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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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

MCDONALD, Andrew Young

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Andrew Young McDonald
Andrew Young McDonald's GAR card
Grave marker in Linwood Cemetery
Photo courtesy: Ancestry

MCDONALD, Andrew Young. (Glasgow, Scotland, Feb. 14, 1834--Dubuque, IA, 1891). Orphaned as a young child, McDonald became the sole support of his aunt, Eelen Young. At the age of fourteen, he began his apprenticeship as a plumber under the guidance of James Steele. A very quick study in the plumbing trade, McDonald received his journeyman plumber certification a few months earlier than the usual seven year apprenticeship term. (1) McDonald came to the United States in 1854 and settled in St. Louis. He moved to Dubuque in 1856 and established a plumbing business the same year. This shop was so small that he found it necessary to cut a hole in the outside wall to allow a length of pipe to protrude while the other end, held in a vise, was threaded in his shop. (2)

Andrew Young McDonald's Civil War uniform has been carefully preserved by the McDonald for generations. Early in the Civil War, Governor's Greys wore grey colored coats leading to confusion and many "friendly fire" deaths. As the war progressed, the Union forces wore blue coats. Photo: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
This wooden chest was used by A. Y. McDonald to carry his belongings during the Civil War. Photo: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

In April 1861 McDonald enlisted in Co. I, First Volunteer Infantry, GOVERNOR'S GREYS. McDonald was wounded at the Battle of Wilson's Creek. He lay unattended four days on the battlefield before being taken captive by the Confederates. After recovering from his wounds in Dubuque, McDonald re-enlisted in the 21st Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He was commissioned a lieutenant of Company E and was again wounded at the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. (3) While McDonald was serving his country, he was granted patent number 38,316 for his improvements of the screw wrench, otherwise known as the “monkey” wrench. (4) He sold the idea to a man who was later found to be a representative of Coes and Co., the largest wrench manufacturer in the nation. McDonald then wished he had demanded more than the five hundred dollars he received.

Returning to Dubuque after the war, McDonald recognized the need prairie farmers had for water and decided to become a manufacturer of pumps and well systems. He was first located in the old TURNER HALL building and then 6th Street. Around 1877 he constructed his factory at Iowa and Fifth STREETS and employed 150 workers. (5) By 1870 he had developed and patented an improved cylinder for a hand pump. A brass lining in the iron cylinder kept the working parts of the cylinder from rusting which caused the leather gasket to wear out. McDonald began the manufacture of plumbers' brass goods and waterworks’ brass goods in 1882. The same year he ended his plumbing business because of the phenomenal growth of his manufacturing company and opened a branch warehouse in Chicago.

In 1883 McDonald's factory with a new addition including a brass foundry and machine shop could boast of being one of America's largest manufacturers of pumps. It was equipped with steam elevators that he had invented. Steam from huge engines for the elevators was recycled to heat the plant during the winter. The A.Y.MCDONALD MANUFACTURING COMPANY was formally incorporated on May 1, 1888.

In 1982 McDonald's name was one of the first four local business people inducted into the Dubuque Business Hall of Fame. After the Civil War, he was a member of the GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC (G. A. R.) and president of the St. Andrew's Society.

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



1. History. A. Y. McDonald. Online: http://www.aymcdonald.com/en-US/History.html

2. Ibid.

3. "Dubuque Loses a True Man," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 30, 1891, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910730&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. History

5. "Dubuque Loses a True Man..."

6. Ibid.

"175 Years" Vol. II Telegraph Herald, p. 100

Oldt, Franklin. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 845