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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
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

STANDARD LUMBER COMPANY. Considered the largest lumber mill on the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. The Standard Lumber Company was established in 1865 as a wholesale lumber company. (1) After 1876 it operated the largest saw mill in Iowa. (2) It was, however, only one of sixty-eight saw mills then operating between St. Paul and St. Louis. (3)

Operated by Major William Harrison DAY, Sr., the company required enormous amounts of timber, drawing logs from as far away as the Canadian border. At a time when supplies of pine seemed endless, Day purchased large tracts of the finest white pine and contracted for the timber on other large tracts. (4) Demand remained high. In 1900 the company cut 37.5 million feet of lumber, 5.5 million feet of lath, and 8.5 million shingles in Dubuque. (5) In 1904 the Minnesota Secretary of Interior granted the company the right to construct a logging railroad through the Chippewa reservation and that portion of it set aside as a forest reserve. (6) Named the Leech Lake and Northern, the railroad was planned to eventually reach thirty miles.

During its peak production, the mill sawed between 50 million to 60 million feet of lumber. (7) With the employment of over three hundred men, the annual payroll in 1911 reached $250,000. (8)


On Friday, May 26, 1911, the first of two disastrous fires started in the company's huge lumberyards. Nearby manufacturing shops sounded their whistles to warn people to leave for safety. Among the tragedies of that fire was the fire damage done to the historic SHOT TOWER. The fire, whipped by the wind around the tower, burned the interior wooden framework from the top of the tower downward, leaving a hollow shell. Investigation of the fire, which caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, uncovered oil-soaked rags that had been shoved between boards in several piles of white pine lumber throughout the lumberyard. Between five and seven blocks of finished lumber were destroyed.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

A second fire struck the company late in the afternoon on Sunday, May 28th. Sounds of the whistles and alarms brought huge crowds of curious people, including people from miles away who were drawn by the towering flames shooting into the sky. Bucket brigades were formed to save neighboring properties.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

The second blaze caused an additional $350,000 in damage. The lumberyard went out of business from the losses involved from the fire and the declining amount of timber available after 1910 from Wisconsin forests. The closing meant unemployment for an estimated seven hundred. (9) At the time of the closing, Standard Lumber was one of only three remaining sawmills along the Mississippi. (10)

Photo courtesy: Cathy's Treasures, 156 Main, Dubuque

A reward of five thousand dollars, never collected, was offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. The lumber left after the fires was sold to the CENTRAL LUMBER AND COAL COMPANY which had been started around 1905 by the same people associated with Standard Lumber. (11)

In 1920 this company was purchased by the Pyramid Lumber Company. Three years later, Pyramid sold its coal and lumber business in addition to the land that had once belonged to Standard Lumber Company to the MIDWEST LUMBER COMPANY. (12)



1. "Dubuque Lumber Industry Second to None in the Country," Telegraph Herald, Jan. 31, 1910, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=GClCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gKoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3156,971862&dq=lumber+companies+dubuque&hl=en

2. "Facts And Figures About Dubuque," (1911), Telegraph Herald, Feb. 26, 1911, p. 17. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=r_BCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4asMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4527,2700768&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en

3. "Rise and Fall of Lumber Business," Telegraph Herald, June 4, 1911, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=EfFCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=76sMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3619,6010319&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en

4. Ibid.

5. "In the Pineries," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Dec. 8, 1901, p. 11. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jE5BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-KgMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4978,4290325&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en

6. "Standard Lumber Company Will Build Railroad," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Aug. 3, 1904, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=EhpFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=87oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3876,2294016&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en

7. "Rise and Fall of Lumber Business..."

8. "Dubuque Lumber Industry Second to None..."

9. "Rise and Fall of Lumber Business..."

10. Ibid.

11. "Dubuque Lumber Executive Dies," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, January 24, 1933, p. 16. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=SPNFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=JL4MAAAAIBAJ&pg=3347,6130671&dq=lumber+companies+dubuque&hl=en

12."Pyramid Company Sells Local Yard," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 12, 1923, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qxtIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=j80MAAAAIBAJ&pg=3833,3070637&dq=standard+lumber+company+dubuque&hl=en