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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

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


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Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
MAIZEWOOD. The unique building material manufactured from cornstalks was developed through the pioneering work of Dr. Orland Russel Sweeney of Iowa State University. Maizewood production created economic benefit from one of Iowa's most plentiful agricultural waste products.

Dubuque was the first city in the United States to utilize cornstalks for the manufacture of insulating boards. Built in Dubuque in the 1920s, the MAIZEWOOD INSULATION COMPANY was operated by the Maizewood Products Corporation of Chicago, Illinois.

Stacks of cornstalks ready for processing. Photo courtesy: Library of Congress
Initially farmers living in the area near Dubuque were offered $9.00 per ton for loose, unbaled stalks or $10.00 a ton if the stalks were baled and delivered to the factory. Once the stalks were delivered, they were shredded and then cooked for two hours under steam pressure of one hundred pounds. The material was then washed and cleaned before again being cut to reduce the length of the plant fibers.

After cutting, the material was again washed and then mixed with rosin to give the finished product more water repellency. Two more refining machines were used to remove coarse pieces and leave the material in a silky condition ready for the final manufacturing step.

Workman checks the cutting table. Photo courtesy: Library of Congress
Sheets of maizewood coming from the dryer.Photo courtesy: Library of Congress
The damp material was spread over a screen on the board-forming machine. Excess water was allowed to drain off before the material was put through a press. By now formed into one continuous sheet, the maizewood was cut into twenty-foot lengths before moving into a drier. The boards were then baked at a temperature of 320 degrees, rough edges were removed, and the boards cut into various lengths.

Production of maizewood was brought to an end with the development of the mechanical cornpicker which left the stalks unusable. In place of cornstalks, wood fiber was gathered by the Celotex Company which purchased the Maizewood Company. Production of ceiling tiles and panels expanded.