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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.”
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Photo courtesy: Morrison Bros. Co.
MORRISON BROTHERS COMPANY. In 1852 John MORRISON, Sr. came to America from Scotland and for three years he worked at his trade of boilermaker in Springfield, Massachusetts and Cincinnati, Ohio. His family joined him in 1853. In 1855 they crossed the MISSISSIPPI RIVER to Dubuque. (1) He built a brick building near the corner of 7th and Main STREETS, and began the business of boiler making.

With the beginning of the CIVIL WAR, Morrison, too old to enter the military, transported wounded soldiers back north from the front lines. Family legend has it that one of the wounded soldiers who accompanied him back from the front was his brother-in-law, Andrew Young MCDONALD. At the end of the war, Morrison had to start over.

By 1864 the company was relocated to 10th and Washington. There in September with fourteen workmen, the company worked on a contract to manufacture four boilers for Rhomberg & Company distillers for $6,000 and were repaired boilers for the steamboat Itasca. (2) In the early years large, hollow tubular boilers were floated to the market in St. Louis. (3)

The Morrison Boiler Shop operated until 1872, but never with great prosperity because of its small production. The several years that the founder had spent attending to the wounded in the war had left him unable to purchase power machinery. It was at this time that Morrison’s two oldest sons, John and Angus, having learned the plumbing and heating trade from their uncle, A.Y. McDonald, started a plumbing business in addition to keeping up the boiler shop. (4)

In January 1874, the company relocated. Operating out of a shop located at 164 5th Street in Dubuque, the plumbing branch of the business began to prosper.

John Morrison, Jr. Photo courtesy: Linwood Legacies
Upon John’s sudden death from an accident, John and Angus continued their own plumbing business as well as the boilermaking company of their father. In 1889 they decided to concentrate their attention on the boiler business and sold their plumbing business to William S. MOLO. John also served as the president of the A.Y.MCDONALD MANUFACTURING COMPANY until 1909 when he obtained the undivided interests of Angus in the plant started by their father. (5)
Andrew Morrison. Photo courtesy: Morrison Bros. Co.
Andrew Morrison, directing head of the business since the death of John, and his brother Abraham L. Morrison took over the business. Andrew formed a corporation of the family members capitalized at $50,000 and had the plan machinery reorganized at a cost of $200,000. In three months production was revolutionized. Twenty-one tanks were turned out daily by 16 workers. (6)

Andrew and Abraham made a study of brass valves for handling oil, and a small brass shop for the manufacture of oil handling appliances was opened. The tank shop continued to grow and prosper, forcing the purchase of more land to the north of the old shop. The brass business forged ahead, and more property to the south of the shop was secured. In 1914, the entire block, 604 feet long and 100 feet wide, was occupied. In 1920, property was purchased on 7th Street. A plant was built for the manufacture of non-pressure vessels of all kinds. (7)

By 1927, Andrew, the last surviving brother, realized the need to restructure the ownership of the company. An agreement was reached with four employees to assume active and authoritative control of the company. (8) One of those four was William N. GLAB, grandfather of a later company president, Charlie Glab.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
By 1930, the square footage of the general Morrison plant facilities had increased to 100,000 square feet, twenty times its capacity twenty years earlier. The Morrison Bros. Co. continued working out of their two locations for nearly forty more years, until expanding again in 1968, when the foundry facilities were moved to a new location on 7th Street, near the tank shop. The machine ship, assembly areas and administrative offices remained on 24th Street.

In 1934 operating under National Recovery Act (NRA) regulations the plant was open for five eight-hour days each week. The working force of less than two hundred men was about one-third the staff needed in normal times. (9)

When the United States entered WORLD WAR II in 1941, Morrison Bros. Co. “re-tooled” and threw its full effort into aiding the allied cause. The extraordinary effort turned in by Morrison Bros. Co. and its employees during this period resulted in the ultimate wartime recognition, the Army-Navy E-Award. Awarded to only 5% of military contractors, the Army-Navy E-Award was the highest commendation that a business could receive from the United States military. During the war, Morrison Bros. Co. was recognized on three separate occasions for this honor.

Through the 1940s and 1950s the product line continued to evolve as the technology of the day progressed. New products included an assortment of pumps, valves and vents. Despite the rationing of materials during the KOREAN CONFLICT, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1955.

