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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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Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

IOWA COFFIN COMPANY. Located at the beginning of the twentieth century at the corner of Elm and 15th Street, the company was incorporated on May 17, 1883 with capital stock of $50,000 with Peter Keen, President and John Bell, Vice President.

The caskets were made of every known wood from mahogany, rosewood, chestnut, walnut and red cedar down to less valuable woods. They were made in every variety and style demanded by the buyers. Many were made of hard woods while others were covered with broadcloth, velvet, and other textiles. The black coffin by 1910 was the most commonly ordered although other colors including blue, gray, lavender, purple, white and even green were produced. The old six-sided, kite shaped coffin by 1910 had been replaced by a square box shape.

In 1892 the Omaha Casket Company was established and in 1897 the Colorado Casket Company was opened. Both were branches of the Dubuque company and received half of the company's production. The business was represented by ten traveling salesmen covering nearly the entire West and Northwest. As a unique niche market, the Iowa Coffin Company had nearly an exclusive trade in the state of Utah. The Mormon faith required that every deceased member be buried in a white coffin. More than two-thirds of the white caskets made by the Iowa Coffin Company were sold in Utah.

Business card

The company was reorganized on May 17, 1903 with capital of $350,000. The new officers were Joseph SIMONES, president; Peter KLAUER, vice-president; and Titus E. RHOMBERG, secretary-treasurer.

In 1910 Iowa Coffin was third or fourth in size of all companies of the same kind in the United States. It occupied the entire block bounded by 15th and 16th and Elm and Maple STREETS. Half of this area was covered with factory buildings with the remainder used for the lumberyards and the dry kilns. The warehouse in which the caskets were stored contained 250,000 square feet or nearly six acres. The factory in 1910 had a capacity of one hundred caskets daily. An estimated three million feet of lumber was consumed annually.

In addition to the production of coffins, the company made burial clothing for both men and women. Half of the entire floor of the factory in 1910 was devoted to the "dress-making department" where twenty-five experienced dressmakers worked on the various sorts of clothing requested.

The company employed one hundred workers year-round in addition to the office staff and salesmen on the road.



"Dubuque's Coffin Factories Employ 200 Men--Trade Covers the Entire West," Dubuque Herald, February 6, 1910, p. 1