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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.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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24th Street Trolley. Photo courtesy: Catherine Page
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Larry Friedman
UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY. Incorporated on August 13, 1900, to provide ELECTRIC POWER to Dubuque, the company was the consolidation of two street railway systems, the Rhomberg line and the Allen & Sweeney line, STAR ELECTRIC COMPANY and the HOME ELECTRIC COMPANY which furnished electricity for light and power. (1)

The company listed as its officers Frank D. STOUT, president; William S. MOLO, vice-president; E. A. Engler, secretary; George W. Kiesel, treasurer; and W. J. Brown, manager. Stockholders included all the officers and John Peter ELLWANGER, Bart E. LINEHAN, Peter KIENE, Charles H. EIGHMEY, and Benjamin William LACY.

Conductors' lounge at Union Electric car barn. William J. Klauer Collection. Center for Dubuque History, Loras College.
Capitalized at $1,382,000, the Union Electric was unique in its lack of need for money from outside investors. No bonds were issued as the incorporators treated the stock as a personal investment and paid for improvements themselves. Immediately after forming, the company began tearing out old tracks and got rid of old STREETCARS replacing both with up-to-date equipment.
Photo courtesy: Bob Johnsen
In 1902 the company provided half-fares to all patrons using the line between 6:15 and 7:45 a.m. and 5:15 and 6:45 p.m. after the City Council approved a twenty-five year franchise for the company. An order for eight new cars was placed with the St. Louis Car Company in time for summer use with the plan of offering five minute service on Main Street. Other improvements included the construction of a new car barn and power station. (2)
This image shows the interior of the Union Electric railroad car barn. A section of railroad track leads into a large open space with a smaller storeroom visible in the rear. A small dolly may be seen between the tracks. William J. Klauer Collection. Center for Dubuque History, Loras College
A strike of motormen and coachmen during the summer of 1903 lasted for seven weeks and resulted in the Iowa governor, his state labor commissioner, the president of the state labor federation, and a battalion of national guard troops coming to the city. (3) The belief that non-union strike breakers were brought to the city was supported when it was revealed they had all left Dubuque and were headed to Richmond, Virginia where a similar strike was in progress. (4)

In connection with their new car barns, company representatives announced in 1904 that Union Electric would be installing a plant enabling the firm to manufacture all the street cars they required. In addition, the facilities would allow the company to make all kinds of repairs. (5)

Union Electric announced in 1905 that meters were being placed on their street cars. (6) Company officials stated that these were to see where electricity ("juice") was being lost. A secondary potential for the meters was to see whether drivers were using too much power. In going down hills,"instead of letting the car drift of its own momentum, they throw it onward at a terrific and dangerous rate of speed." (7) The newspaper concluded that while drivers in some cities were rewarded for their careful use of power, it was doubtful that this would happen in Dubuque.

In 1911 Dubuque residents were among the few in the United States to have "two rides for a nickel." (8) Dubuque was also the only city in Iowa where a ten minute service was in operation all day long, every day of the year and where a five minute service was maintained during the rush hours from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m., 11:30 to 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Union Electric operated 17.5 miles of street railway track and maintained seventy cars in service to handle traffic. All the cars were electrically heated which was not common in the industry. When the "pay as you enter" cars were introduced, Dubuque was the first city in the United States operating "single trunk" cars to adopt the plan. (9) Union Electric also provided light and power to all parts of the city.

UNION PARK, operated by the company, was the only park of its type in the United States maintained exclusively by a street railway company. (10) In 1912 advocates for a "White Way" began the process of bringing lights to Clay and Main STREETS.

In 1913 it was announced that the company had purchased two electric "omnibusses" to operate between Dubuque and East Dubuque, Illinois. The cars were said to be electrically heated and lighted.

In 1916 Union Electric announced the completion of a new intake well that was the only one of its kind in the nation. The old well had proven inadequate. At very low stages of the river there had been the danger than being unable to get water for the condensers because the bottom of the old intake pipe was one foot above the river level. The new well, constructed on a copyrighted design, used the spiral principal of eliminating a large amount of the solid matter in the water. The bottom of the new well was six feet below the river level. (11)

In 1916 DUBUQUE ELECTRIC COMPANY took over the operation of Union Electric.




1. "Alderman Wallis on Equalization," Telegraph Herald, Dec. 20, 1914, p. 26

2. "Put Into Effect," Telegraph Herald, March 7, 1902, p. 3

3. "Story of the Strike," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, March 24, 1933, p. 14

4. "Echoes from Dubuque Newspapers," Clinton Mirror, July 4, 1903. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2281&dat=19030704&id=caIoAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CAYGAAAAIBAJ&pg=6042,1191791&hl=en

5. "To Make Own Cars," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, April 30, 1904, p. 2

6. "Will Put Meters on Cars," Telegraph Herald, August 19, 1905, p. 12

7. Ibid.

8. "Dubuque Has Finest Car Service to be Found in the United States," Telegraph Herald, March 15, 1910, p. 7

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. "Union Electric Co. Has a Unique Well," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 17, 1916, p. 10