Figure 1.10. Akerlund in front of his photography studio in his 1903 automobile. Photograph by Axel Ahlstrom, 1905. Akerlund Collection, Cokato Museum, Cokato, MN.
The following is an excerpt from Johanna Ellison's St. Cloud State University Public History Masters thesis "Cokato Through August Akerlund's Lens." Found on Chapter 1, under "Automobiles and Radios," pages 45-48. Used with permission.
"Cokato’s introduction to automobiles coincided closely with its introduction to Minnesota. Automobiles emerged in the United States of America during the 1890s. Manufacturing skyrocketed. According to historian Theodore Blegen, by 1900, a dozen companies in the United States existed, producing four thousand cars annually. As cars became readily available a dozen rumbled into Minneapolis in 1902, prompting the establishment of speed limits and a 1908 state licensing law. The following year, Minnesota licensed over 7,000 automobiles. By 1910, national production had sixty-nine companies producing 181,000 cars per year. As the automobile industry grew in popularity, small towns snatched up the new technology as well.
Cokato’s interest in automobiles stemmed from the fascination of its residents. Cokato’s first two cars were Oldsmobiles with one-cylinder engines bought in 1904 by Cokato residents Emil Erickson and John Ojampera, a wealthy farmer. Until road conditions improved, Cokato’s first few automobiles were shipped out to the village from the Twin Cities by train. The third, a 1903 Oldsmobile bought by Akerlund a year later, looked like a buggy (see figure 1.10). State Bank of Cokato president and wealthiest man in town, H. C. Bull, bank employee Frank Swanson, and prosperous business owner O. J. Mabusth soon followed suit, each purchasing an automobile of their own. Compared to these upper-crust automobile owners, Akerlund was definitely middle-class, and this early purchase of a car before some of the wealthiest men in Cokato grew out of his fascination with new technology.
Automobiles and an early motor bike lined up in front of west 3rd street, Cokato. H. C. Bull is behind wheel of second automobile (auto from left to right). Photograph by Gust Akerlund, 1912. Akerlund Collection, Cokato Museum, Cokato, MN.
The lack of understanding and resources to repair and upkeep automobiles, drove residents, like Akerlund, to learn about this technology and develop local automobile businesses to fulfill the need. In addition, Cokato began evolving out of convenience for this new technology. Driving in the early years of this century meant facing challenges of limited roadways and few mechanics to make repairs. For one, with few automobiles in Cokato, in 1904, there were no established driving schools. To make matters worse, early automobiles found maneuverability difficult on dirt streets and country roads built with horses in mind (consider figure 1.9). Akerlund as well as Erickson and Ojampera had to teach themselves how to drive on these roads; no easy feat, as Akerlund found when he stripped his transmission gears during his first time behind the wheel. Unfortunately, parts, gas, and mechanics were nonexistent in town, and Akerlund had to travel to Minneapolis to buy two sets of gears to repair his car, the second of which he never got to use.
Figure 1.9. Street work with horse. Photograph by Gust Akerlund, circa 1905. Akerlund Image Collection. Cokato Museum, Cokato, MN.
This experience and his passion for mechanics inspired Akerlund to become a talented automobile mechanic. In 1913, Akerlund sold the photography studio to George Swedburg so he could work in a Cokato automobile garage with John Christofferson. Christofferson, partner in the Christofferson and Larson garage, installed the first gasoline pump in Cokato in 1914. In 1915, after visiting his family in Sweden the previous year, Akerlund worked for the garage, meeting the demand of Cokato’s consumers. In fact, by 1915, Cokato owned the most automobiles in Wright County, with 205. Buffalo, next closest in number of automobiles, had 186, and Howard Lake, the community immediately east of Cokato, had 131. By 1918, Akerlund bought back his photography business from Swedburg. Still, Akerlund’s passion for automobiles did not diminish. In 1923, three years after the first gas station opened in town, he bought a Model-T Coupe that the Cokato Museum still owns and operates."
Akerlund's 1923 Model-T Today
Still Having Adventures
Akerlund's 1923 Model-T is typically shown at the Cokato Corn Carnival in August. See the videos (left and right) for information on how its driven and about its mechanics.
 Theodore Blegen, BuildingMinnesota, 463-464.  "Automobiles Have Improved Greatly In Last 25 Years: Gust Akerlund Is One Of Automobile Pioneers. Had Third Car Here,” Cokato Enterprise, July 31, 1930: 1. See Chapter 2 in this thesis about J. Ojampera.  "Cokato First Heard Radio Back in 1922 Machine Was Demonstrated by Two Visiting Salesmen; Thelander Bought Set Same Year for $375," Cokato Enterprise, November 23, 1944: 8.  "Automobiles Have Improved Greatly In Last 25 Years,” 1.  “Automobiles Have Improved Greatly In Last 25 Years,” 1.; Figure 1.10. Akerlund in front of his photography studio in his 1903 automobile. Photograph by Axel Ahlstrom, 1905. Akerlund Collection, Cokato Museum, Cokato, MN.; Figure 1.9. Street work with horse. Photograph by Gust Akerlund, circa 1905. Akerlund Image Collection, Cokato Museum, Cokato, MN.  Carlton Lee, “Akerlund Leaves a Legacy of Memorabilia.” Cokato Enterprise, August 28, 1985: 3.  "Cokato First Heard Radio Back in 1922,” Cokato Enterprise 1,8.  "Local Interest," Cokato Enterprise, May 6, 1915: 4.  "Cokato Has 205 Automobiles: Prosperous Little Town Has Good Lead Over Buffalo And Its 186," Cokato Enterprise, September 2, 1915: 1.  "Cokato Has 205 Automobiles,” 1.  Lee, “Akerlund Leaves a Legacy of Memorabilia.” 3.  Gust Akerlund, Akerlund Collection, 1902-1950, Cokato Museum, Cokato, MN.; "Cokato First Heard Radio Back in 1922, 1. The first gas station was Standard Oil.