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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.




IOWA IRON WORKS

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Plaque on downtown building's column.
Advertisement for the Iowa Iron Works in the June 16, 1884 Dubuque Trade Journal. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Iowa Iron Works circa 1867. Photo courtesy: William K. Hammel
Dubuque City Directory, 1857-1858. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Construction of the U. S. S. Ericsson. Image courtesy: Joe Jacobsmeier

IOWA IRON WORKS. The Iowa Iron Works was a major participant in Dubuque's BOAT BUILDING industry. The firm of Rouse, Dean & Company, an iron foundry and machine shop, was established in March 1852 on the corner of Ninth and Washington STREETS. It later became known as Rouse & Dean. (1) The firm of Rouse and Dean was dissolved with the retirement of H. Rouse. C.B. Dean, William Hopkins, and J. McMurchy carried on business as Dean, Hopkins, & McMurchy. This firm became the Iowa Iron Works.

The Iowa Iron Works employed sixty men in the manufacture of movable and stationary engines, heavy steamboat work castings, and columns for buildings. The workforce earned about $3,000 per month and the sales of the company reached $75,000 annually.

In 1870 the first keel was laid for an iron vessel manufactured in Dubuque. The Iowa Iron Works, the vessel's manufacturer, named this steamboat the "Clyde," for the home in Scotland of William HOPKINS, a builder of ironclads during the CIVIL WAR and master mechanic. The company gained national attention for its construction. (2) The 96-foot-long Clyde was the second steel-hull vessel manufactured in the United States. The boat was still in operation in 1930. (3)

In 1871 the Iowa Iron Works constructed the Dubuque Marine Ways, the largest boatyard of its kind north of St. Louis and considered the best on the Mississippi River, at EAGLE POINT. (4) Iron and steel, supplied by its foundry on 9th and Washington STREETS, were carried to the river for assembly during the thirty-seven-year life of the business.

"Shoal water propellers," designed by John Dowler of the Iowa Iron Works, saved fuel and allowed boats to pass through very shallow water. Pioneering the use of these iron propellers in 1872, the Iowa Iron Works mounted them above the water line on the boat's stem. The first boat fitted with them was the "J. G. Chapman," a steamer built for the lumber trade. Reaction to the device, dubbed "Dowler's Humbug," was generally negative.

In 1882 the company began to build the "featherwing wheel," which entered the water straight and left it straight; it was first put in the steamboat "Vixen" and proved a success. The same year the company moved its manufacturing site to the ICE HARBOR. (5)

Iowa Iron Works of Dubuque constructed craft for every use. The King of Siam ordered an iron yacht that was delivered to him in 1876. The "Queen" was launched in 1884 for excursions on northwest Iowa's Lake Okoboji and was still in use through the 1960s.

The "J. K. Graves," launched in 1885 by the Iowa Iron Works in cooperation with the DIAMOND JO LINE, was a giant raft-boat used to push rafts of logs to the mills. (6) Steel-hulled packets for carrying freight and passengers included the "Cherokee," the company's first boat of this type. The "Cherokee" boasted electric lights and the capability of carrying up to one thousand passengers. Constructing the "Ferdinand Herold" required 125 workers and cost $80,000. Railroad ferries with track laid on the deck were constructed to transport trains across the Mississippi where bridges were temporarily out of service.

Previous to the spring of 1886 the Iowa Iron Works had confined its boat work principally to iron hulls, but at that date it established a general shipbuilding department. (7) By 1890 Dubuque had become a great center for the construction of steel hulls. The Ferdinand Herold, which was launched late in July, 1890, was the twenty-second iron and steel craft sent out by the Iowa Iron Works; the Clyde was the first, in 1870. (8)

It was widely believed for a time in May 1891 that the company would relocate to St. Louis. Most of the business done by the company was for businesses south of that city. Relocation would make transportation of the products cheaper. Working against the move was the fact that company officials had already purchased more land in Dubuque with the intent of building a larger plant. (9) The company chose not to move.

In 1891 the Iowa Iron Works built for the government the torpedo boat "Dubuque" at a cost of $113,500; it was 150 feet long, 14 feet wide and 6 high; it was modeled after the Cushing. The contract provided that if the boat could make more than twenty-eight knots per hour the contractors were to receive a bonus of fifty-six thousand dollars. The snag-boat James B. McPherson was built by the company the same year; it was 175 feet long. (10) In 1892 the Lucas Ship Company announced that it had awarded Iowa Iron Works the $200,000 contract to build a new type of ship--230 feet long with a freight capacity of 1,000 tons. The ship had an adjustable keel which could be raised in river or lowered in the ocean. Its use was planned between the United States and South America. (11) In winning the competition to construct the William Windom, the Iron Works bid was $15,000 lower than the next bid. (12)

Boat construction techniques improved, but the nature of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER continued to determine production deadlines in 1895. In April, the revenue cutter "William Windom" had its boilers and engines installed, but its launch depended on "the caprices of the father of waters, and will be delayed until the river becomes more than a creek." (13)

In 1897 a business reversal threatened to close the company. In the case of Augustin A. COOPER vs. Iowa Iron Company, a court entered a judgment by default of $55,831 plus 6% interest from the first of the year against the company. It also granted the termination of the trust deed and ordered a special and general execution to issue. This suggested that the company would be sold. (14) On January 7, 1897 the announcement was made that the company would remain under the same leadership for the following year at which time the right of redemption would expire. (15)

