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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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Peter Olinger. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
OLINGER, Peter. (Luxembourg, June 11, 1854--Dubuque, IA, July 29, 1904). MAYOR. Olinger migrated to the United States in 1871 and came directly to Dubuque. After eighteen months as a farm hand, he moved to the city and began a livery business that he maintained for fifteen years. In 1877 he also opened a saloon and grocery store on the corner of Clay and 17th Street. (1)

In 1890 Olinger returned home to a grand celebration after the latest win of his trotter, Keno F., at Rochester. Picked up by a carrigage whose horses were all wearing blankets containing the words,"Our winner, Keno F., the pride of the Key City," Olinger and his friends were treated to a supper at the MERCHANTS' HOTEL. After dinner, Meyer's Band headed a parade to the Olinger hoe at the corner of 11th and Iowa where congratulatory speeches were made. Olinger stated that after the race on which over $107,000 had been bet, a Philadelphia millionaire had offered him $15,000 for the horse, which was refused. (2)

In 1891 Olinger sold his livery business but retained his interest in buying and selling horses. (3) He owned the celebrated horse KENO F. (4)

Olinger was elected mayor of Dubuque in 1894 capping a political career that began in 1892 with his election as alderman from the Third Ward. One of his first suggestions was to encourage "economy" in city affairs. In April 1894 the council reduced the city engineer's salary from $3,300 to $1,800. The city marshal had been paid $1,200 plus all the fees he assessed. He retained his salary, but the fees were sent to the city treasurer. Fees once collected by the city recorder were taken from him although he retained his salary of $1,200. (5) Olinger was opposed to any further road repairs in which grading cost more than $100 per block. (6) Newspaper accounts of his tenure as mayor celebrated his administration's fiscal soundness in which $60,000 of city indebtedness was repaid. His term also saw such civic improvements as increased brick paving and expanded sanitary connections.

During the month of May, 1894 Olinger gradually replaced at least a half dozen police officers for reasons not stated in the newspaper. (7) On June 1, 1894 without explanation, he removed Captain Ryan who had twenty years of experience and an excellent record and replaced him with Officer Murphy who also had an excellent record. Other changes were expected. (8)

In his inaugural address on April 4, 1895, Mayor Olinger remarked that the city had a very good sanitary sewer system, but it was seldom used. He recommended provisions be made to get citizens to connect to the system whenever practical to reduce the incidence of disease. He believed brick paving should be used on the principal STREETS given that macadam had to often be replaced. The old and needy should be given preference for street work during the summer. The departments should use established business practices. The head of a department could gets bids on needed material by letter thus saving the travel costs of the agent and lowering the cost to the city. The records of the city, he felt, needed better protection from fire and suggested the purchase of several vaults. (9)

In January, 1896 Mayor Olinger and the city council were the subject of a grand jury investigation. The grand jury indicted the mayor for accepting greater compensation than he was due. Olinger had accepted $500 for serving as the chairman of the board the health. The jury also indicted eight councilmen on voting on a question in which they held an interest. They had voted themselves an increase in salary from the $300 which had been in effect for about ten years to $500. (10)



1. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, April 6, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770406&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Ovation to Olinger," Dubuque Daily Herald, August 16, 1890, p. 4

3. "Peter Olinger Sells Out," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 13, 1891, p. 4

4. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 15, 1894, p. 4

5. "Used a Pruning Knife," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 19, 1894, p. 5. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18940419&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "An Era of Economy," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 17, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920517&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 23, 1894, p. 4

8. "Police Captain Murphy," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 2, 1894, p. 4

9. "New City Fathers," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 5, 1890, p. 8

10. "The Grand Jury," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 30, 1896, p. 8

Oldt, Franklin. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 855

Portrait and Biographical Record of Dubuque, Jones and Clayton Counties, Iowa. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company, 1894, p. 128