Walter Frederick ("Fritz") Mondale was born in Ceylon,
Minnesota on Jan. 5, 1928, the son of Theodore Sigvaard
Mondale and Claribel Cowan Mondale. He spent his boyhood
in the small towns of southern Minnesota, where he
attended public schools. His father's family was Norwegian American
and his mother, the daughter of an immigrant from
Ontario, was of Scottish and English descent. His half-brother Lester Mondale was a Unitarian minister.
Mondale was educated at Macalester College in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota, where he earned his B.A. in Political Science, graduating in 1951.
He did not have enough money to attend law school. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for two years at Fort Knox during the Korean War, reaching the rank of corporal. Through the support of the G.I. Bill, he was able to attend law school, and graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1956. While at law school he served on the Minnesota Law Review and as a law clerk in the Minnesota Supreme Court under Justice Thomas F. Gallagher. He began practicing law in Minneapolis, and continued to do so for four years before entering the political arena.
Mondale became involved in national politics in the 1940s. At the age of 20, he was visible in Minnesota politics by helping organize Hubert Humphrey's successful Senate campaign in 1948. Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman appointed Mondale in the race for Minnesota Attorney General in 1960, filling the vacancy left by Miles Lord, who was appointed to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota by President John F. Kennedy. Mondale had just managed Freeman's successful gubernatorial campaign. Mondale was 32, and four years out of law school when he became attorney general of Minnesota.
During his tenure as Minnesota Attorney General, the case Gideon v. Wainwright (which ultimately established the right of defendants in state courts to have a lawyer) was being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. When those saying that a lawyer wasn't required organized a Friend of the Court brief from some state Attorneys General for that position, Mondale organized a countering Friend of the Court brief from many more state Attorneys General, arguing that defendants must be allowed a lawyer. He served for two terms as attorney general. He also served as a member of the President’s Consumer Advisory Council from 1960 to 1964. At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Mondale played a major role in the proposed but ultimately unsuccessful compromise by which the national Democratic Party offered the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party two at-large seats.
On December 30, 1964, Mondale was appointed by Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by Hubert Humphrey's resignation after being elected Vice President of the United States. Mondale was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1966, defeating Republican candidate Robert A. Forsythe, by 53.9% to 45.2%.
In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern offered Mondale an opportunity to be his vice presidential running mate, which he declined.That year, Mondale won reelection to the Senate with over 57% of the vote.
When Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination for president in 1976, he chose Mondale as his running mate. The ticket was narrowly elected on November 2, 1976, and Mondale was inaugurated as Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1977. He became the fourth vice president in eight years, the other three being: Spiro Agnew (1969-73), Gerald Ford (1973-1974), and Nelson Rockefeller (1974-77).
Under Carter, Mondale traveled extensively throughout the nation and the world advocating the administration's foreign policy. Mondale was the first vice president to have an office in the White House, and established the concept of "activist Vice President". Mondale established the tradition of weekly lunches with the president, which continues to this day. More important, he expanded the vice president's role from that of figurehead to presidential advisor, full-time participant, and troubleshooter for the administration. Subsequent vice presidents have followed this model in the administrations in which they serve.
Carter and Mondale were renominated at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, but soundly lost to the Republican ticket of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. That year, Mondale opened the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. Carter and Walter Mondale are the longest-living post-presidential team in American history. On December 11, 2007, they had been out of office for 26 years and 325 days, surpassing the former record established by President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826.