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Biographical Dictionary of Iowa Biographies


William Boyd Allison,
(March 2, 1829-August 4, 1908)

Lawyer, state Republican Party leader, U.S. representative, and longtime U.S. senator -was born near Ashland, Ohio, the second of three sons of John Allison, a farmer, and Margaret (Williams) Allison. His parents had moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania, part of a larger long-term Scots-Irish westward migration.

Allison's youth was shaped by at least three major family commitments: Whig politics, Presbyterian religion, and the pursuit of "success."His father, a Whig stalwart, served several terms as a justice of the peace. The family regularly attended Mount Hope Presbyterian Church. Allison decided to leave Ohio for Iowa in 1857; his elder brother Matthew had preceded him and established an insurance business in Dubuque in 1855.

While still in Ohio, the young Allison's social aspirations and political interests became apparent. He gained formal education at two different academies, enough to prepare him to teach school briefly, followed by a year of study at Western Reserve College. Probably with an eye toward establishing himself in politics, Allison then began to prepare for a career in law. After admission to the bar, he began his own law practice in Ashland. In 1854 he married Anna Carter, a member of Ashland's economic elite. As the Whig Party dissolved, Allison-firmly antislavery and probusiness-sought to be a part of which ever party would replace it. In 1855 he was secretary to the Ohio Republican Party convention, but he was also an Ohio delegate to the national Know-Nothing Party convention early in 1856. Later that summer, however, Allison left the Know-Nothings and ran as the Republican candidate for county attorney. His defeat in the fall 1856 elections was apparently a major factor in his decision to join his brother in Iowa.

Settling in 1857 in Dubuque, a stronghold of the Democratic Party, might seem unwise for an aspiring Republican politician. It did not prove so, however. Joining a local law partnership and affiliating with a Presbyterian congregation, Allison quickly rose to leadership in Iowa's young Republican Party. In 1859 he was a delegate to the Republican State Convention; in 1860 he was a state delegate to the party's national convention. Also in 1860, he diligently and dutifully campaigned for the state and national Republican tickets. His wife's death the same year-she had not joined him in Iowa, and they had no children-did not appear to slow Allison's pace. The Republican victories of 1860 led him to seek a political appointment. Others gained the posts he wanted, but the Civil War brought new opportunities. In 1861 Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood appointed him as one of his military aides, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Allison proved a competent manager of the transportation, billeting, and medical needs of Iowa volunteers for the Dubuque area.

The Civil War was also a factor in opening elective office to Allison. After the 1860 U.S. Census, Iowa's congressional seats increased from two to six. The seat of the redrawn district that included Dubuque was held by William Vandever, a Republican who had been reelected for a second term in 1860. In 1862 Vandever was endeavoring to hold his congressional seat and an officer's commission in the Union army at the same time. Allison used his Iowa record and growing political connections (which included Governor Kirkwood and railroad entrepreneur Grenville M. Dodge) to win both the Republican nomination and the general election to the House seat of Iowa's Third District.

Allison served four successive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1863-1871). As a representative, he soon joined the Radicals in opposing President Lincoln's Reconstruction policies. Rising quickly among congressional Radicals, during his second term he became a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He also began to gain a reputation in his party for his expertise on tariffs and railroads. Compared to other Radicals, he was for moderate tariffs that benefited agriculture. He also did much work on behalf of railroads, to the point of being accused in 1868 of obtaining a change in the route of the Sioux City & Pacific Railroad that was more for his personal benefit than that of Iowans. The evidence was circumstantial, and the charge faded.

Still young and a widower, Allison did not purchase a house in Washington, D.C., but instead roomed at the home of Iowa's Senator James W. Grimes. The two Iowa Republicans found themselves on opposite sides during the impeachment and trial of President Andrew Johnson-Allison voted with the House Radical Republicans to impeach, while Grimesvoted with a Senate Republican minority against conviction-yet Allison never broke with Grimes.

Allison was a party loyalist, but never an ideologue. Neither was he a compelling orator or a notable thinker. He was adept at connecting himself with the politically powerful, and he also was attuned to various intraparty factions as well as to the Iowa electorate. A colleague in the Senate later characterized Allison's political skills as "a genius for attaining the attainable."Attaining and maintaining political power-and a flexible status quo with a minimum of acrimony-became Allison's forte.

A major way Allison learned to "attain the attainable" was through building strong personal networks and alliances. With the backing of the retiring Senator Grimesand Grenville Dodge, Allison ran for Grimes's Senate seat in 1870. However, the candidate of Senator James Harlan 's faction, James B. Howell, won. Allison thus found himself out of Congress in 1871. In 1872, though, Allison's alliances helped him attain the Republican caucus's nomination to the U.S. Senate, which guaranteed election by the Republican-dominated legislature-by one vote. He unseated his rival, Senator Harlan. Moreover, he and his ally Dodge managed to avoid any political damage from their associations with the Crédit Mobilier of America, a dummy construction company established for the financial benefit of the Union Pacific Railroad and publicized as such in 1872-1873, well after the election.

Allison was a U.S. senator from Iowa for six terms (1873-1908); he was elected for a seventh term, but died before serving. Within Iowa, Allison's alliances and his hold on his Senate seat enabled him to be at the center of the "Des Moines Regency," the name for the small group that came to dominate the Iowa Republican Party after 1873. (Besides Allison, others included Joseph W. Blythe and Charles E. Perkins of the Burlington Railroad and James S. "Ret" Clarkson of the Iowa State Register.) Allison and the Des Moines Regency could exert a decisive influence through county, district, and state conventions on who would be the party's candidates for Iowa's other congressional offices, the governor's office, and the legislature.

Once admitted to the Senate in 1873, Allison married Mary Nealley, adopted daughter of James and Elizabeth Grimes. She was some 20 years younger than Allison, and they had no children. Severe mental depression eventually enveloped her, and despite nursing care, she drowned herself in the Mississippi River in 1883.

