John was born in Slätthög, Kronobergs län, Småland, Sweden on April 7 1826. He emigrated to the United States in 1854 with his sister Kajsa Jönsdotter, and his brother Peter Magnus Jönsson. Their father was Jöns Petterson, so their name was Jönsson. (Note: Surnames were not solidified in Sweden until the late 1800's. Until that time children were identified by their father's first name with the addition of either "son" or "dotter" to the end of the name--depending on their gender.)
John Erlander first settled in Chicago where he learned to operate a new, timesaving invention...the sewing machine. In 1855 he came to Rockford and worked as a tailor. His employer had a sewing machine, but did not know how to use it. John did, however know how to use it, and added to the business success through increased productivity.
Erlander was involved in several business ventures during his lifetime. In 1861, he entered into a partnership with Sven August Johnson (often referred to as S.A. Johnson). They open a tailoring and men's clothing shop on East State Street, naming their business "Erlander & Johnson". According to John Erlander's son Alfred, the men entered into their partnership with the agreement that they were to share everything equally...and as the Vikings did, they swore in blood to keep the pledge. The clothing store flourished, and the partners remained in business until 1885 when Erlander sold his half of the business to Johnson. He was 59 years old at the time.
In 1876, the Rockford Union Furniture Company was organized by a small group of men meeting at the Erlander home. Jonas Peters, Erlander's brother-in-law, had saved some money while serving in the Civil War. With this seed money Peters started the Union Furniture Company. John Erlander was elected President of the company. Jonas, formerly a cabinetmaker's apprentice, served as Treasurer/Manager, and P.A. Peterson was elected company Secretary. The Union Furniture Company was a cooperative association with 25 members. Members helped to raise the initial capital for the business. It was the first of 25 area furniture factories that were formed as cooperatives. John Erlander was involved in several other business ventures and provided leadership in the Rockford community. He served on the boards of the Excelsior Furniture Company, the Central Furniture Company, and the Rockford Brick Company. He was also one of the primary organizers of the Swedish Mutual Fire Insurance Company, and was a stockholder in Manufacturer's National Bank.