Carl Sandburg Biography and Timeline | American Masters – PBS
by dr. Penelope Niven
Carl August Sandburg was born on January 6, 1878, in a three-room cabin in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of August and Clara Sandburg, immigrants from Sweden who met and married in the United States. one of seven children, he left school at the age of 13 to work and help support his family. he volunteered for military service during the spanish-american war and later qualified as a veteran for college despite not having a high school diploma. At Lombard University in Galesburg, Sandburg began writing poetry and prose, and the first pamphlets of it were published by his favorite professor, Philip Green Wright.
sandburg dropped out of college without graduating and worked as a street vendor before becoming an organizer and speaker for the wisconsin social democratic party in 1907. at party headquarters he met lilian steichen, younger sister of painter and photographer edward steichen, who already he was making a name for himself in new york and paris. Sandburg and Lilian Steichen married in 1908 and moved to Chicago in 1912, where Sandburg began working as a journalist, sometimes using a pen name and writing for trade magazines and socialist magazines and newspapers. During nearly five decades as a journalist, he was a local news reporter, investigative reporter, war correspondent, film critic, and nationally syndicated columnist.
Encouraged by his wife, Sandburg continued to write poetry, much of it in free verse. The first serious recognition of him as a poet came in 1914 when Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, published several of his poems in his magazine. Sandburg’s first book, Chicago Poems, was published in 1916, and his last collection of poems, Honey and Salt, appeared in 1963, when he was 85 years old. He was celebrated in the United States as the “poet of the people.”
Sandburg was a popular platform actor, playing guitar and singing American folk music, and reading poetry and prose. In 1926 he published the two-volume biography Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, and continued to research and write the life of Lincoln. The four volume Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, published in 1939, won the Pulitzer Prize for History. The Complete Sandburg Poems (1950) received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and contained all of his poetry books: Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), Smoke and Steel (1920), Slabs of the Sunburned West (1922 ), Good Morning, America (1928), and the People, Yes (1936).
He also published children’s stories and poems, an anthology of American folk music, an autobiography of his early years, and a novel, Remembrance Rock (1948). She collaborated with Edward Steichen, her brother-in-law, on the text of the landmark photo exhibition and book, The Family of Man (1955).
sandburg lived the last 22 years of his life in connemara, a 245-acre farm in flat rock, north carolina, now a national historic site and a unit of the national park service. When he died there on July 22, 1967, at the age of 89, he was survived by his wife, his three daughters, Margaret, Janet, and Helga, and Helga’s two sons. in september 1967, nearly 6,000 people gathered at the lincoln memorial in washington for a national tribute to the people’s poet. On October 1, 1967, Carl Sandburg’s ashes were interred at his birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois, now a State Historic Site.
1878 – carl sandburg is born on january 6 in galesburg, illinois. He is the second child and eldest son of Swedish immigrants Augusto and Clara Sandburg. he is baptized carl augusto, but in elementary school he asks to be called charles, or charlie, thinking that he is more american. 1883 – lilian steichen, sandburg’s future wife, is born on may 1 in hancock, michigan. 1891 : Carl leaves school after eighth grade to help support his family. he works long hours delivering milk and doing other odd jobs. 1896 – Carl leaves Galesburg to see Chicago for the first time. 1897: At age 19, Carl leaves home one afternoon in June, boards a freight train, and travels west as a drifter. he works as a laborer on farms and on the railroad, and it sharpens his interest in labor laws and the plight of workers. 1898 : On April 26, he is sworn into Company C, 6th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Volunteers. he serves as a private in the Spanish-American War; On July 11, Carl and his company board a ship to Guantanamo Bay, arriving on the 17th. On the 25th, Carl participates in the battle at Guanica, Puerto Rico, where he is assigned a company detail. The armistice ends the war on August 12, and Carl returns to Walesburg on September 21. As a veteran, he enrolls as a special student at Lombard College, even though he did not graduate from high school. 1899: Carl gets an appointment at West Point but fails the math and grammar entrance exams on June 6. he returns to lombard college and becomes editor of the college newspaper and yearbook and captain of the basketball team. encouraged by professor philip green wright at lombard, he begins to write seriously.
1902-07: Leaves college without a degree, sells stereoscopic slides and viewers, and writes for the Galesburg Evening Mail, using the pen name “crimson.” His first poem was published in the literary magazine The Thistle in 1902. His first collection of poetry and prose, In Reckless Ecstasy, was published in 1904 as Professor Wright’s Pamphlet. Like Charles Sandburg, he is active in the Wisconsin Social Democratic Party, speaking and writing against the exploitation of workers and calling for an end to child labor practices. 1908 -he marries lilian steichen, who shares his interest in social reform and human rights. he nicknames her paula; she encourages him to retrieve her birth name, carl. She is the sister of painter and photographer Edward Steichen, who becomes Sandburg’s lifelong friend. 1909-13 – Sandburg writes and edits for various newspapers and magazines. Él’s daughter Margaret is born June 3, 1911. Él’s daughter Madeline dies in childbirth in November 1913. 1914 -Él’s poems are published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verses . he wins a cash prize for best poems of the year and is discovered by publisher alfred harcourt.