Allison became wedded to the security of his office-partly by inclination, partly by necessity. Three times he turned down offers to join presidential cabinets (of Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley). Twice he was a contender for the Republican presidential nomination (1888 and 1896). By the time of his death, he was the most senior member of the Senate. He was not only chairman of its Republican caucus, he was also a member of its Committees on Appropriations and Finance. He continued to exert influence on matters of concern to railroads, such as moderating regulation, and on tariffs, about which he became increasingly protectionist. A new area of influence that Allison developed once in the Senate was monetary policy. The Iowa electorate not only supported railroad regulation, but elements were also sympathetic to calls for monetary inflation through "greenbacks" and the "free" (unlimited) coinage of silver. Silver coinage was halted by an act of Congress in 1873, the year Allison joined the Senate. In 1875 he helped craft a compromise bill that, when enacted, authorized the federal redemption of greenbacks with gold and silver coins in 1879. That bill was followed by the Bland-Allison Silver Purchase Act, an 1878 measure modified by Allison in the Senate that allowed for the limited coinage of silver dollars. This made Allison an important "bimetallist" in a party known more for its support of the gold standard. In 1890 Allison was among the U.S. delegation to the International Monetary Conference at Brussels.

By 1907 the nearly 80-year-old senator was in obvious decline (from prostate cancer). He nonetheless stood for renomination in Iowa's first direct primary in 1908. The contest pitted "Insurgents" (progressives) in the party, led by Governor Albert B. Cummins, against Allison and the "Standpatters" (conservatives). Allison avoided campaigning as much as possible, letting his personally loyal colleague in the Senate, Jonathan P. Dolliver, stand in for him. Victory for Allison came in June, but death came for him in August in his Dubuque home.

"I am one of those who believe that the world is growing better and purer, as the years roll on," he had told an audience at the State University of Iowa in 1887. His was the optimism of a practical American politician who could assume Republican regimes in Iowa and the nation because he had helped construct them.

Sources Allison's papers are at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines. A well-researched and solidly written biography is Leland L. Sage, William Boyd Allison: A Study in Practical Politics (1956). Allison is concisely placed in the Iowa political context by Sage in A History of Iowa (1974). Contributor: Douglas Firth Anderson

Cite as: Anderson, Douglas Firth. "Allison, William Boyd" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Eugenie Moore Anderson,
(May 26, 1909-March 31, 1997)

The first American woman to hold the rank of U.S. ambassador - was born in Adair, Iowa, the daughter of the Reverend Ezekiel Arrow-smith Moore, a Methodist minister, and Flora Belle (McMillen) Moore. Anderson graduated from high school in Clarinda, Iowa, in 1925. A piano student from the time she was five years old, Anderson continued her studies at Stephens College in Missouri, Simpson College in Iowa, and Carleton College in Minnesota, with the goal of becoming a concert pianist. While attending Carleton, she met John Pierce Anderson, whom she married in 1930. John Anderson was the son of the inventor of puffed rice and puffed wheat. His financial legacy permitted Eugenie and John to study in New York. Eugenie attended the Juilliard School on a scholarship, and John continued his art studies. The couple moved to Red Wing, Minnesota, in 1932, where they lived on John's family farm and continued their respective studies in music and art. They had two children, Hans and Johanna.

A trip to Europe in 1937 exposed Anderson to what she called "a totalitarian state in action" and prompted her to speak on foreign affairs on behalf of the League of Women Voters. Concerned about the isolationist views of the incumbent Republican congressman representing her district, she became involved in Democratic politics in 1944, at least in part in an unsuccessful effort to replace him. That year, she attended her first Democratic Party precinct caucus. She worked with Hubert H. Humphrey to remove Communists from the Democratic state party organization and to bring about the Democratic-farmer-Labor fusion in 1944. She also helped organize the Minnesota chapter of Americans for Democratic Action. In 1948 she became Democratic National Committeewoman for Minnesota and attended the party's national convention as a delegate-at-large.

While unknown outside of Minnesota, Anderson gained national party leaders' attention in 1948 for her work to help reelect President Harry Truman. As part of a larger party effort to appoint women to federal positions, Truman appointed her ambassador to Denmark in 1949.

Anderson made a lasting favorable impression shortly after arriving in Denmark when she held a reception for the carpenters, painters, and other workers who had remodeled the official residence. She also built goodwill by taking Danish lessons, traveling in the country, and speaking to a wide range of groups. As the official representative of the United States, Anderson was the first American woman to sign a treaty with another nation. The 1951 agreement provided for the joint defense of Greenland, which at the time was a part of Denmark. King Frederik IX awarded her the Grand Cross of Dannenborg, the nation's highest honor. She was the first nonroyal woman to receive it. Anderson resigned from the post in 1953. Over the next decade, she lectured in Western Europe, India, and the United States, both as a private citizen and as a representative of various governmental bodies.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy appointed Anderson head of the American delegation to Bulgaria, then a Communist nation. Her experience in Bulgaria was less amicable than in Denmark. The Bulgarian government organized a rock-throwing demonstration against the legation and interfered with aides attempting to distribute literature at a fair, which led Anderson to distribute pamphlets herself. She resigned from the post in 1964.

Almost a decade of work with the United Nations followed. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to represent the United States on the United Nations Trusteeship Council in 1965. She also served on the United Nations Committee for Decolonization, among other posts. In 1967 President Johnson sent her to Vietnam as an observer of the Revolutionary Development Program.

Throughout her years on the international scene, Anderson remained active in the Democratic Party. She spoke at the 1952 Democratic National Convention and campaigned for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.

The next year Anderson considered and rejected running for governor of Minnesota. Five years later she entered the Democratic and farmer-Labor primaries for the U.S. Senate. She lost the Democratic primary to Eugene McCarthy, who later won the general election.

Anderson died at her home in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Sources Anderson's papers are housed at the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis. See also Time, 10/24/1949, 25, and 2/6/1950, 18; Newsweek, 10/24/1949, 27; Saturday Evening Post, 5/5/1951, 30-34, 123-24; and New York Times, 10/13/1949 and 4/3/1997. Contributor: Suzanne O'Dea

Cite as: O'Dea, Suzanne. "Anderson, Eugenie Moore" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Alfred Theodore Andreas,
(May 29, 1839-February 10, 1900)

Publisher of the 1875 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa -was one of the foremost cartographic recorders of societal and economic changes in post-Civil War America. Besides the Iowa atlas, he published some two dozen county and state atlases between 1871 and 1875, all built on the same commercial model-lavishly illustrated volumes containing basic maps, land ownership information, portraits of local and state dignitaries, and lithographs of towns, businesses, and farm properties.

