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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

COOPER, Augustin A.

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COOPER, Augustin A. (Cambria Co, PA, Nov. 9, 1829--Dubuque, IA, Sept. 21, 1919). Cooper was born in Chess Creek, a wilderness area of Pennsylvania, but was baptized a Roman Catholic by Dr. Demetrius Augustine Gallitzen, formerly a prince and member of the royal family of Russia who gave up his rights to the throne to serve the church in Loretta, Pennsylvania. At the age of nine, Augustine accompanied his parents as they moved westward to Wisconsin Territory and settled near Long Grove, Iowa. Cooper came to Dubuque in 1840. (1) A brother, Raphael, settled in Scott County and operated a large farm on the outskirts of Davenport. (2)

With little money, Cooper served a four-year apprenticeship at the firm of Newman and Duffee and was even given the opportunity of live in the dogtrot cabin in which Newman lived as a guardian of his niece, Mary Smith. Another apprentice taken on during those years was Thomas Connolly who also rose to importance in Dubuque society as a major manufacturer. Cooper proved such a quick student that he convinced William Newman to increase his salary from $35 per year to $26.00 each month. (3) Accounts at the time of his death mentioned his interest in manufacturing plows and that he offered one of the earliest for sale. (4) Cooper convinced Newman to expand the business from a foundry into wagon repair. By 1848, Cooper had risen to the position of foreman. (5) In 1850 at the end of his apprenticeship, Cooper bought Duffee's interest in the business for $50. (6)

Cooper also began experimenting with his own ideas about wagon making. He was especially convinced aged wood was important. Lumber used by Cooper was cured up to seven years in special buildings. (7) Lumber used in other wagons at the time was generally kiln-dried and tended to crack, check, shrink and warp. (8) Cooper's unique knowledge of wood was perhaps most uniquely shown in an article published in 1906 in which he expressed steps necessary for the care and trimming of trees. (9)

In 1862 Cooper bought out the remaining interest in the blacksmith shop for one hundred dollars. Cooper's first plant employed one journeyman wagon maker and two apprentices. (10) Within six months his original 30- by 40-foot shop was enlarged. A year later a one-story building was constructed across the street. Within six years, Cooper constructed a four-story factory made of brick at Third and Main STREETS. He now employed eighty people and business could produce fifty wagons per week.

The business grew rapidly leading to his expansion of the business. At one time the factory covered twenty-seven acres in Dubuque. (11) The Cooper wagon, "Old Reliable," was advertised as the best on the prairies. Testimonials about the ruggedness of the wagons came from across the United States and around the world. Cooper sold ten thousand wagons in Colorado and five thousand wagons in Utah. (12) Cooper wagons were used by the Afrikaners in South Africa to transport material in the Boer War.

Cooper's success led to the construction of the GREYSTONE, his personal home. He had the "York House" constructed on the corner of Bluff and Sixth STREETS as the home of his daughter Mary and her husband John Waller. In 1934 this was demolished and replaced with the Federal Building on Sixth Street. The REDSTONE (THE) on the corner of Bluff and Fifth was the residence of his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Daniel Sullivan. A power plant was constructed on the same block for the use of all three homes. (13) The Coopers had one additional daughter, Regina. She married Paul Gilmore, a stage and silent film actor. Upon her death, Paul Gilmore gave custody of their two children to Mr. and Mrs. A. A. Cooper and continued touring. Paul Jr. died in a railway accident. Regina joined her father in adulthood, changed her name to Virginia Cooper GILMORE as a stage name, and helped establish Gilmore Comedy in Duluth, Minnesota. In retirement, they returned to Dubuque to live. She died there in 1981. (14)

