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our founder & history

Starting in 1938 with an idea and a $55 loan, entrepreneur Curtis L. Carlson (1914-1999) founded the Gold Bond Stamp Company in his hometown of Minneapolis. He knew that grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations and other independent merchants could use stamps to drive customer loyalty and to distinguish themselves from their competitors. During the 1950s and 1960s, Gold Bond and sister company, Top Value Stamps, helped revolutionize the way retail goods were marketed. Trading stamps proved to be right for the times and swept the nation in a wave of dramatic growth.

In the late 1960s, when the trading stamp market reached its peak, the Gold Bond Stamp Company expanded into the hospitality industry. In the 1970s, the company acquired dozens of additional businesses, including T.G.I. Friday's and Radisson Hotels.  To reflect its diversification, Gold Bond changed its name to Carlson Companies in 1973, and since 2006, to demonstrate that it is one company serving a variety of needs, it has become known as Carlson.

Curtis L. Carlson attended the University of Minnesota from 1933–1937 during the depths of the Depression. His tuition was $15.00 per academic quarter for the first two years, increasing to $16.50 when he entered senior college.  When he made his first gifts to the University of Minnesota, his alma mater and first love, it gave him a great deal of satisfaction:

I gave this money to pay back the State of Minnesota for giving me an almost-free education, so I had the necessary tools to go into business…There is no better way to express my deep appreciation to all Minnesotans than to make available a University that helps our graduates and future executives of our industries competitive with the rest of the world…