Andreas was born in Amity, New York, and migrated to Dubuque at age 18. Having moved to Illinois in 1860, Andreas enlisted in the 12th Illinois Infantry when the Civil War began. A talent for organization helped him advance rapidly in rank, and he ended his army career as a division commissary, serving with General William Sherman on the March to the Sea and the Carolinas campaigns. Discharged from the army in 1865, Andreas moved to Davenport (a town he had visited during an earlier furlough) and married Davenport native Sophia Lyter.

Due to economic and societal factors in the rapidly growing western United States, the publication of maps and atlases increased tremendously after the Civil War. Taking advantage of that growing market and a job offer from three former army associates, Andreas began as a salesman for the Thompson & Everts publishing company in 1867. Thompson & Everts was one of a number of companies that published individual county maps based on General Land Office surveys, modified for county residents and sold on subscription. Local subscribers would receive a map that included their name in the list of subscribers as well as on the land they owned in the county. Andreas, one of the firm's best salesmen, soon determined that if one divided county maps into individual township maps and included more information on landowners, businesses, and towns at additional subscriber cost, a complete county atlas could be published and sold even to subscribers who had already purchased an earlier, relatively unadorned county map.

In 1869-1870, Andreas quit his salesman job and founded Andreas, Lyter & Company, later A. T. Andreas, in Davenport with his brother-in-law John Lyter. That firm compiled approximately two dozen county atlases from 1871 to 1875 at considerable profit. Andreas reasoned that a similar market existed for comparable statewide atlases-large books sold on subscription and containing substantial text and illustrations beyond maps. His company, reorganized and located in Chicago, began work on a state atlas for the relatively new state of Minnesota. Problems with a financial backer, a small base of potential subscribers (less than half a million people in the state), and a wheat crop failure resulted in a substantial loss of money on the Minnesota atlas. Undeterred, Andreas used the same marketing strategy and began work on a similar atlas for Iowa, a state of nearly 1.2 million people in 1870. The Iowa atlas was sold to over 22,000 subscribers for $15, plus additional fees for nonmap extras. The resulting 600page 1875 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa contained county maps, plat maps of 44 towns, over 300 pages of pictorial subjects, biographical sketches, brief state and county histories, 1870 census statistics, and a listing of atlas patrons. The atlas was then, and still is, an outstanding reference book, giving past and present readers a look at Iowa life in the 1870s.

Production costs were very high, and sources differ on whether the Iowa atlas made a profit for Andreas. Nonetheless, Andreas moved on to produce an Indiana atlas, a financial disaster from which he never recovered. His company remained in Chicago and reorganized several times between 1876 and 1884; Andreas also worked off and on for other publishers. His final publishing effort resulted in what is still deemed the best historical record of 19th-century Chicago, a three-volume History of Chicago. That venture was probably also, for Andreas, a financial failure.

Andreas left major publishing behind after the Chicago volumes and never found another gainful occupation. He died in New Rochelle, New York, in 1900.

Among the many commercial map and atlas producers of the 19th century, Andreas stands out as an excellent recorder of everyday midwestern life. Although his publishing efforts never made him financially stable, his organizational skills and vision of marketing to new landowners were groundbreaking at the time and were soon emulated by others.

Sources For more on Alfred T. Andreas and the 1875 Iowa atlas, see Paul M. Angle, "The Great Repository of Chicago History," Chicago History 8 (1969), 289-303; Michael P. Conzen, "Maps for the Masses: Alfred T. Andreas and the Midwestern County Map Trade," Chicago History 13 (1984), 46-63; William J. Petersen, "Historical Introduction," in Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875 (reprint, 1970); and Walter W. Ristow, "Alfred T. Andreas and His Minnesota Atlas," Minnesota History 40 (1966), 120-29. For more on maps and mapmakers in 19th-century America, see John Rennie Short, Representing the Republic: Mapping the United States 1600-1900 (2001); and Walter W. Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers: Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century (1985). Contributor: Mary R. Mcinroy

Cite as: McInroy, Mary. "Andreas, Alfred Theodore" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Adrian Constantine "Cap" Anson,
(April 11, 1852-April 14, 1922)

Professional baseball's greatest personality and superstar in its early years-remains, along with Cleveland pitching ace Bob Feller, Iowa's greatest contribution to the game. Nicknamed "Cap" for being player-captain of the Chicago White Stockings, this baseball innovator and 1939 Hall of Fame inductee was born to Henry and Jeanette (Rice) Anson of Marshalltown, Iowa. Henry Anson, Cap's father, was the first to lay out the early settlement of Marshalltown in the 1850s. Landmarks such as Anson Elementary School bear his name.

Anson's fame derives from baseball, a sport inextricably linked with him. The sport was in its infancy when it spread to the Midwest following the Civil War, but it flourished in the ensuing years. Anson learned the game playing on local teams with his father, Henry, and brother Sturgis, and perfected his skills attending boarding school at Notre Dame. In 1866, the same year he began attending Notre Dame, a baseball club was formed in Marshalltown. An exhibition game in 1870 against a team from Rockford, Illinois, changed his life.

Organized in 1865, the Forest Citys from Rockford had gained fame by defeating the Washington Nationals in a tournament held in Chicago in 1867, and by defeating the national champion Cincinnati Reds in 1870. In 1871 Rockford was one of nine teams in the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, or National Association. Recalling the team's 1870 clash with Marshalltown, the Rockford club offered Anson a salary of $66.66 per month during the season. The 18-year-old Anson took it after securing permission from his father, who also was offered a chance to play but refused. Although Rockford was destined for the cellar and extinction that season, Anson's career in baseball had begun. The following year he moved on to Philadelphia, where he stayed until 1876, and then to Chicago, the site of his greatest triumphs.

Anson spent 22 seasons with the Chicago White Stockings, the team now known as the Cubs. By the end of his career, Anson had set records that other stars aimed for in later years. The first player to amass 3,000 hits, he frequently hit better than.300 in his record 27 seasons as a major leaguer. A player and manager of the club, Anson not only led the team to five pennants but also won more games than any other manager in his era. Anson is said to have invented spring training and a pitching rotation, among other innovations. Author David L. Fleitz put the matter succinctly: "Anson was baseball's greatest player and its most successful manager, simultaneously."

In myriad ways, Anson helped baseball become America's national pastime while he became a celebrity in Chicago. But he also helped exclude African Americans from organized baseball. A handful of infamous episodes in the 1880s made Anson the public face for segregation in baseball. His run-ins with and complaints about black players such as Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey are legendary. Major league baseball had no black players after 1891 until Jackie Robinson reintegrated the sport in 1947. Anson was a strong influence, but his opinions also matched the mood of the country.

Anson explains none of this in his autobiography, A Ball Player's Career. But the volume reeks with racist and stereotypical prose. In speaking at length about his relationship with the White Stockings team mascot, a young African American named Clarence Duval, Anson refers to him variously as a "little darkey," a "little coon," and a "no-account nigger."

Forever linked with baseball, Anson hoped his epitaph would read: "Here lies a man who batted.300."His plaque at Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, reads, in part: "[the] greatest hitter and greatest National League player-manager of [the] 19th century."

Sources For a complete account of Anson's life and career, see David L. Fleitz, Cap Anson: The Grand Old Man of Baseball (2005). Anson's autobiography is A Ball Player's Career (1900). See also Roger H. Van Bolt, "Cap Anson's First Contract," Annals of Iowa 31 (1953), 617-22. For an article on how Marshalltown remembers Anson's racist legacy, see Andrew Logue, "Hero's Shadow Gets a Bit Shorter," Des Moines Register, 1/2/2000. Contributor: David Mcmahon

Cite as: McMahon, David. "Anson, Adrian Constantine "Cap"" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Brynild Anundsen,
(December 28, 1844-March 25, 1913)

Decorah, Iowa, editor and publisher-was a poor immigrant who lived the Americandream. One in every seven Iowans was a Scandinavian in 1900, and virtually every Norwegian in the state, as well as many Danes and some Swedes, knew the name of Brynild Anundsen. He founded a small-town Iowa weekly, published in his native Norwegian, and built it into the largest circulation of any Norwegian-language newspaper in the world. In 1900 Decorah had only 3,246 residents, but Anundsen's Decorah Posten had 35,000 subscribers throughout Iowa, the nation, and Norway.

Brynild Anundsen was born in Skien, Norway. His parents were poor laborers, and he went to work at the age of seven, attending school and taking night classes as time allowed. In his early teens, he got a job in a printing shop, which gave him the opportunity to learn a skilled trade. In his late teens, he went to sea. After a couple of years before the mast, he emigrated to America in 1864. In LaCrosse, Wisconsin, he became a typesetter for a Norwegian American newspaper. The Civil War was raging, and Anundsen enlisted in the Union army during the last year of the war.

Back in LaCrosse in 1865, he married Mathilde Hoffstrom (1838-1889), a native of Sweden. They purchased a small printing press and in 1866 began to publish a Norwegian journal, Ved Arnen (By the Hearth). To pay the bills, Anundsen took a day job, and together they worked evenings in their garret printing shop.

Meanwhile, Luther College, sponsored by the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, had been founded in 1861 and moved to Decorah the following year. By 1867 the college was flourishing. The synod wanted Anundsen to print its journal, Kirkelig Maanedstidende (Church Monthly), as well as hymnals and other books, so the Anundsens loaded their printing press and all of their belongings into two horse-drawn wagons and set off for Iowa in the depths of winter. They had one infant, and Mathilde was in the eighth month of her second pregnancy. They arrived in Decorah on December 15, 1867.

Anundsen set up shop. He printed Kirkelig Maanedstidende, Ved Arnen (until 1870), biennial reports of the governor of Iowa (in Norwegian translation), and other Norwegian books and pamphlets. In 1870 he started a newspaper, Fra Fjærnt og Nær (From Far and Near), which only lasted a year. Undeterred, he launched another weekly newspaper, the Decorah Posten, in 1874. That one kept going for 99 years, until 1973.

Previously, Anundsen had been editor, typesetter, printer, and publisher. Now, with business growing, he hired an immigrant schoolmaster, Bernt Askevold (1846-1926), to edit the newspaper. In years to come, Askevold would be followed by a series of distinguished editors, mostly immigrants from Norway or Denmark.

Anundsen and his editors used all the tricks of 19th-century journalism to build up circulation. They printed popular Norwegian songs in the newspaper, ran off extra copies, and bound them to make a songbook. In 1884 Anundsen revived Ved Arnen as a literary supplement to the Decorah Posten and serialized a novel, Husmandsgutten (The Crofter Boy), by H. A. Foss (1851-1929), about a poor Norwegian boy who struck it rich in America and came home to marry the girl of his dreams. It was tremendously popular, and the Decorah Posten 's circulation soared to over 20,000. In 1889 it became the first Scandinavian newspaper in America to appear from a rotary press. In 1897 the newspaper became a biweekly, and for a short time in 1903 there was a daily edition. From 1918 to 1935 the Decorah Posten even contained an original comic strip, "Han Ole og Han Per" (Ole and Pete), drawn by Peter J. Rosendahl (1878-1942).

The Decorah Posten emphasized news of politics, religion, human interest, and local events from Norway and Norwegian and Danish communities across North America. The paper paid little attention to sports and economics; readers could read about them in English publications. Unlike most newspapers of the era, the Decorah Posten remained strictly nonpartisan in politics and religion.

Anundsen's first wife died in 1889. In 1901 he married Helma Beatha Hegg (1872-1951). In 1906 he represented the state of Iowa at the coronation of King Haakon V and Queen Maud and was dubbed a Knight First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. Brynild Anundsen died in Decorah. A century later the fourth generation of the Anundsen family was still running the Anundsen Publishing Company in Decorah.

Sources The Anundsen Publishing Company Papers are in the archives of the Winneshiek County Historical Society, Decorah, and the newspaper's history is in Odd S. Lovoll, " Decorah-Posten : The Story of an Immigrant Newspaper," Norwegian-American Studies 27 (1977), 77-100. Biographies of Anundsen include "Anundsen, Brynild," in History of the Scandinavians and Successful Scandinavians in the United States, ed. O. N. Nelson, 2nd ed. (1969); Edwin C. Bailey, "B. Anundsen," in Past and Present of Winneshiek County Iowa (1913); and Odd S. Lovoll, "Anundsen, Brynild," in Norsk Biografisk Leksikon (1999). Contributor: John Robert Christianson

Cite as: Christianson, John Robert. "Anundsen, Brynild" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


John Vincent Atanasoff,
(October 4, 1903-June 15, 1995)

Computer inventor-was born in Hamilton, New York, the son of John and Iva Lucena (Purdy) Atanasoff. His father was an electrical engineer, working primarily in Florida. As a child, John Vincent was fascinated by numbers, an enthusiasm his parents encouraged. In 1921 he entered the University of Florida, earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1925. He moved on to Iowa State College (ISC) for a master's in mathematics (1926) and then to the University of Wisconsin for a doctorate in theoretical physics (1930).

