Bruce Dayton, scion of Minnesota retail family that founded Target, dies at 97

Bruce Dayton | 1918-2015

Bruce Dayton was the last of five brothers who expanded Dayton Co. from a single department store in downtown Minneapolis to a national retail force.

(Stormi Greener / Associated Press)
Associated Press

Bruce Dayton, the father of Minnesota’s governor and a key figure in building his family’s company into the massive retailing business that became Target Corp., died Friday at his home in Orono, Minn. He was 97.

His death was confirmed by Matt Swenson, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Dayton.

Bruce Dayton was the last of five brothers — all grandsons of The Dayton Co. founder George Draper Dayton — who expanded the family business from a single department store in downtown Minneapolis to a national retail force.

Those who knew him found Dayton direct in his views yet accommodating of other opinions, and someone with extraordinary business acuity and a dry sense of humor.


Born in Minneapolis in 1918, Bruce Bliss Dayton embraced the family’s retailing heritage, taking a job in the store’s merchandise receiving room in his early 20s and steadily climbing into the boardroom. Along with his brothers, Dayton helped expand the upscale Dayton’s department store and its discount offshoot, Target, into nationally known chains.

He was president around the time of the company’s initial public offering in 1967, and he later chaired the company’s board, according to a Target company chronology.

Dayton stepped away from the business’ top ranks in 1983, ending 80 years of direct family involvement in one of Minnesota’s most storied companies. His family is no longer involved in owning or operating Target Corp.

David Brennan, who worked in the Dayton-Hudson corporate offices in the 1970s, said Dayton and his brother, Ken, took Target to great heights by differentiating it from other newer discounters Kmart and Walmart.


“They were exceptionally innovative and calculated risk takers,” Brennan, now a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, said Friday. “They exuded great confidence because of their innovativeness and their ability to stick with the plan.”

Bruce Dayton graduated from Yale University and served in the Army and arrived in France two days after Germany surrendered in World War II, according to a 2013 family biography by author Kristal Leebrick.

He also carried on the family legacy of civic giving, particularly in the Minneapolis arts scene. Dayton was a lifetime trustee of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where officials estimate that his gifts were valued at more than $70 million.

Dayton’s son Mark chose politics over business. Currently in his second term as Minnesota governor, Mark Dayton also is a former state auditor and U.S. senator.

Along with his wife, Ruth Stricker Dayton, Bruce Dayton is survived by his four children, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.


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