What's New   Contact Us   
IAGenWeb, dedicated to providing free genealogy records.


 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




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.



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.


Charles H. Babbitt has described for us the old Pottawattamie mill, built about three miles from Council Bluffs:

"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.


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.


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.


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.


back to History Index