The ten thousand wagons sold in Colorado in 1889 led Cooper to boost the number of employees from 250 to around 1,200 men which was about one-third of the city's population. (15) This was accomplished by the construction around 1891 of a 100' x 90' building for manufacturing. (16) Despite the number of employees, it was said Cooper knew each person by name and would walk through the plant asking about the employees' families. At Christmas and Thanksgiving each person received a turkey. (17) The practice was only ended when arguments broke out as to who received the largest bird. He served as a city alderman in 1873. (18) Among his other business interests was serving as vice-president of the GERMAN BANK. (19) In 1889 he was one of the directors of the New Julien House Company. (20)

View to the southeast, bluff behind A. A. Cooper Carriage House, West 4th and Bluff streets, c.mid-1880s. Image courtesy: Center for Dubuque History and http://www.cityofdubuque.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2926

In 1874 Cooper made a seven week trip to the Pacific Coast visiting Brigham Young, San Francisco, Sacramento, "big trees," Yosemite Valley, and "mountain passes." (21) The Dubuque Herald expressed its thanks for copies of the Salt Lake newspapers "somewhat of a curiosity in these parts where a man is allowed only one wife." (22) In the fall of 1891, Cooper and his son traveled to the Southwest. One person he visited was William M. Robinson, general manager of Parlin & Orendorff of Dallas who directed the sales throughout the entire state of Texas. (23)

In 1894 Cooper undertook one of the city's most elaborate private heating projects. The Dubuque Herald announced that he was installing two large boilers on the lot opposite his house. The size of one was considered sufficient, but the second was installed for emergencies. From these boilers, he planned to provide steam heat for his own house and four others-- for the house of his daughter, Mrs. Waller, and the new house she is erecting; and the two houses opposite his own occupied by his daughter, Mrs. Sullivan and the other to be leased (together late known as REDSTONE (THE). (24) A workman was hired to arrive at the boilers every morning at 4:00 a.m. to be sure the Cooper family and relatives had hot water to start their day. (25)

On April 2, 1904 Dubuque's famed wagon works was incorporated as the A. A. COOPER WAGON AND BUGGY COMPANY with capital stock of $100,000.

Verbal advertising by pleased buyers did much to attract further sales. Cooper also used large advertisements in local papers and contests. In 1911 to every person who supplied the names twenty names of potential buyers for buggies, ten tickets would be issued. For every name on the list that purchased a buggy, spring wagon, or surrey, ten additional tickets would be issued. At the end of the contest, a name from those sending in lists would win a $100 buggy. (26)

A well known Dubuque recipient of the card. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey

By 1905 there were many indications that automobiles were the future of transportation. It has been said that Cooper was approached by the Studebakers to join them in business. (27) Many stories relate to supposed business dealings Cooper may have had with Henry Ford. It is claimed that Ford offered Cooper the opportunity to go into business together. Ford wanted Cooper to manufacture the carriage for automobiles while Ford would produce the engines. Cooper turned the young inventor down, believing there was no future in automobiles. (28) Much of the legend regarding Cooper and Henry Ford comes from his granddaughter's unpublished writing entitled, "My Grandfather" (Regina "Dean" Cooper Gilmore) on file at the Loras CENTER FOR DUBUQUE HISTORY. (29) Ironically on October 1, 1956 Cooper's residence, the Greystone, was torn down so that a parking lot for automobiles could be created. (30)

It is believed that Ford visited Cooper in Dubuque and fell in love with the Iowan's made to-order desk, a twelve-foot-long oak rolltop with a small wardrobe attached on each side. Ford later had the desk duplicated for himself. (31) In 1981 Cooper's desk was purchased for $6,000 in the estate of Virginia Cooper GILMORE by Dubuque auctioneer, Ken Mozena. In 1985 Mozena donated the desk to the HAM HOUSE Museum. (32)

Building transportation vehicles was not the only investment Cooper made. He was a principal stockholder in the BANK AND INSURANCE BUILDING COMPANY and The New Julien House Company which constructed a predecessor to the HOTEL JULIEN DUBUQUE. In 1896 he purchased the J. D. Bush Building on the east side of Main between 7th and 8th with the intent of improving the property. (33) By 1906 Cooper was also a landlord placing advertisements in the Telegraph-Herald for three or four room flats for rent. (34) In May, 1905 he purchased a three-story, double building with six flats for $8,500. (35) Cooper bought forested land, harvested the trees and then sold or rented the ground for farmland. (36) Property for sale was often listed in newspaper want ads. (37)