Ph.D. in hand, Atanasoff returned to ISC as an assistant professor of physics and mathematics. Like other scientists of the time, his work was hampered by the extensive, repetitive calculations required to document mathematical relationships in ballistics, acoustics, and hydrodynamics. He tried Monroe calculators and various IBM products to help with such calculations, but none had the capacity to handle the sheer number of equations involved in each calculation. As a result, his early years at ISC were a study in frustration.

In 1937, however, after spending years focused on the problem, Atanasoff hit upon an idea that revolutionized machine calculation and laid the groundwork for the modern computer. At the heart of Atanasoff's vision was the use of the basic digital (on/off) quality of electrical circuitry to do the work of counting. The idea has been refined over the years, but virtually all developments in computer technology since Atanasoff's great insight of 1937 embrace this fundamental principle. Digital circuitry was just one component of Atanasoff's vision, which also included binary enumeration, regenerative memory, and serial calculation, but the on/off principle was the key.

With a grant of $650 from ISC, in 1939 Atanasoff hired an ISC graduate student, Clifford Berry, to help him build the prototype. The prototype was a couple of feet square, just big enough to mount the circuitry and peripherals necessary for calculation. Atanasoff and Berry referred to the prototype as the "Breadboard Model" because of its compact size. Demonstrations of the Breadboard Model began in October 1939. Impressed by what they saw, college officials awarded Atanasoff $850 to continue his work with Berry. ISC officials also made inquiries to the nonprofit Research Corporation of New York about an additional $5,000 to help support development of the full-size computer at ISC and contacted an attorney to begin preparation of a formal patent application. Atanasoff and Berry produced a 35-page manuscript titled "Computing Machines for the Solution of Large Systems of Linear Algebraic Questions" to document their efforts.

Most of Atanasoff and Berry's plan for constructing the desk-size, full-scale computer held up well in practice. When challenged by technical problems, their backgrounds as hobbyists provided the necessary improvisational skills to see them through. The 1939 demonstrations had already shown that the Breadboard Model could accurately add and subtract. But progress made in 1940 and 1941 indicated the full measure of Atanasoff's design for a totally electronic machine. At that time, MIT's Differential Analyzer-along with a few other calculating machines-was thought to be the epitome of speed and efficiency. But even the most sophisticated computing machines of the day required some mechanical (that is, human) intervention in their procedures. By contrast, the electronic "purity" of the ISC computer made for greater speed and efficiency.

Unfortunately, U.S. entry into World War II put a stop to the computer project. Both Atanasoff and Berry left Ames in the summer of 1942, each going his own way to support the war effort. Atanasoff joined the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in the Washington, D.C., area, and Berry took a job at Consolidated Engineering Corporation in Pasadena, California. There is no indication that either man was particularly hungry to get back to the ISC project after the war, perhaps because both found attractive alternatives, Atanasoff in a series of military projects and Berry in a successful career in corporate-sponsored research. Meanwhile, the revolutionary computer gathered dust in the basement of ISC's physics building for several years, until building staff finally dismantled the machine to make space for other uses.

Decades later, in the mid 1960s, Atanasoff found himself in the middle of a major patent controversy. The Honeywell Corporation brought suit against the Sperry Rand Company, which was claiming patent rights to the basic technology underlying all electronic computers on the market. Honeywell's lawyers argued that the basic technology claimed by Sperry Rand was in fact the work of Atanasoff and Berry. In 1972, after a 10-year court case, the judge ruled in favor of Honeywell, specifying that Atanasoff and Berry had designed and demonstrated the basic digital principles of the modern computer. However, since no patent had been filed by Atanasoff, Berry, or ISC in the early 1940s, the court provided neither monetary reward nor reassignment of patent rights to any of the parties involved.

Sources Jean R. Berry, "Clifford Edward Berry, 1918-1963: His Role in Early Computers," Annals of the History of Computing 61 (1986), 361, is helpful in tracing the comings and goings of Atanasoff and Berry in the critical years 1939-1942. Alice Rowe Burks, Who Invented the Computer? (2003), contains interesting transcripts from the court case but is primarily a diatribe aimed at any and all who would dare challenge Atanasoff and Berry's primacy in the history of computing. Alice Rowe Burks and Arthur W. Burks, The First Electronic Computer: The Atanasoff Story (1988), is a levelheaded discussion of the state of computer science in the 1940s. Clark Mollenhoff, Forgotten Father of the Computer (1988), is a solid piece of work, based on extensive interviews with Atanasoff and many other key personalities in the story. See also William Silag, "The Invention of the Electronic Digital Computer at Iowa State College, 1930-1942," Palimpsest 65 (1984), 150-78. Contributor: Bill Silag

Cite as: Silag, Bill. "Atanasoff, John Vincent" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


Norman Baker,
(November 27, 1882-September 8, 1958)

Entrepreneur, radio personality, and cancer quack during the 1920s and 1930s-was a master propagandist with a populist flair. Baker cast himself as a common folks crusader battling against big business, big government, and big medicine. Like his contemporary John Brinkley, the infamous "goat gland" doctor from Kansas, Baker manipulated rural anxieties during the Great Depression, public uncertainty with organized medicine, and the lack of oversight of early radio. Baker's cancer treatment and various other enterprises earned him an estimated $10 million before a conviction for mail fraud ended his career in 1940.

Born in Muscatine, Iowa, Baker first demonstrated business savvy as a vaudeville performer. Returning to Muscatine in 1914, Baker marketed his patented air calliaphone, a portable calliope for carnivals and outdoor advertisers. The operation soon expanded into a mail order business peddling everything from overalls to coffee. Baker even promoted an art correspondence school, despite his confession that he "couldn't paint to save his life."

Observing Henry Field 's use of radio to sell seeds in Shenandoah, Iowa, Baker constructed his own station and began broadcasting in 1925. With its lineup of live music, agricultural reports, and Baker's own colorful broadcasts, KTNT became popular among rural midwesterners, many of whom flocked to Muscatine on summer Sundays to picnic outside the KTNT studio, enjoy the carnival atmosphere, and see Baker, clad in his trademark white suit with lavender tie. Baker gained further clout when he broadcast on behalf of Herbert Hoover 's 1928 presidential campaign. Hoover later repaid Baker by pressing a golden key from the White House, ceremoniously starting publication of Baker's newspaper, the Midwest Free Press.

In 1929 Baker's tabloid magazine, TNT, published a sensational story touting an unconventional cancer treatment. Months later Baker opened his own cancer hospital in Muscatine, staffed by a collection of chiropractors, naturopaths, and diploma mill M.D.s. A former employee later testified that Baker's panacea was nothing more than a mixture of clover, corn silk, watermelon seed, and water. Still, with aggressive advertising, the hospital accrued monthly revenues topping $75,000 in 1931. Although lacking medical training, Baker directed patients' treatment and warned the public of the dangers of vaccinations, aluminum utensils, and greedy allopathic physicians.

During the spring of 1931, Baker's crusade against preventive medicine helped to incite a rebellion in eastern Iowa known as the Cow War. His broadcasts and editorials encouraged farmer to resist state veterinarians' efforts to enforce mandatory bovine tuberculosis testing-a ruse, Baker charged, for meatpackers to acquire cheap beef. When the standoff escalated into outbursts of barnyard violence, Governor Dan Turner called out the state militia to squelch the rebellion.

Baker's medical demagoguery baited his critics into action. In 1931 the Federal Radio Commission shut down KTNT. A year later Baker went to federal court in Davenport to settle his libel suit against the American Medical Association (AMA) for calling him a "quack," a "faker," and a "charlatan."When the jury sided with the AMA, Baker sought redress through Iowa politics. He entered the race for governor as a write-in candidate on the Farm-Labor ticket, but campaigned from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where he constructed a 100,000-watt radio station to replace KTNT. Always the entertainer, Baker sent campaign trucks rolling through Iowa counties with colorful banners and loudspeakers blaring speeches and carnival music, but to no avail. His efforts realized a mere 5,000 votes on Election Day.

Baker's career in Iowa wound to a close. He returned in 1936 to enter Iowa's U.S. senatorial race as a Republican, but finished fifth in the primary. After RKO Radio Pictures discredited his Muscatine hospital in a March of Time newsreel, Baker shut it down and relocated to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where citizens of the depressed resort town welcomed the embattled entrepreneur as an economic savior. Baker's boast that he would make a "million dollars out of the suckers" of Arkansas came back to haunt him three years later. Convicted for mail fraud and sentenced to four years in Leavenworth Penitentiary, he never recovered. Baker lived his remaining years in obscurity off the coast of Florida in a boat formerly owned by the railroad baron Jay Gould, until his death in 1958 at the age of 75.

Sources For more on Baker, see Alvin Winston, Doctors, Dynamiters, and Gunmen: The Life Story of Norman Baker (1936); Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio (1990); Eric Juhnke, Quacks and Crusaders: The Fabulous Careers of John Brinkley, Norman Baker, and Harry Hoxsey (2002); Warren B. Smith, "Norman Baker-King of Quacks," Iowan 17 (December-January 1958-1959), 16-18, 55; and Joseph Wolfe, "Norman Baker and KTNT," Journal of Broadcasting 12 (1968), 389-99. Contributor: Eric Juhnke

Cite as: Juhnke, Eric. "Baker, Norman" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


Bird Thomas Baldwin,
(May 31, 1875-May 11, 1928)

Professor of child welfare and founding director of the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station (ICWRS) at the State University of Iowa-was born into a Quaker family in Marshallton, Pennsylvania. He earned his B.S. at Swarthmore in 1900; then, after two years as principal of Friends' School, Moorestown, New Jersey, he took advanced work in psychology and education at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his A.M. (1903) and Ph.D. (1905) in psychology and education at Harvard. He studied psychology at Leipzig University in 1906. After teaching at Westchester State Normal School for a year and at the University of Texas from 1910 to 1912, he taught at Swarthmore College until coming to the State University of Iowa in 1917 to direct the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, the first research institute in its field in the world.

Baldwin moved quickly to ensure its world-class status. He won a series of grants from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (a Rockefeller philanthropy) in the 1920s to enhance its mushrooming programs in research, training, and service. Baldwin's own research centered on the vexed problem of the relationship between mental and physical growth. He and his colleagues worked on a variety of problems relating to these issues, including proper nutrition, what went into the development of the "normal" child, the differences between up-to-date and regressive rural environments for children, and the intelligence of preschool children. The provisions of the Rockefeller grants, which totaled almost $1 million in the 1920s, stipulated that the ICWRS would do the basic research in the field, whereas a department at Iowa State College would train future preschool teachers, and Iowa State Teachers College would train teachers of classes in parent education. Together with the various child welfare reform organizations, which had led the political campaign for the ICWRS's founding by the Iowa legislature, Baldwin led the ICWRS to national eminence in the late 1920s.

The ICWRS fulfilled the intent of the Rockefeller Memorial grants by integrating the science of child study and the applied social technology of parent education. Baldwin and his colleagues not only helped to build up a science of child study, or, as they preferred to call it, a science of child development; they also fostered the training of nursery school teachers and promoted parent education through classes and conferences.

Baldwin's work centered on the phenomenon of development. In the early and middle stages of his career, he distinguished himself by becoming one of the most careful measurers of the physical growth of children, winning national and international recognition for his work. At the ICWRS, he also became interested in the problem of mental growth because his daughter was having learning difficulties. She was placed in the ICWRS observational nursery school, and, possibly because she received extra attention from her teachers, her test scores improved dramatically within about a year, showing that she was not mentally subnormal, but slightly above normal. Through his daughter's unexpected experience, Baldwin came to realize that IQ tests were flawed and could be misleading. As a result, his career veered off from the problem of physical growth to that of mental growth. By the later 1920s, when he was at the height of his career, he was becoming an increasingly severe critic of IQ testing if it was interpreted as a final judgment of the inheritance of intelligence on the part of any individual. At that point, in May 1928, he was at a conference, stopped in a barbershop for a haircut and a shave, received a terrible freak infection from the shave, and died within a few hours.