1916 – Their daughter Janet is born on June 26. 1917 -He joins the Chicago Daily News as a reporter. 1918: he is hired by the association of newspaper companies to travel to norway and sweden as a correspondent covering the second world war. His daughter Helga de Él is born on November 24. cornhuskers is published. 1919 – returns to work at the chicago daily news. the chicago race riots are published. With the poet and novelist Margaret Widdemer, he shares the prize of the National Poetry Society of America (the forerunner of the official Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, formally established in 1922). The 1919 award, funded in part by Columbia University, honors corn shellers.
1920 – Smoke and Steel is published. 1922: Slabs of the sunburnt west is published, as is sandburg’s first children’s book, rootabaga stories. 1923 – Rootabaga pigeons published. 1926: The two-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years is published, establishing Sandburg’s reputation as a biographer. he also records an album of songs for the rca victor talk machine company. 1927 – the american songbag is published. the sandburgs buy property on lake michigan and build a house, designed by mrs. sandburg. 1928 – The Sandburgs move into their new home on the Lake Michigan Dunes near Harbert, Michigan. good morning, america is published and abe lincoln grows up. 1929 -Steichen the photographer, the biography of her brother-in-law written by Sandburg, illustrated with photographs of Steichen, is published.
1932: Sandburg leaves the Chicago Daily News to concentrate on writing poetry, children’s stories, and the last four volumes of Lincoln’s biography. 1935-37 : Lilian Sandburg buys her first goats and registers the herd’s name as Chikaming after the municipality where they live. begins a breeding program to improve the bloodlines and milk production of his growing herd of dairy goats. 1936 – sandburg publishes the town, yes. 1939 – The four volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, is published.
1940 – Sandburg wins the Pulitzer Prize for history for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. He is elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and receives honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and, over the years, many other colleges and universities. 1942-1943 : He writes a syndicated weekly war news column and works on a government war film as well as foreign broadcasts for the Office of War Information. He also writes the subtitles for Road to Victory, an exhibition that Steichen is putting on at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Home Front Memorandum is published in 1943. 1945: The Sandburg family moves to the Connemara farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
1946: Sandburg’s birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois, is dedicated as a memorial. 1948: Remembrance Rock, Sandburg’s only novel, is published. 1950 – complete poems are published. 1951 – Sandburg wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Complete Poems. 1952 – receives the gold medal for history from the american academy of arts and letters. 1953 – Always the young strangers, an autobiography covering the first 20 years of Sandburg’s life is published. Receives the Gold Medal of the Poetry Society of America. 1953-58 – Sandburg writes prolifically and travels the country lecturing, reading poetry, and singing. In 1954 Abraham Lincoln was published in one volume: The Prairie Years and the War Years. in 1956 the first of many u.s. Schools named after him open in Harvard, Illinois. 1959 – Delivers the Lincoln Day Address on February 12 before a joint session of Congress. As a cultural envoy for the State Department, Sandburg travels to Russia with Edward Steichen. he and steichen represent the united states at the family of man expo in moscow. sandburg travels to sweden and receives the litteris et artibus medal from king gustav.
1960-61: Sandburg works as a Hollywood movie consultant for George Stevens and The Greatest Story Ever Told.
1963 – honey and salt, sandburg’s last book of poetry, is published on january 6, his 85th birthday. He receives the United States International Poets Award as the United States’ Honorary Poet Laureate. 1964 – sandburg receives the presidential medal of freedom from lyndon b. johnson. 1965: Sandburg receives NAACP honors for his coverage of the 1919 Chicago race riots and for his “lifelong fight to push the boundaries of social justice.” 1967: Sandburg dies on July 22 at his home in Flat Rock, North Carolina, at age 89. the nation mourns and hails him as a writer, biographer, folksinger, lecturer, and people’s poet, who spoke for those “who had neither words nor the power to speak for themselves.” with thousands in attendance, he is lauded september 17 at the lincoln memorial. His ashes are interred at his birthplace in Galesburg on October 1. 1968: Congress authorizes the carl sandburg home national historic site, the first national park unit honoring a poet. 1977: lilian steichen sandburg dies on february 18 at the age of 93. Her ashes are also interred at her husband’s birthplace in Galesburg, near a rock called the “remembrance rock.”
dr. Penelope Niven is the author of Carl Sandburg: A Biography and Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet.