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


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ICE TRUST. Talk of ice trusts was widespread in the early 1900s. Such activities amounted to where ice dealers formed "combines" to fix and regulate the price of ice. Such action was illegal. "The law states individual companies, partnerships, etc. must not enter into an agreement to fix or regulate the price of any commodity." William Jennings Bryan in 1900 claimed it was the only trust to which Republicans seemed to have any knowledge. (1) Theodore Roosevelt claimed Bryan was being backed by the New York ice trust in his presidential campaign. (2) Humor seemed to be the reaction in Dubuque which such jokes as: "Made a cool million." "How'd he do it?" "Organized an ice trust." (3)

Humor was to be replaced by sensation. In July, 1906 the Telegraph-Herald alleged that an "Ice Trust" was being operated in Dubuque. Among the evidence cited was: (4)

The Telegraph-Herald stated with one exception the dealers did not "stoutly" deny they had an agreement. One individual quoted stated that Mr. Fischer he could not help an increase in the price of ice. "The idea did not originate with him, but he had to get in with the others." (5)

The investigator reported that "almost every dealer declared there is not profit in the ice business." As evidence, the reporter was given the example of Philip Pier and the Melloy Bros. who had left the business. The reporter, however, found the allegation to be false. Pier had sold his business to CONLIN AND KEARNS years earlier because of his old age and the opportunity to sell at a good price. Melloy Bros. claimed they made money in the ice business and sold for other reasons. (6)

Conlin & Kearns, Fischer and Company AND THOMAS J. MULGREW COMPANY all claimed not to be in a combine. However, in 1905, according to the article the firms were in a combine with Loren D. Atherton of the Atherton Commercial Agency as secretary. Each of the firms had deposited, according to what was rumored, $125,000, in the combine. It any of the companies broke the agreement, the bond left with the Atherton Agency would be forfeited. The reporter continued that T. J. Mulgrew and Company turned over its customers on Seminary Hill to Conlin & Kearns in exchange for customers on West Hill. Wagons of Fischer and Company and Conlin and Kearns stopped on Dodge Street. Efforts of the citizens of West Hill to purchase ice from either of the other two dealers were met with the excuse that there was not enough business for two companies. (7)

Further evidence of a combine was given by the newspaper. In 1906 DUBUQUE BREWING AND MALTING COMPANY awarded its ice contract to Conlin & Kearns, the lowers bidder. Fischer and Company received the contract from the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. The lowest bidder for the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD was T. J. Mulgrew. The firm of Nelson & Morris typically used eighty tons of ice annually. When the company received word from the Chicago headquarters that the ice bill was too high, he informed the office that a better deal could not be made---all the dealers had only one price. (8)

Joseph Melloy, formerly a member of Melloy Bros., was asked for a suitable scale under which dealers could make a good profit. He suggested butchers be charged (per pound) 12.5 cents; households, 10 cents; and saloons, 18 cents. In comparing Dubuque ice costs: (9)

                                   Dubuque                   Winona
                   households        30                        18
                   saloons           25                        12.5
                   butchers          15                        10

The alleged existence of an ice trust in Dubuque offered rival newspapers an opportunity to take a few editorial jabs at each other. "Nor has it (The Times) any intention of offering either defense or apology (of the Ice Trust), even to accommodate the Telegraph-Herald," remarked the editor of the Dubuque Times and Globe-Journal. To this the Telegraph-Herald responded, "and no intention to attack or criticize the ice trust, even to accommodate the public." (10) In an editorial entitled "Prosecute the Ice Dealers," the editor of the Telegraph-Herald reviewed the information and declared that it was time for the county attorney to "Act." (11)

A grand jury was impaneled, but the report for the October term reported that the investigation had to be interrupted because of an accident to a juror. (12) In January, 1907 the county attorney concluded that there was no use in indicting when the law under which indicted dealers must be prosecuted had been twice declared unconstitutional by inferior courts. When the Telegraph-Herald had begun its investigation of the local ice dealers, the constitutionality of the state's anti-trust law had not been decided. (13)



1. "Greatest Ovation of All," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 17, 1900, p. 1

2. "Inconsistent Leadership," Dubuque Herald, October 24, 1900, p. 7

3. "Cool," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, May 10, 1903, p. 30

4. "Evidence Demonstrates Existence of Ice Trust," Telegraph-Herald, July 8, 1906, p. 1

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., p. 7

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. "Untitled article," Telegraph-Herald, July 8, 1906, p. 16

11. Ibid.

12. "Grand Jury Ends Labors," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 19, 1906, p. 6

13. "Untitled article," Telegraph-Herald, January 25, 1907, p. 4