By 1898 the Iowa Iron Works had built or partly built over one hundred boats. In 1898 this company launched two large iron hulls in the ice harbor. One was a transfer boat, 303 feet long, and was No. 43 of its class built here. Seven other boats were under construction at the time. About this time the Iowa Iron Works pay roll was about $11,000 per month. In fourteen months ending June, 1899, the company paid out over $400,000 for labor and material and had about 230 men on the pay roll. (16)

Concern about the condition of the U.S. Navy led to Congressional calls for modernization at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1891 the Iowa Iron Works received the contract to build Torpedo Boat No.2. (17) Named the "Ericsson," the boat was outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. During trial runs, a failed shaft on a vessel resulted in a lawsuit levying a $17,000.00 fine on the company and temporarily closing the facility. This led Dubuque resident, U.S. Senator William Boyd ALLISON to attach an amendment to a Navy Appropriations bill repaying the Iowa Iron Works. (18)

On April 20, 1901 the company signed a contract with the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal and Coke Company of Pittsburg for the construction of the "SPRAGUE," the largest steam stern wheel towboat in the history of the Mississippi. On November 10, 1901 Robert BONSON announced that he was leaving the law to take the position of manager of the company, a job held by his brother William Watts BONSON since January 5, 1901. (19) Despite the death in 1902 of William Hopkins, the year proved the company's best with the Sprague launched on December 5, 1901. The keel laid for the "Pelican," an enormous transfer steamboat.

The "Sachem," "Nokomis," and "Wynoka" were the first three boats constructed for the U. S. Engineers. In 1912 they were assigned to the Mississippi River Commission where they earned several distinctions. The "Nokomis" was the first Federal Barge Line tow out of St. Louis on September 28, 1918 bound for New Orleans. The "Wynoka" pioneered a trip north in April, 1929 with five barges loaded with water ballast to test out the waters. The depth proven too shallow for even the small Federal barges. Even though the trip proven a disappointment, Brig. General Thomas Q. Ashburn aboard the "Wynoka" said it did not discourage him to the future of navigation on the upper Mississippi River. (20)

In 1904 the repayment arranged by Senator Allison was used as capitol to reorganize the company under the the new name--DUBUQUE BOAT AND BOILER WORKS. (21)


Boats Constructed by the Iowa Iron Works (22)

Clyde, 1870. First iron hull towboat on the river. Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Clyde

W.M. Hopkins 1871

J. G. Chapman, 1872 Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Clyde
Josephine, Packet, 1878. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Lily Turner, Rafter, 1883. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Vixen, 1884 Photo courtesy: Bob Johnsen
J. K. Graves, 1885 Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Clyde

Jeanne Hopkins 1888

Ferdinand Herold, 1890 Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Clyde

Dubuque 1891

Joy Patton, towboat, 1891. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
James B. McPherson, Missouri River Commission, snagboat, 1891. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Chancy Lamb, The Lamb Company of Clinton, towboat, 1892. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Teal, Ferry, 1893. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
L. E. Patton, 1894 Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Clyde
Quincy, 1896. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Charles H Organ, 1897. (Renamed Dan Quinn) Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Ericcson, Commissioned 1897 Photo courtesy: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-e/tb2.htm

William K. Kavanaugh 1898

L. S. Thorne, 1898 Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Clyde
Gen. John Newton, U. S. Engineers, towboat, 1899. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Leota, Mississippi River Commission, Towboat, 1899. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Nokomis, Mississippi River Commission, towboat, 1899. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Sachem, Mississippi River Commission, towboat, 1899. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Wyonka, Mississippi River Commission, towboat, 1899. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Choctaw, Mississippi River Commission, towboat, 1899. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Annie Russell, 1902 Photo courtesy: https://wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Clyde
Lorene, Packet, 1902. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Orleander, U. S. lighthouse tender, 1902. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Robert E. Carr 1903


The 1858-1859 Dubuque City Directory listed Washington between 9th and 10th as the company address.

The 1880 through 1890-91 Dubuque City Directory listed the company at the northeast corner of 9th and Washington.

---

Source:

1. Ship Building History.com Online: http://shipbuildinghistory.com/history/shipyards/5small/inactive/dubuque.htm

2. Tschirgi, Marie. "Large Boats at Built in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Apr. 30, 1930, p. 21. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=DbBFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Pb0MAAAAIBAJ&pg=4662,5194645&dq=dubuque+boat+and+boiler+works&hl=en

3. Oldt, Franklin History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-27-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

4. Ibid.

5. Oldt. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-26-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

6. Ibid.

7. Oldt. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-27-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

8. Ibid.

9. "The Iowa Iron Works," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 16, 1891, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910516&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. Oldt.

11. "Another Big Contract," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 9, 1892, p. 8

12. "The Envious East," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 25, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18921025&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. "Ready to Launch," Dubuque Sunday Herald, April 14, 1895, p. 3

14. "Iowa Iron Works," Dubuque Herald, January 6, 1897, p. 8

15. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 7, 1897, p. 8

16. Oldt. p. 27

17. Moeller, Hubert L. "Two Iowa Naval Boats," The Des Moines Register, April 22, 1935

18. Steamboats.org. Online: http://www.steamboats.org/history-education/dubuque-built-diesel-excursion-boats.html

19. Bonson, Robert E. The Bonson Diaries, June 16, 2008, p. 7

20. Swift, James V. "Dubuque's Iowa Iron Works Was Busy in 1899," The Waterways Journal, June 13, 1981, p. 8

21. Ibid.

22. Ship Building History.com