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REYNOLDS, Joseph "Diamond Jo"

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"Diamond Jo" Reynolds was one of the most successful businessmen on the Mississippi River.
REYNOLDS, Joseph "Diamond Jo" (Fallsburg, NY, June 11, 1819--Congress, AZ, Feb. 21, 1891). Reynolds showed his business sense at an early age by buying and slaughtering animals and selling the meat at farms and in towns. He taught school in the winter and then formed a partnership with his brother in operating a store in Rockland, New York. He opened a mill and then bought a tannery. (1)

By 1856 Reynolds was operating a more successful tannery in Chicago. Every person in the industry marked their hides with an identification mark. According to his own account, Reynolds began using a black diamond only to find another person used the same identification. He then added J.T.R. to the diamond, but this did not prove satisfactory either. Reynolds finally used the first two letters of his first name inside a diamond shape. This gave him his mark---and a nickname that lasted the rest of his life. (2) While in Chicago, Reynolds was also involved in the grain trade--buying wheat and shipping it to his mill in New York for processing. (3)

When Reynolds entered the grain trade, he found his rivals, major investors in the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad Company, were being granted preferential treatment when shipping their grain. Feeling that he had been unfairly treated by river shippers, Reynolds in 1862 constructed the steamboat "Lansing." Hoping to stop his competition, the packet company promised better service if Reynolds would sell them his boat. When Reynolds sold the boat and found the service did not improve, he responded by constructing the steamboat "Diamond Jo" and two barges, the Fleming and Conger. In February, 1864 the Minnesota Packet Company reorganized as the Northwestern Packet Company and again offered good service for the Reynolds if he sold his boats. That agreement only lasted until 1866 when the Northwestern Line was consolidated with the White Collar Line and renamed the Northwestern Union Packet Company. Once again, Reynolds found that major investors in this company were being given preferential treatment. Finally realizing that he had to have his own craft, Reynolds in 1867 purchased the "John C. Gault" and for the third time entered the business of steamboating. Moving quickly, he established a contract with the CHICAGO AND NORTH WESTERN RAILROAD to handle all their freight moving north from their terminal at Fulton, Illinois. (4)

Reynolds' Chicago, Fulton and River Line, the name of his new company, by 1868 operated the John C. Gault, Ida Fulton, Diamond Jo, and the Lady Pike. New boats were constantly added and the business offices were established at Fulton. A regular service was also established to St. Paul. (5)

In 1874 he moved the main office of the Diamond Jo Line Steamers, his renamed business, to Dubuque at EAGLE POINT and continued his business with an estimated twenty warehouses, a large boatyard, and offices along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER.

The financial difficulties of the rival Keokuk Northern Line Packet Company allowed the efficient Reynolds to expand. In 1879 the DIAMOND JO LINE began offering St. Paul-St. Louis service. When the Keokuk Northern went bankrupt in 1880, Reynolds turned from his previous freight business to the passenger trade. In the 1880s the most famous Diamond Jo vessels, such as the "Mary Morton," were luxurious passenger boats. When the successor of the Keokuk Northern ceased operating in 1890, the Diamond Jo Line was the only remaining organized steamboat company between St. Louis and St. Paul.

Although steamboating and wheat dealing were his main enterprises, Reynolds turned to other ventures as well. In the 1870s, one of the Diamond Jo steamers was named "Arkansas," an unlikely name for an upper Mississippi River company, but a name which hinted at Reynolds’ other interest, the Hot Springs Railroad. Reynolds had endured stagecoach rides to Hot Springs in order to treat his rheumatism and arthritis with the "healing waters." The stagecoach rides were less than satisfactory, and in 1875 Reynolds began building the Hot Springs Railroad, extending north from Malvern Junction, a station on the Cairo & Fulton, to Hot Springs. Believing in giving work to Dubuque manufacturers, he purchased much of his cabinet work from HERANCOURT & WOODWARD. (6)

The arrival of the railroad in Hot Springs dramatically increased the business of the growing spa. Those seeking cures from the warm water proved willing to pay $2.50 each way for the twenty mile ride. Later dissatisfied with the narrow gauge railroad, Reynolds replaced the line with a standard gauge. At the time of his death, the railroad was sold for one million dollars. (7) Reynolds also promoted a railroad between Prescott and Phoenix, running through Congress, Arizona.