Cooper had ongoing disputes with city officials. He refused to pay to have his 27-acre Cooper Wagon and Buggy Company shown on an early map of the city. (38) He also had to deal with a transient workforce. As he explained it:

  Wagon makers are a class of men that 
  drift about--here today and gone tomorrow. 
  And that is what I meant when I said I have 
  employed 100,000 men in the time I have 
  been in business, for they have come and gone 
  and come and gone almost defying our efforts to 
  keep track of their names for pay rolls. (39)

Cooper worked with local authorities in the practice of indenturing youth. The following is a copy of one such "indenture." (40)

            James Phillps Bounds to Augustine A. Cooper
    This indenture made this 14th day of September AD 1852 by and between 
    William Y. Lovell, County Judge, of the County of Dubuque and State of
    Iowa on the part of Jane Phillips' Minor hers of James Phillips
    deceased (unclear) of the first Part and Augustine A. Cooper of Dubuque
    County and State of Iowa witnessed that the said A. A. Cooper is held
    and firmly bound unto the County Judge aforesaid the use of James 
    Phillips in the final sum of (unclear) hundred dollars to be well and truly
    made to said County Judge for the purpose aforesaid family of these
    The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas James Phillips
    has this day been and by these presents is firmly bound to labour at
    blacksmithing in a reasonable and moderate manner from the date of this
    instrument, or as soon as he shall be of proper age, to be placed at the
    business until he shall have attained the age of twenty-one years at the
    blacksmithing ocupation (sic).
    The Said (sic) Cooper aforesaids to teach him all the varied branches 
    Skill (sic) and Science (sic), pertaining thereto in the best manner
    possible thereby making of the Said James a good and efficient
    blacksmith to clothe the Said James in a neat and comfortable
    manner to provide for his comfort in sickness furnishing medial attendance
    if required and give the Said minor aforesaid at best of monthly schooling
    in Each (sic) Year (sic) if there be a school within the district and 
    treating him as his own child as to inheritance.
    In consideration of the above it is hereby agreed by (unclear) W. Y. Lovell 
    on the part of James Phillips Minor aforesaid that Said Cooper shall (unclear)
    and receive from the child James his seasonable labour (sic)as aforesaid at all
    times in such manner as may be for the interest of Said Cooper and that the
    Said James Phillips aforesaid covenants and hereby agrees neither to ask nor
    demands any other compensation for labour and services (unclear) by the
    child Phillips for the Said Cooper other than thus herein stipulated and the
    Said Cooper of the Second Part hereby agrees and binds himself to pay the
    Said James Phillips, the claim of one hundred dollars when he (unclear) the
    age of majority twenty-one years.
    In witness where of we each of us have here to set our hands this 14th day
    of September A.D. 1852.              
                                 Wm. Y. Lovell (signature)
                                 Augustin A. Cooper

Cooper's major problem was one common to frontier towns--FIRES. Cooper's business suffered from four fires. In 1867 his factory and adjacent warehouse, valued at $50,000, were destroyed. In November, 1895 fire destroyed his warehouse and charred the factory's first floor. The loss was $120,000 and Cooper had no insurance. He had refused to pay the premium. With difficulty his business was reconstructed; he had insurance when fires again struck in 1905 and 1917.

Cooper's once thriving business closed one year after his death in 1919. (41)


At the time of his death, Cooper was survived by six children and one grandchild, Ebbie Sullivan. It was she who asked for an administrator for the estate in 1920 claiming she had not received her mother's share of the fortune. When the administrator, Emil Feigner, asked the other beneficiaries to show what properties Cooper owned, they refused. The case was taken to court to obtain the information. On June 17, 1920 after three continuances, it appeared a settlement out of court would be achieved. (42) This occurred on June 27, 1920 with no details given. (43)

Cooper's magnificent mansion can be seen in this photo along with the Redstone, the bridal present he gave to his daughter. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Pallet of cement fence posts carrying the name of A. A. Cooper. Sold at auction on January 7, 2011 Photo courtesy: Diane Harris
Photo courtesy: Diane Harris




1. "A. A. Cooper Dies at Age of Ninety; Dubuque Pioneer," The Telegraph Herald, September 22, 1919, p. 1

2. "Personal," Dubuque Herald, December 28, 1880, p. 4

3. Larry FRIEDMAN and Katherine FISCHER, A. A. Cooper: Reinvesting the Wheel, River City Press, 2016, p. 45

4. Oldt, Franklin T., History of Dubuque County, Iowa, Chicago, Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 499

5. Friedman and Fischer, p. 45

6. Ibid., p. 46

7. "A. A. Cooper Dies..."

8. Hellert, Susan Miller, Hidden History of Dubuque, Charleston, SC. The History Press, 2016, p. 133

9. "Spring Trimmings Ruinous to Trees," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, April 8, 1906, p. 4

10. "Redstone History," Online: http://www.theredstoneinn.com/history.htm

11. "A. A. Cooper Completes Sixty Years of Successful Business," Telegraph Herald, March 6, 1910, p. 18

12. Hendricks, Mike. "Cooper-A Proud Family Now Gone," Telegraph Herald, Dec. 7, 1981, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=LOlFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wPwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4428,854051&dq=aa+cooper+dubuque&hl=en)

13. Hellert, p. 133

14. Ibid.

15. "Redstone History."

15. Ibid.

17. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 22, 1891, p. 8

18. "Businessmen Laud Pioneer," The Telegraph Herald, September 22, 1919, p. 8

19. "Redstone History."

20. "Organized," Dubuque Sunday Herald, February 15, 1889, p. 4

21. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Group Decides to 'Relax,' Sell Redstone," Telegraph Herald Oct. 25, 1996, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JlZFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1rsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2743,4200979&dq=aa+cooper+dubuque&hl=en

22. "Home Again," Dubuque Herald, June 20, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740620&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

23. "Little Crusaders," Dubuque Herald, June 20, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740620&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

24. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 12, 1894, p. 4

25. A. A. Cooper Wagon & Buggy Company advertisement, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, April 2, 1911, p. 9

26. Interview. Larry Friedman. January 12, 2017

27. "Back From Texas," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 8, 1891, p. 8. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18911108&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

28. "Redstone History."

29. Blocker, Sue. "Too Bad Cooper Didn't Listen to Ford's Advice," Telegraph Herald, July 7, 1985, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YiFRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=09sMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6738,544395&dq=aa+cooper+dubuque&hl=en

30. Fischer, Katherine. E-Mail. February 22, 2016

31. Hendricks, Mike,

32. Blocker

33. Ibid.

34. "Main Street Deal," Dubuque Herald, November 15, 1895, p. 8

35. Telegraph-Herald Want Ads, October 25, 1906, p. 21

36. "Property is Disposed Of," Telegraph-Herald, May 5, 1927, p. 12

37. Discussion with Larry Friedman. March 8, 2017

38. Want Ad. Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 1, 1908, p. 9

39. Blocker.

40. Indentures (Dubuque County, Iowa) Provided by Diane Harris

41. "A. A. Cooper Completes Sixty Years..."

42. "Million Dollar Estate Case May Not Go to Court," Telegraph-Herald, June 17, 1920, p. 1

43. "Settlement Made in Cooper Case," Telegraph-Herald, June 27, 1920, p. 15

"Our Spirited Years," Telegraph Herald, 1976

175 Years, Volume 3, "Industrialist Makes His Mark," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2008