Linn was the son of the manager of an ironworks owned by the ancient company of Bilnas Burk, located on the southwestern coast of Finland, which was then subject to the crown of Sweden. He was attending the Royal Academy at Turku when the city burned in a great fire. He joined a sailing crew and became an accomplished seafarer, crossing the Atlantic 53 times and circumnavigating the globe thrice before settling in Montgomery in 1838 to open a mercantile store. According to one account, he left a family in Helsinki when he emigrated.1.
He prospered in Montgomery and added a farming spread to his holdings. He sold at the start of the Civil War and returned to the seas as a Captain in the Confederate Navy, charged with running ships laden with Southern cotton to Liverpool to raise war funds. His ship, The Kate Dale was boarded by Union troops in Havana harbor, and Linn and his son were captured. Taken to Washington D. C. they were quickly pardoned and Linn resumed the mercantile business with a wholesale grocery warehouse in New Orleans, importing dozens of his countrymen from Finland to work in his company.
Linn sold off his New Orleans business and retired to Montgomery, where a group of businessmen which included James Powell interested him in the idea of opening a bank in the newly-founded City of Birmingham. He agreed and launched the National Bank of Birmingham in 1872 with $50,000 in gold. In 1873 Linn was elected to the Birmingham Board of Aldermen under Mayor Powell.
Later that year, Linn erected the monumental 3-story National Bank of Birmingham building on the corner of 1st Avenue North and 20th Street at a time when the city's future was doubtful. The building became known as Linn's Folly, and it was there that Linn hosted the legendary New Year's Eve Calico Ball that signaled the city's emergence from a cholera epidemic.
Linn extended his investments from banking to industry, organizing two of the city's first such ventures, the Linn Iron Works and the Birmingham Car and Foundry Company with skilled workers brought in from Cleveland and Cincinnati. Linn purchased some of his equipment from the Confederate Iron Works in Selma.
- I shall have my tomb built upon a high promontory above the town of Birmingham, in which you men profess to have so little faith, so that I may walk out on Judgment Day and view the greatest industrial city of the entire South.
Downtown's Linn Park was re-named for Linn in the 1980s. The Linn-Henley Research Library is also named in honor of Linn and his descendants. In 2005 Linn was inducted into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame. In 2013 a statue of Linn, sculpted by Branko Medenica, was installed at Linn Park by the Alabama-Mississippi Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The commission honored MS campaign chair Arthur Henley.
- Corley, Robert G. and Marvin Yeomans Whiting, editors (July 1979) Dedication. Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society. Vol. 6, No. 2
- Armor, John (August 2, 2008) "A Scandinavian Skeleton in a Southern Closet" FreeRepublic