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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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Letterhead. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
A.Y.McDonald Pump Factory at 5th and Iowa streets in the 1890s. Photo courtesy: Center for Dubuque History
Bottle Opener.
Bottle openers celebrating 90, 95, 100, and 130 years of service by the company. Photo courtesy. Bob Reding

A. Y. MCDONALD MANUFACTURING COMPANY. The company was founded in 1856 by Andrew Young MCDONALD. His small plumbing shop specialized in plumbing and gas fittings.

Discontinued when McDonald entered the CIVIL WAR, the company reopened when he returned to Dubuque in 1865. McDonald also began selling pumps for a Seneca Falls, New York, firm. His sales success encouraged him to expand production into the manufacture of pumps.

McDonald's first factory was located in rented quarters on the upper story of a building at Sixth and Iowa STREETS. The equipment in the factory consisted of one lathe and a four horse-power engine. McDonald began manufacturing pump cylinders that he bought as rough castings and finished himself using an automatic polisher he invented. The factory was so small, McDonald had to punch a hole in the wall to allow pipe to protrude while he threaded the other end.

McDonald employed no salesmen choosing to advertise his product with postcards sent throughout the United States. He announced his company would also send samples, at no cost, to interested customers. When McDonald found that it was difficult to sell cylinders without the pump heads, he decided to completely enter the manufacturing sector of the business.

A. Y. McDonald developed the idea of inserting a brass lining in his iron cylinders so that the working parts of the cylinder did not rust. Rust had been the main reason for the leather plunger gasket to wear out--the most common problem in these pumps. The popularity of McDonald pumps led to a tremendous growth in the company.

In 1877 McDonald's second factory, a three-story building on Iowa Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, was constructed. In 1880 he purchased an adjoining lot on Fifth and Iowa streets and constructed a four-story addition. An additional story was built in 1881 in response to the enormous amount of orders. A brass foundry was added in 1882 along with a finishing shop. The firm was then producing four hundred pumps per week. The number of employees, two including himself in 1865, stood at 125 by 1882. A. Y. McDonald products were sold to all the western states and eastward to Ohio. A Chicago office was opened in 1882 to handle business east of Dubuque.

Shelf supports with the M/M label for McDonald-Morrison.
Shelf supports showing "A.Y. McDonald and Morrison Manufacturing Company." Photo courtesy: Dr. Sondra Ashmore

The A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing Company was incorporated on May 1, 1888. Due to his declining health, caused in part by being shot in the chest by burglars at his home, McDonald resigned as president in 1889. Since his sons were inexperienced, his nephew John Morrison II was elected president. Upon McDonald's death, Morrison was sold one-fourth interest in the company, and the name of the company was changed to A.Y. McDonald and Morrison Manufacturing Company on December 30, 1892.

1925 catalog.

Despite poor nationwide economic conditions, the company began acquiring land. Property at 12th and Pine was the scene of the company's relocation with a new iron foundry being constructed and later a new machine shop. A new four-story warehouse was made necessary due to a scarcity of wholesalers and the need for the company to stock items needed to service customers. Items sold to plumbers led to the growth of McDonald's wholesale distribution system.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

In 1909, the corporation charter expired. Disagreement over whether to renew it led the McDonald family to repurchase John Morrison's stock. A.Y. McDonald II became the company president. I.G. Whitney, a son-in-law of McDonald, joined the company at about this time and was responsible for stimulating the wholesale growth of the company into other cities including Omaha (1915); Minneapolis (1917); Des Moines (1923); Kansas City (1926); and Sioux City, Iowa; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Denver, Colorado (1929). He later served as president from January 25, 1935, until his death on June 11, 1944.

Standard Oil of Indiana's request for special oil equipment led to A.Y. McDonald's specialty line of valves and fittings. One of the heralded advances the company brought to the industry was the flexible swing joint replacing similar joints which usually leaked. The business was re-incorporated under the laws of the State of Iowa on September 1, 1915.

McDonald's manufactured a complete line of plated brass goods for many years. These products included trim for kitchen sinks, lavatories, and cast and tubular products. The company, one of the first to adopt the chrome-plating process, was licensed by the Chromium Corporation of America.

Photo courtesy: Diane Harris

In the early 1930s, the GREAT DEPRESSION put financial pressure on all companies in the United States. The company cut wages several times to remain in business and keep as many people employed as possible. No employee had to be laid off.

During WORLD WAR II, A.Y. McDonald worked under government contracts. Water supply equipment was still considered essential to the war effort, but the company also produced brass valves and bilge pumps for the Navy. The U.S. Army ordered stationary gear carriers for bomb fuses and parts for bombs. Drain cocks and shut-offs were manufactured for the U.S. Air Corps and the U.S. Army Engineers and Air Corps purchased gate valves, swing joints, throttle valves and hose nozzles.

In 1946 construction was begun on a new manufacturing plant at 12th and Pine Streets. The first metal was poured in 1950. Land for the factory had been purchased in 1894, but the move from the plant on Iowa Street was gradual. Although the first building at the new location had been constructed in 1896, the complete move from the old factory was not accomplished until 1900. The new plant employed an estimated five hundred workers in the manufacture of plumbers' brass goods, drainage fittings, electric motors and equipment for the oil industry. This, however, accounted for only 10 percent of the materials sold by the nineteen A. Y. McDonald branches.

