Iowans may well be proud of their state's
manufacturing industries and of their growing importance. Due
to the fact that Iowa leads all other stares in the value of
its farm products and is known as an agricultural state, its
importance in manufacturing is often overlooked.
GRIST MILLS AND SAWMILLS THE FIRST
The first settlers in Iowa raised wheat and
corn. Because they wanted their grain ground into flour and
corn meal, the first mills were simple ones to grind grain.
They were small, some no larger than a coffee grinder, and
were run by hand.
Mills run by horsepower were soon started in
many places. These were replaced by mills along the creeks or
rivers that were run by water-power. Many of the millstones
for these early mills were made from prairie boulders. These
boulders turned upon each other while the grain was fed to
them, usually by hand. The flour that was ground was course
and had to be sifted.
The first homes in Iowa were log cabins.
Since the settlers wished to have better homes, small
sawmills were built not long after the grist and flour mills
had come to Iowa. Often the two kinds of mills were combined.
THE POTTAWATTAMIE MILL
Charles H. Babbitt has described for us the
old Pottawattamie mill, built about three miles from Council
"The mill, fully equipped, was ready for use
in the early part of 1841. A dam extending across he creek
from north to south was in the neighborhood of 40 feet long
and from 8 to 9 feet high . . The sawing department consisted
of a shed of hewn timber, roofed and partly enclosed, about 30
or 35 feet long and 25 feet wide, fitted with an upright saw
and automatic feed carriage. The grist mill was a two story
frame building well finished and weather boarded. It was
furnished with a single pair of granite grinding stones, about
30 inches in diameter, and a cloth bolt capable of removing
the barn from the corn but not suitable for the manufacture of
fine flour. The power was furnished by the action of the
water upon an undershot wheel . . . It was only at exceptional
times, when the water was unusual, that both the saw and grist
departments could be operated simultaneously."
Settlers often drove from 50 to 100 miles with
ox teams to get to a mill. When they arrived there, they
might find that others were ahead of them and they had to wait
for their turn, often several days. This meant that men would
sometimes be gone from home two or three weeks on a "trip to
the mill." The millers always took a part of the flour which
they ground as pay for their work.
Water power was not very dependable. In the
winter the creeks and smaller rivers froze over and in the
summer they often ran dry.
The first steam mill was built at Davenport in
1848. When it was opened a great celebration was held. More
than 300 guests were invited. Bread and cake made from the
first flour ground in the mill were served. Besides, there
were roast turkey, chicken, roast pig, and other food. The
guests had a good time but many wondered how such a big mill
that could grind hundreds of barrels of flour a day was ever
going to get enough wheat to keep going all the time. But
people were finding better ways of travel and could go farther
than in earlier times. As a result, other steam mills were
built in the larger cities and the small water-power mills had
to go out of business. Since Iowa does not raise as much
wheat as formerly, the flour milling industry has not kept
pace with other lines of manufacturing, although mills may
still be found in Iowa.
LUMBER TO THE RIVER TOWNS
The cities along the Mississippi River early
became lumber centers. Logs were cut in Minnesota and
Wisconsin and floated down to the Iowa mills. This business
began to decline after 1890, because mills had been built
farther north and because Iowa had stopped buying so much
rough lumber. Iowa's early sawmills then became sash-and-door
and other woodworking factories.
Some of the largest factories in Iowa today
grew out of the early lumber business. The two largest door
and millwork factories in the world are located at Dubuque. A
large furniture factory is located in Burlington. There are
large millwork factories at Clinton and Muscatine. Logs have
not been floated down the Mississippi River for many years.
The factories now have all their lumber shipped to them by
rail. It comes from various states.
Iowa's position as the leading agricultural
state of the union has been greatly affected her
manufacturing. The manufacture of her agricultural implements
amounts to several million dollars' worth annually.
The first creamery in Iowa was started at
Spring Branch in 1872, and in 1876 Iowa butter won first prize
at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The creamery
business has been an important industry ever since then.
The early settlers did all their own
butchering. Later butchers established markets in all towns
and cities. Some of these developed into our first packing
plants. As early as 1880, Sioux City had become one of the
five largest centers for the packing industry in the United
States. Today the packing business is Iowa's leading
manufacturing industry. Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Ottumwa, and
Mason City have large packing plants.
CEREALS AND CORN PRODUCTS
A Scotchman, George Douglas, brought to Cedar
Rapids the Scotch process of making oatmeal. The first
oatmeal factory there was built in 1873.l Today one of the
largest cereal mills in the world is located in Cedar Rapids.
Two of the world's largest corn products
factories are located at Clinton and Cedar Rapids. The output
of the corn products factories in Iowa is over twenty-two
million dollars annually.
OTHER IMPORTANT FACTORIES
Iowa has many other important factories.
There is a large fountain pen factory at Fort Madison, and a
large calendar factory at Red Oak. Mason City is known for
its sugar, tile, and cement factories.
Burlington has the largest basket works in the
United States, and Muscatine makes more pearl buttons than any
other city in our country.
Iowa today has more than 5,700 manufacturing
plants, and ranks sixteenth among the states in the value of
its manufactured products. Only four states west of the
Mississippi River exceed it in importance as a manufacturing
state. The value of Iowa's manufactured products has
increased over 200% in the last 25 years and her factories
employ in the neighborhood of 75,000 people.