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  Richards, Richard Olsen
NameRichard Olsen Richards
Huron, South Dakota , United States
Born January 02, 1866
Died May 11, 1930 (64 years)
ContributorJoshua L.
Last ModifiedMr. Matt
Jul 03, 2013 06:10am
InfoRichard O. Richards was a leader in the farmer's movement in South Dakota and the author of the famous "Richards Primary Law."

Richards was born in Sandefjord, Norway, on 1/2/1866. His father was a ship builder, and when Richard was a teenager, he worked in a ship chandler store.

Richards moved to the USA in 1881. He spent the summer in Traverse City MI and then worked for two years as an interpreter at Castle Garden in NYC. From 1883 to 1884 Richards worked for a ship broker in NYC.

In 1884, Richards moved to the Dakota Territory (today's South Dakota). He arrived penniless in the village of Mitchell and worked on the streets. Soon, he became a bookkeeper in the Mitchell National Bank.

Richards quickly advanced in business. By 1886 he was a manager at the American Investment Company. He later became president of the National Land & Trust Company, the Consolidated Land & Irrigation Company, and then the Richard's Trust Company. By 1910, Richards was one of the wealthiest men in South Dakota.

Richards entered politics as a progressive in 1903. His interest began during the appointment of a postmaster in Huron, where he had settled. He was a supporter of Coe I. Crawford in the 1904 gubernatorial election.

Richards' first activity regarding the SD primary came in 1905. He collected 9,000 signatures on a petition calling for a statewide primary. It was not adopted by the legislature, but the "Honest Caucus Law" was passed instead. In 1906, Richards again supported Crawford, who was elected governor. In 1908, Richards was Crawford's campaign manager in his primary campaign for the US Senate. Richards supported Gov. Vessey in his successful campaign but was disappointed that Vessey would not support the draft of the Richards Primary Law.

The Richards Primary Law was enacted by referendum. The state legislature rejected it in 1912, but Richards got it onto the ballot of the general election where it passed. The Richards Primary Law outlined ballot access and established requirements for debates between candidates. The law was challenged on multiple occasions in the coming years but was sustained by the voters. Finally in the 1920s the legislature began to strip away the legislation one section at a time until SD was left with a primary law similar to those in other states.

In addition to the primary law, Richards was closely associated with South Dakota's "anti-pass" legislation.

Originally a Progressive Republican, most of Richards' campaigns were undertaken as an Independent. He was a candidate for Governor in 1914 and 1924 and U.S. Senator in 1920.

Burial location unknown.

O.W. Coursey, Who's Who in South Dakota, (Mitchell SD: 1910)vol. 1, p. 77.


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  11/04/1924 SD Governor Lost 9.98% (-43.92%)
  11/02/1920 SD US Senate Lost 5.45% (-44.65%)
  11/03/1914 SD Governor Lost 9.91% (-40.16%)
  06/04/1912 SD US Senate - R Primary Lost 22.96% (-12.05%)