On March 27, 1945, Delos L. McDonald was elected the company president. He served in this role until January 14, 1959, when he became chairman of the board. John M. McDonald served as president from January 14, 1959, until April 10, 1962 when he was elected chairman of the board. Russell T. Walker, the first non-family president of the corporation, left the company on September 25, 1970. It was during his term in 1964 that the A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing Company received the seventh annual "Wholesaler of the Year" Award from Supply House Times. In 1964, A.Y. McDonald's acquired the Brock-McVey Companies, a successful independent wholesaler with diversification in plumbing, heating, electrical products, and refrigeration lines. On September 25, 1970, Joseph R. Schmitt was elected the company president.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

The A. Y. McDonald plant at 12th and Pine Streets was the first property demolished for the relocated Highway 61 link to the DUBUQUE-WISCONSIN BRIDGE. By going through the property instead of around it, the highway project saved an estimated $10 million in construction costs. A. Y. McDonald sold the plant to the Department of Transportation in 1982 for $4.25 million. (1) That money, in addition to $5.5 million in government low-interest money and federal loans, was used to relocate the pioneering Dubuque manufacturing company to the newest of the INDUSTRIAL PARKS west of Dubuque. (2) A. Y. McDonald Industries Inc. unveiled its new plant at 4800 Chavenelle Road in August 1983. The brass foundry and main manufacturing plant are located in this facility. A. Y. McDonald Supply Company Inc. was listed at 4085 McDonald Dr.

In 1983 A. Y. McDonald formed a subsidiary to handle its wholesale business. A. Y. McDonald Supply Company Inc. located at 4085 McDonald Drive had twenty-four wholesale outlets. (3)

In 1996, following the doubling of sales in the past eight to ten years the foundry was expanded to provide for increased production of brass castings. The expansion allowed the company to add a new furnace to the three already in use and operate another molding line. (4) The project also included a new shake-out system that broke up the mold after the castings were done. Most of the company's waterworks products went to city water departments. With cities beginning to meter their water, frames for these meters produced by A. Y. McDonald's were in high demand.


The first location outside Dubuque was opened in 1989 in Albia, Iowa. This plant produced various products for the waterworks and high-pressure gas industries. An addition was completed in 1994. A second location opened in 1999 in Elizabethton, Tennessee. This facility served as a distribution center for A.Y. McDonald plumbing products and products primarily used in the eastern U.S. (5) The third location opened in 2000 in Sparks, Nevada. This facility served as a distribution center for A.Y. McDonald plumbing products and products primarily used in the western United States.

In 2006 the company went international with the acquisition of Cambridge Brass of Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. The company, which also produced waterworks, brass valves and fittings, was thought to gain from its positioning with A.Y. McDonald which would also gain by its ownership of the leading Canadian manufacturer. (6)

In 2009 IBM brought its "Smarter City Initiative" to Dubuque. In the project's first phase, which cost $850,000, the city replaced 22,000 water meters in homes and small businesses. It also worked with A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing Company to integrate a device called an "unmeasured flow reducer" to more accurately measure water consumption. (7)

Commemorative opener. Photo courtesy: Max Smith
Photo courtesy: Max Smith
Leather matchbook cover.
Safety award belt buckle.
Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-VrfAYT9zk



1. Johnson, Patt. "Former Foundry Site Cleanup to Start," Telegraph Herald, Nov. 19, 1987, p. 32. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=w5ddAAAAIBAJ&sjid=q1wNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1843,4307388&dq=ay+mcdonald+manufacturing+company&hl=en

2. "A. Y. McDonald One of the First at Dubuque Industrial Center," Feb. 23, 2002, p. !D. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=zn5dAAAAIBAJ&sjid=n1wNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2270,4746051&dq=ay+mcdonald+manufacturing+company&hl=en

3. "A. Y. McDonald Forms Wholesaling Subsidiary," Telegraph Herald, June 12, 1983, p. 17. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=tshFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1uwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5177,1401384&dq=ay+mcdonald+manufacturing+company&hl=en

4. Bergstrom, Kathy, "A. Y. McDonald Plans Expansion" Telegraph Herald, Jan. 20, 1996, p 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=daBdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=5lwNAAAAIBAJ&pg=6296,3407923&dq=ay+mcdonald+manufacturing+company&hl=en

5. A. Y. McDonald to Open Tennessee Plant," Telegraph Herald, Apr. 17, 1999, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=a0JFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wLsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1429,3999679&dq=ay+mcdonald+manufacturing+company&hl=en

6. Kundert, Rob, "McDonald Acquires Canadian Brass Company," Telegraph Herald, April 6, 2006, p. 1A

7. Burnham, Michael. "IBM Starts to Build Greener,"Smarter" Planet in Iowa," New York Times, Sept 17, 2009. Online: http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/09/17/17greenwire-ibm-starts-to-build-greener-smarter-planet-in-79214.html

"175 Years" Vol. II Telegraph Herald, p. 101

Interview with R. D. McDonald