Interview with Dr. Bernt L. Willis

Grand Forks, N.D.
September 15, 1963

Dr. Wills has taught North Dakota geography at the University of North Dakota for over twenty years. He is the author of “North Dakota, The Northern Prairie State.”

Bernt L. Wills. Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.

Do you think North Dakota’s location is a liability or an asset?

North Dakota has a potentially favorable location at the center of the North American continent; its size and shape are favorable to its growth and development. Its mid-latitude, non-continental climate is marked by distinct seasonal changes. Climatically, the principal drawback is the threat of drought; but its climate is ideal for mental and physical health and for activity.

Do you think more business and industry will locate in the state?

Increased industrial activity in the state is a certainty. Consider this fact: within a radius of 100 miles of Williston are extensive deposits of lignite, potash, oil and gas, salt, sodium sulfate, sulfur and clays (alumina, bentonite, and uranic). Williston has an abundance of water and low-rent land, and its transportation and communication facilities are excellent.

In the near future it appears likely that the most rapid expansion of industry in North Dakota will be in the increased processing of its abundant agricultural products. Most of this increase will occur in the eastern part of the state. From the long-range viewpoint, the chemical industry, particularly a chemical-metallurgical complex, based upon lignite for energy and for some of its raw material, will probably lead the field. Most of this development will perhaps take place in the western half of the state.

Is there any one factor that you deem as important to the state’s future?

Energy resources are the key to the future, and the state of North Dakota has an almost unlimited supply of materials to generate mechanical energy needed by industry. Fossil coal, petroleum, natural gas, and the energy embodied in falling water all are valuable resources for power.

Any last comments for our readers?

A major task which looms before North Dakotans is the creation in the public mind of a more accurate image of the state. The average American—North Dakotans naturally excluded—probably has more accurate knowledge about any Western European Country than he has about North Dakota. To him, North Dakota means blizzards, snow, and arctic cold. If North Dakota is to prosper, progress to any great extent, it will have to correct the public image. Well-informed business executives, when brought to this state and shown what is here, have frankly admitted that their earlier image of the state was blurred and out of focus. North Dakotans who want their state to prosper and to grow must praise and defend their far-flung land; then they must actively work for its growth and improvement. The raw materials for greatness are here.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

3-4, 8

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change