Sources There is no collection of Baldwin correspondence as such. He has considerable correspondence, however, in the Papers of the Presidents of the University of Iowa, in the central file for the ICWRS, at the University Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, and in the files of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, Rockefeller Archive Center, Tarrytown, New York. A useful secondary account, with many bibliographical leads, is Hamilton Cravens, Before Head Start: The Iowa Station and America's Children (1993). Contributor: Hamilton Cravens

Cite as: Cravens, Hamilton. "Baldwin, Bird Thomas" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


William Miller Beardshear,
(November 7, 1850-August 5, 1902)

United Brethren minister, public school administrator, and college president-was born on a farm near Dayton, Ohio, the son of John and Elizabeth (Coleman) Beardshear. He was educated in the Ohio public schools. Described as big for his age, he enlisted in the Union army at age 14. Following military service, he graduated from Otterbein University in 1876; while there he married a fellow student, Josephine Mundhenk. He attended Yale Divinity School for two years, then held United Brethren pastorates at Arcanum and Dayton, Ohio.

In 1881 Beardshear headed west to Iowa, becoming president of Western College at Toledo, Iowa. In 1889 he was hired as superintendent of the West Des Moines public schools and two years later as president of Iowa Agricultural College. Forty years old at the time, Beardshear was described as "impressive in appearance and manner, tall, broad shouldered, with black hair and beard and piercing eyes."He was known as an excellent speaker and a man of great vitality.

Beardshear became president of Iowa Agricultural College at a crucial point in the young school's history. The passage of the Morrill Act in 1862 provided land to underwrite the new college. Founded by the Iowa General Assembly in 1858, the school opened for classes in 1869, but for the next several decades suffered from a shortage of money and faculty. College officials found it difficult to satisfy the state's many different agricultural, educational, and economic interests.

Once in office, Beardshear immediately begandealing with the many problems facing the young college, including lack of support for agricultural programs, financial difficulties, and lack of prestige. In his first report to the college, he stated that officials were responding totally to the needs of the farming industry in Iowa; the college had created new departments of dairying, animal husbandry, and farm crops and developed curricula for veterinary science, engineering, and domestic economy.

Beardshear's administration marked the turning point in the history of Iowa Agricultural College. Before 1891, Iowans had limited knowledge of the land grant school, and the legislature's support was limited. Beardshear began to publicize the college by taking the college to the people and bringing the people to the college. The president himself traveled the state, delivering commencement addresses and speaking at teachers' institutes and farmer' clubs. He convinced the state's railroads to put on excursion trains at low rates, making it possible for tens of thousands of Iowans to visit the school. Before Beardshear's tenure, the state supported only the physical plant and its upkeep; limited money came from the federal government for the support of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Beardshear persuaded the legislature to provide more money for the school, including support for a major building program. His efforts bore fruit: when he arrived in 1891, there were only a handful of buildings on campus; 11 years later the campus had expanded to 17 buildings, including Morrill Hall (1891), the Campanile (1899), Old Botany (1892, now Catt Hall), and Margaret Hall (1895). The college had grown from 336 to 1,220 students, and the teaching staff increased from 25 to 78.

Beardshear's contemporaries lauded his ability to relate to students. Drawing on his ministerial background, Beardshear frequently preached at the nightly chapel meetings. His talks reflected both his deeply held religious views and his love of poetry. Beardshear was also in step with the growing interest in college sports. In 1891 he spearheaded the foundation of an athletic association to officially sanction athletic teams. During his administration, the college built a gymnasium and athletic field. And in 1895 the men's basketball team became formally known as the Cyclones.

Beardshear also dealt effectively with the divisive issue of whether to have fraternities on campus. His predecessor, William I. Chamberlain, had favored the presence of fraternity activity. Beardshear decreed that present fraternity members could continue their activities, but no more students could join fraternities, essentially dooming the groups to extinction.

A continuing issue throughout Beardshear's tenure at ISC was curriculum duplication at the three state institutions of higher learning. Because Iowa State Normal School in Cedar Falls had been founded as a teachers' college, the main curriculum conflicts were between Iowa Agricultural College and the State University of Iowa. In his 1898-1899 report to the governing board, Beardshear gave assurances that the goal of the Iowa Agricultural College (that year changing its name to Iowa State College) was to create a major technological institution, not to develop liberal arts courses.

Beardshear was active in numerous state and national organizations. He served on the executive committee of the Iowa State Teachers Association and was director and later president of the National Educational Association, president of the Iowa State Improved Stock Breeders Association, and a member of the U.S. Indian Commission (1897-1902).

Beardshear suffered a heart attack in the spring of 1902 and died that August. He has fittingly been called the "father of Iowa State College."In his honor, Iowa State College's Central Building was renamed Beardshear Hall in 1925.

Sources Beardshear's papers are in the University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames. For secondary sources, see Isaac A. Loos, "William Miller Beardshear," Iowa Historical Record 18 (1902), 553-86; Dictionary of American Biography vol.1 (1958); and an obituary in the Des Moines Register and Leader, 8/6/1902. Contributor: Dorothy Schwieder

Cite as: Schwieder, Dorothy. "Beardshear, William Miller" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


William Shane Beardsley,
(May 13, 1901-November 21, 1954)

Iowa governor - was the son of William Beardsley, a pharmacist, and Carrie (Shane) Beardsley. He was born in Beacon, Mahaska County, Iowa, and raised in Birmingham, Van Buren County, where he went to school. From the age of 11, he worked after school in the drugstore of his sickly father, who died when Beardsley was 14. He graduated from the Bowen Institute of Pharmacy and Chemistry at Brunswick, Missouri. He never went to college but soaked up books on history and economics. In 1919 he married Charlotte E. Manning of Birmingham. They had three sons and two daughters.

At the age of 21, the nearly penniless Beardsley borrowed the money to take over a drugstore in the tiny town of New Virginia, Warren County. He made a business success and, always highly popular, in 1932 was elected Republican state senator for Warren and Clarke counties. He was a leading light in the senate, and after being reelected in 1936, became majority leader. Honoring a gentleman's agreement between Warren and Clarke counties, he did not run again in 1940.