The early 1970s witnessed the first new company president in over three decades, when W.N. Glab was succeeded by his son, J. Duncan Glab who had begun his career with Morrison Bros. Co. in 1946 as a welder. Over the years he served as plant superintendent, general manager, and vice president before becoming president in 1972.

Metal tag

The 1970s were a time of change for the company. The tank shop on 7th Street was sold and the company began to re-focus its efforts on brass and aluminum oil handling equipment. This decade saw the introduction of the Figure 244 vent, still a popular item over forty years later. A few years later, during the 1980s, Morrison’s began producing another popular item, the 305 adapter.

The first day of 1990 a new member of the Morrison family, the Maquoketa Company, opened its doors at a location approximately 30 miles to the south of the Dubuque plants. In the early years of the 1990s, Morrison Bros. introduced a new product that would soon be one of its best selling lines of all time, the clock gauge. A product unique in design, the clock gauge quickly evolved from a simple device allowing a quick sight reading of the liquid level to a product using the latest technology of the day. During this time, Morrison Bros. continued to re-design and improve many other existing products and won the PEI Circle of Excellence Award in 1995.

In March 1996 fire consumed a large part of the 24th Street facility. (10) The company was forced to move the assembly unit to a temporary location near the foundry. Not long after that, construction began on a new building located adjacent to the foundry, a location that served as the new headquarters for the machining unit, the assembly unit, and select office personnel.

In the summer of 1998, the new 7th Street location opened its doors. The PEI Circle of Excellence Award was presented to Morrison Bros. for the second time in 1998, and then again in 1999 and 2000. In 2005, the Morrison Bros. Co. continued to maintain its reputation as a committed leader in the petroleum marketing equipment industry.

In 2008 Morrison Bros.Co. announced preliminary plans for a $3 million project moving the company's petroleum and equipment division to its Seventh Street site with expansion of warehouse space. Estimates called for the creation of ten jobs. The state economic development board awarded the company $40,000 from the Community Economic Betterment Account for six of the jobs. The company also received enterprise zone tax benefits of between 5 to 10% of the valye of the new investments for job creation. (11)

In 2014 Morrison Brothers was featured in the Telegraph Herald as one Dubuque company with important export business. The company offered a full line of vents, values, gauges and fittings for petroleum storage systems. (12)

Morrison Brothers' property along Washington Street between East 24th and East 25th STREETS became the subject of BEE BRANCH renovation in 2016. The residential lots were located where the Bee Branch Creek was set to change from an underground storm sewer into an open waterway. City officials believed the properties could be used to create a safer and more attractive connection between COMISKEY PARK, HERITAGE TRAIL, and a new linear park. The property would also allow the removal of Washington Street between East 24th and East 25th streets. This would help reduce runoff and allow the city to save an estimated $70,000 on the construction of a "green alley". According to the plan, Morrison Brothers' would deed the land to the city at no cost and swap industrial property on 24th Street for land in the city's industrial park or pay the company $120,000. (13)

Letterhead. Photo courtesy: Cathy's Treasures, 156 Main, Dubuque



1. "Morrison Brothers' Boiler Plant, Started 79 Years Ago, Example of Industrial Pioneering, Employs Nearly 200 Workers," Telegraph Herald, July 22, 1934, p. 3

2. "Morrison Boiler Manufactory," Dubuque Democratic Herald, September 13, 1864, Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18640913&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Oil Equipmen5 Headquarters," Telegraph-Herald, February 11, 1953, p. 44

4. "New Plumbing Shop," Dubuque Herald, January 24, 1874 p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740124&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "Morrison Brothers'..."

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Bergstrom, Kathy. "After Fire, Morrison Bros. Begins to Rebuilt Assembly Warehouse," Telegraph Herald, August 2, 1997, p.3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970802&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. Mozinski, Eileen, "Morrison Bros. Pursues Expansion," Telegraph-Herald, June 20 2008, p. 3

12. "Morrison Brothers," Telegraph Herald, April 10, 2014, p. 36

13. "Bee Branch Property Swap," Telegraph Herald, March 22, 2016, p. 3

Morrison Bros. Co. website

"175 Years," Volume 3, Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2008