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VOELKER, Christian Anton

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VOELKER, Christian Anton. (Baden, Germany, Aug. 16, 1850--Dubuque, IA, Aug. 12, 1925). When an infant, Voelker was brought by his parents to Dubuque. He attended the Trinity parochial school until a little over eleven years of age, when he was forced to leave school to work.

He was first employed in a chair factory where he learned the trade. At the age of eighteen he became foreman in the chair department and held the position for five years. In 1864 Voelker attempted to join the army, but the quota at the time was full and he was not accepted.

Voelker continued in his position as foreman until August 1, 1873, when he began CHRISTIAN A. VOELKER, a dry goods and clothing company, in a rented store at No. 1330 Clay Street. (1) He sold this business in 1892 to devote full time to the IOWA MUTUAL BUILDING AND LOAN ASSOCIATION which he had founded in 1890 and served as the company president. (2)

In 1884 Voelker served as alternate-at-large to the Democratic National Convention that nominated Grover Cleveland for president of the United States. He served as MAYOR of Dubuque in 1886 and 1887. The year 1887 was very prosperous. The following improvements during his term included Northwestern Railway; DUBUQUE HIGH BRIDGE; new sewerage system; Southwestern Railway; FOURTH STREET ELEVATOR; ELEVENTH STREET ELEVATOR; street car to Eagle Point; filling sloughs with land; filling freight yards; filling swamp land by lumber yards; ICE HARBOR; new Illinois Central passenger station; waterworks on the bluff; police patrol; electric fire alarm; new warehouses; new wholesale houses; new manufactures; hundreds of new dwellings;and a proposed electric street railway. A resolution was also introduced to petition Congress to cede the area of LAKE PEOSTA to the city. (4)

His election as mayor as a candidate on the Labor Reform Party platform was a high point politically for the KNIGHTS OF LABOR in Dubuque. Their entire slate of candidates for local office was elected including John STAFFORD to the position of city treasurer. In his inaugural speech, Voelker promised to correct abuses and initiate reforms. One of the first actions was to dismiss the entire police force which was charged with harassing workers. City street work subcontracts were halted in favor of day work. The daily pay for city work rose 40% from $1.25 to $1.75, an amount higher than was being paid to private sector labor. (5) A 20% increase in city tax assessments ended Dubuque's position of being the city in Iowa with the highest indebtedness. This freed up money for projects which had been halted because the money had been needed to pay interest on the debt. (6)

In 1896 Voelker was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives.

Voelker prospered in the field of real estate with his firm VOELKER REALTY COMPANY. Beginning in 1890, he began erecting buildings throughout the city. VOELKER STONE a form of concrete, was one of his chosen building materials. In 1879 he constructed a brick block at the corner of Thirteenth and Clay Streets and operated his business from that site for two years. He later built an adjoining store as he needed additional room. Voelker owned Woodlawn Park, an addition to Dubuque, which he laid out with two partners and later bought their interest. He was also involved with the development of Melrose Terrace, south Alta Vista, and Voelker Highlands. (7)

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In 1906 Voelker entered into his higher volume house building career when he offered several new cottages on Seminary Hill. At that time he rated that location “the best hill in town.” His design was geared to efficiency. Voelker noted, “I am especially proud of their interior arrangement. They are planned for comfort, and are so compact that none could plan them better; they require the least possible amount of coal or wood for heating. There is no wasted space in them." (8)
Seen in many parts of Dubuque, "VOELKER STONE" was a new building material in Dubuque.

Voelker was given credit for establishing the 'monthly payment plan' for purchasers of his homes. At the time of his death, he was thought to have built between 760 and 800 residences.

Advertising calendar (1901). Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Telegraph Herald cartoon series depicting prominent business leaders in Dubuque c. 1906. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

Voelker was vice-president and director in the DUBUQUE FIRE AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY, which he helped to organize. He was one of the original members of the board of the Julien Dubuque Hotel company and a member of the board of directors of the DUBUQUE INDUSTRIAL CORPORATION. He organized the KEY CITY FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY with a capital stock of $200,000 and also had interests in CITIZENS' STATE BANK (THE), GERMAN TRUST AND SAVINGS BANK, and the DUBUQUE STREET RAILWAY COMPANY. In the field of real estate, Voelker was one of the organizers of the National Association of Real Estate Boards and of the Iowa Association of Realtors. (8)

Advertisement. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Voelker was a leader in fraternal circles. He was the state chief ranger of the Independent Order of Foresters and a past Grand Knight of the Dubuque Council of KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS. He was a member of the Elks, the ST. VINCENT DE PAUL SOCIETY and an organizer of the ROMAN CATHOLIC MUTUAL PROTECTIVE SOCIETY OF IOWA. (9)

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Source:

1. Portrait and Biographical Record of Dubuque, Jones and Clayton Counties, Iowa. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company, 1894, p. 134 Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=3n4_AAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

2. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 3, 1892, p. 4

3. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 189.

4. "The Survey Completed," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 20, 1892, p. 4

5. Scharnau, Ralph. "Workers and Politics--The Knights of Labor in Dubuque, Iowa 1885-1890, Annals of Iowa. Des Moines: State Historical Society of Iowa, Volume 48, Number 7 (Winter of 1987), p. 369

6. Ibid., p. 373

7. Jacobsen, James E. "Phase V Dubuque Historical and Architectural Survey of the Fenelon Place, North Main and Broadway Neighborhoods," p. 72

8. Portrait and Biographical Record...

9. The Iowa Legislature, "Christian A. Voelker," Online: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/legislator/legislatorAllYears?personID=3830


"Dubuque Board of Realtors Turns 100," Telegraph Herald, June 2, 2013,

Goodspeed, Weston Arthur, History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 638