given to Anderson’s cousin and good friend, Mons Fladager. This statue was placed in front of Fladager’s store in Spring Grove, Minn. and served as the trademark for more than 75 years. It can now be found in Spring Grove City Park. The other statue remained in La Crosse and was donated to the La Crosse County Historical society in 1970 by Jake Hoeschler. It can now found in the courtyard of the La Crosse Public Library.
Interestingly, Jake Hoeschler was another local businessman who had an animal as a personal symbol. The Hoeschler bull was made of fiber glass, and stood atop the Hoeschler building at 224 N. 6th St. from the late 1970s until 2006, when the building changed hands and his son Jay sold the bull.
The Hoeschler family had for many years promoted their business by saying that they were “bullish on La Crosse.”
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on May 12, 2018.