Often pictured as a flamboyant figure, Reynolds was actually a quiet man who shunned society and minded his own business. He and his wife never owned a home of their own and chose to live in rented rooms in McGregor, Iowa and Fulton, Illinois. (8) Not given to drinking, swearing, or gambling, Reynolds banned gambling and bars on his steamboats. (9) He was not, however, unwilling to participate in publicity events. In 1869 E. H. Thayer organized an excursion to the Falls of St. Anthony (St. Paul). For the price of $25 per couple, "Diamond Jo" Reynolds piloted the Diamond Jo. Enthusiastic couples signed up only to find after a day or two that space was not adequate. It would be years before Reynolds ever tried a similar event. (10)

Reynolds believed in maintaining his boats in top condition and kept stores of tools at different locations along the line for repairs, which he often made himself. Reynolds' habit of selling his boats before they were too old enabled him to buy newer and larger craft, but he never over expanded. His company thrived by adding new customers and running a highly efficient operation. (11)

Reynolds became involved in gold and silver MINING in Colorado and Arizona in the mid-1880s. His first venture, the Del Pasco mine in Arizona, was not successful. In 1887 Dennis May sold the Congress gold mine which he had discovered in Arizona to Reynolds for $30,000. Properly capitalized as the Congress Gold Company, a stamp mill was built and the mine opened. It became one of Arizona's largest producers. (12)

In 1890 while working in his office in Chicago in the Rialto Building, Reynolds was nearly killed. He detected the strong odor of gas, traced the leak to a place in the wall and called the janitor. He again found the source of the leak and lit a match to show the janitor. He and the janitor were thrown across the room and the wall between rooms 403 and 404 were destroyed, windows were shattered and furniture destroyed. (13)

Reynold's only child, Blake, died in California in 1890. Considered a fortunate child, he studied mechanical engineering in Boston as a youth but never practiced the profession. A $2,500 yacht was constructed for him in Dubuque and he often spent time sailing on the river. His health began to fail around 1886, and he toured the world trying to find a better climate. He returned to Cuba and then his father's silver mines before moving to California where he died. His body was returned the McGregor, Iowa where his mother lived. (14)

In 1891, while visiting his mine, Reynolds died. Reynolds left an estate estimated at $7 million fortune (approximately $150 million in 2006 dollars). (15) One month after his death, no will was found and consideration was made that he had never written one. Later it was discovered that as he lay dying in Arizona he dictated and then signed one. (16) He generously willed substantial amounts to some individuals and made two other significant bequests. In memory of his only child, a son named Blake, who predeceased him, he and his wife established a memorial park in McGregor. Reynolds also bequeathed $200,000 to the University of Chicago to establish the Reynolds Club in his son's memory. (17) The building is still used as the institution's student union. The estate was found to not owe not even one dollar. (18)

The Diamond Jo Line passed to his widow and upon her death in 1895 to a group headed by her brother, Jay. In 1911, the company was sold to the Streckfus Steamboat Company. (19)



1. Kruse, Len "Diamond Jo--The Man and His Steamboat," My Old Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa: Center for Dubuque History-Loras College, 2000, p. 106

2. Adney, John R. ""Legendary Diamond Jo," Telegraph Herald, February 21, 1995, p. 14. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=OHpjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hnkNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3364,4395065&dq=joseph+diamond-jo+reynolds&hl=en

3. "Diamond Jo Reynolds Dead," Dubuque Daily Herald, February 24, 1891, p. 6. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910224&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "The Story of the Diamond Jo Line Steamers," Telegraph-Herald, June 12, 1938, p. 5

5. Ibid.

6. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, November 23, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18751123&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. Adney

8. "How Diamond Jo Was Given Name," Telegraph Herald, June 21, 1904, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CBtFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8boMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3001,4532755&dq=joseph+diamond-jo+reynolds&hl=en

9. Foote, Frank, "The Fabulous Career of Diamond Jo and his Steamboat," Telegraph Herald, September 27, 1964, p. 7. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=w31FAAAAIBAJ&sjid=tLwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3680,3282532&dq=joseph+diamond-jo+reynolds&hl=en

10. "Good Times on the Diamond Jo," Telegraph Herald, June 30, 1994, p. 19. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=A11FAAAAIBAJ&sjid=GLwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5362,6857056&dq=joseph+diamond-jo+reynolds&hl=en

11. The Fabulous Diamond Jo," Telegraph Herald, June 14, 1973, p. 23. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ygdRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NMMMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5876,2251949&dq=joseph+diamond-jo+reynolds&hl=en

12. "Diamond Jo Sale Revives Memories," Telegraph Herald, February 19, 1911, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qPBCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4asMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1305,1834259&dq=joseph+diamond-jo+reynolds&hl=en

13. "Diamond Jo's Danger," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 9, 1890. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900509&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

14. "Dies on the Golden Shore," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 13, 1890, p. 4.

15. Adney

16. "Diamond Jo's Dissolution," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 22, 1891, p. 8. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910322&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

17. "Diamond Jo Sale Revives Memories."

18. "Diamond Jo' Dissolution..."

19. "Diamond Jo Line Boats Are Sold," Telegraph Herald, February 3, 1911

Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. digital.lib.uiowa.edu/uipress/bdi/DetailsPage.aspx?id=315

"Hot Springs Railroad Roundhouse," Arkansas Historical Preservation Project, http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.asp?id=380