Swan Turnblad was born in Smaland, Sweden, in 1860. His family were farmers but following a series of bad harvests decided to emigrate to the United States in 1868. They settled in Vasa, Minnesota, where there was already a sizable community of Swedish immigrants.
When Turnblad was nineteen he moved to Minneapolis where he found work as a typesetter in a Swedish language newspaper. Soon after arriving in the city he met another Swedish immigrant, Christina Nilsson. The couple married in 1883 and the following year Christina gave birth to her only child.
Turnblad now worked for the Svenska Amerikanska Posten and after ten years became the sole owner of the newspaper. Turnblad was very interested in new technology and was the first publisher of a Swedish language newspaper to use a Linotype machine. After acquiring a duplex rotary colour printing press in 1903 Turnblad also became the first to include colour illustrations.
Under Turnblad's management circulation increased from 1,400 to 40,000. The success of Svenska Amerikanska Postenmade Turnblad a wealthy man. In 1903 he commissioned the building of a mansion in Park Avenue in Minneapolis. The 33 room building was completed five years later.
In 1929 the Turnblad mansion became the home of the American Swedish Institute. The mission of the museum is to "preserve and share with the public its collections of Swedish Americana; to interpret the history of the emigrant era; to share Swedish cultural and aesthetic traditions with the community; and to enhance cultural relationships with modern Sweden".