Having bought some 900 acres of land, Beardsley retired from politics to concentrate on farming and his drugstore. But after the Speaker of the Iowa House, who was also from Warren County, died of a heart attack in December 1946, Beardsley was asked to stand in the special election to fill the seat and proceeded to win. In the 1947 legislature, he was a strong supporter of labor and battled against the anti-closed shop labor bill and the banning of secondary boycotts. The legislation had the powerful backing of the two-term Republican Governor Robert D. Blue. At the end of the session, some Republicans turned to Beardsley to challenge Blue in the 1948 Republican primary for governor.

At first, Beardsley was given little hope of beating an incumbent governor. But he had the support of organized labor, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and the Iowa State Education Association. Beardsley travelled 20,000 miles and made hundreds of speeches. As the primary election approached, the polls all showed Blue ahead. The Iowa Poll published in the Des Moines Register the day before the election gave Governor Blue a clear lead among Republican voters, but reported that some Democrats were considering crossing over and voting for Beardsley. In fact, a massive Democratic crossover vote throughout the state saw Beardsley defeat Governor Blue 189,938 votes to 127,771 - a majority of more than 62,000. "Neighbors from all around the New Virginia area crowded into the Beardsley store Monday night to cheer radio reports of his mounting lead and to drink "˜cokes.' Beardsley provided gallons of coffee and soft drinks for the visitors and he himself served some of the well-wishers."

Beardsley was elected to three successive terms. His recommendation "that the union shop be legalized" was in vain. However, in the field of education, he was successful, as the General Assembly adopted his recommendation that the state should grant aid equal to a quarter of the total costs of operating Iowa's public schools. "As a result of this program," the governor boasted, "educational opportunities have been improved. The children of our state now enjoy the advantages of better schools and better teaching."

Beardsley was an enthusiastic road builder and successfully persuaded the General Assembly to adopt a road-building program. In 1953 he reported that "there has been more construction of highways during the last twelve months than in any other given period in the history of our state."He was especially proud of the miles of farm-to-market roads that had been built. Highway safety was another keen concern of Beardsley's. The Iowa State Highway Patrol was expanded, and emphasized safety education as much as law enforcement. Driver training classes in the high schools turned out safe drivers.

Conservation of soil and water was another dominant theme throughout his years in office. Beardsley established the Natural Resources Council, and once boasted, "The State of Iowa continues to pace the nation in conservation work."He was also proud of expanding and improving the programs in Iowa's mental health institutions and of developing mental health clinics in Iowa's hospitals. Other reforms included enlarging the staff and improving the facilities in training schools and children's institutions.

Just north of Des Moines on the night of Sunday, November 21, 1954, Beardsley drove his car into the back of a truck and was killed instantly. Sources See Gerard Schultz and Don L. Berry, History of Warren County, Iowa (1953), and obituaries in the Des Moines Register, 11/22/1954, and Indianola Tribune, 11/23/1954. Contributor: Richard Acton

Cite as: Acton, Richard. "Beardsley, William Shane" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


Leon Bismarck "Bix" Beiderbecke
(March 10, 1903-August 7, 1931)

Celebrated jazz pianist and cornetist-was born in Davenport, Iowa, the third of three children of Bismarck Herman Beiderbecke and M. Agatha (Hilton) Beiderbecke. "Bix" was a family nickname that served to Americanize the Old World Bismarck.

During a tragically short life that ended in New York City, Bix Beiderbecke made hundreds of recordings that marked him as an original jazz improviser on the piano and the cornet. At the same time, however, his uppermiddle-class German American upbringing seems to have ill-prepared him for the roughand-tumble life of a jazz musician. Admired mostly by fellow jazz musicians and mid-western college and university students during the 1920s, Beiderbecke became, through his alcoholism and premature death, the first popular icon of the freedom, possibilities, and dangers of the jazz life. The best of his many recordings occupy a secure position among the most influential jazz recordings of the 1920s. His music expressed a young man's desire to synthesize two modernist trends in the music of his time: the innovative harmonic ideas of European composers Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy and the "hot" rhythmical improvisations of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB). He absorbed elements of these very different worlds by listening closely to records, radio, and the live music on Mississippi riverboats and in Davenport's dance halls and vaudeville theaters.

As a youngster, Beiderbecke had also listened to his mother playing parlor piano and quickly demonstrated a remarkable ability to play by ear what he had heard. He also learned his piano lessons by ear, however, and never did learn to read musical scores, a serious failing that undermined his subsequent career as a professional musician. He nevertheless progressed quickly on piano, playing harmonically and rhythmically adventurous renditions of the popular songs of the day and eventually working on his own compositions: "In a Mist," "In the Dark," "Candlelights," and "Flashes."Beiderbecke developed first as a pianist and then took up the cornet in his teens, inspired by Nick LaRocca of the ODJB. He practiced the band's tunes by listening to its 78 rpm records and laboriously reproducing the cornet lead.

Davenport and its musical cultures exerted their influence on Beiderbecke. A number of pioneer New Orleans jazz musicians worked during the winters in the city's nightclubs and dance halls. In his teens, Beiderbecke sought them out and sat in with their bands. During the summers, he could not help but hear the music of Fate Marable and Louis Armstrong when the Capital or the St. Paul docked in Davenport on summer excursion cruises.

In 1921 Beiderbecke was failing at Davenport High School, so his parents sent him off to Lake Forest Academy in Illinois to straighten him out, only to see him expelled in 1922. That series of events led to a rift between the budding jazzman and his family, leaving Beiderbecke permanently scarred psychologically. He began a lifelong pattern of withdrawal and heavy drinking. While in school in Lake Forest, Beiderbecke had often escaped to jazz clubs in nearby Chicago. He jammed with budding collegiate musicians, learned to bring the cornet under control, and in 1923 began touring. In 1924 he began recording on the Gennett label with the Wolverines, a band influenced by the ODJB and one that came to enjoy renown among midwestern college students. Those recordings established Beiderbecke's reputation as an exceptionally original, exciting performer who, with deceptive ease, invented beautifully structured, declarative solos.

From 1924 to 1927 Beiderbecke performed as a hot soloist in the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, an arrangement-reading dance band in which he experienced frustration and humiliation as he struggled with his written parts. During those same years, however, he also recorded on the Okeh label with saxophonist/bandleader Frank Trumbauer, most notably on "Singin' the Blues" and "I'm Coming Virginia."In those recordings, the Dixieland formula was cast aside for a more flexible solo conception in which Beiderbecke's cool eloquence and synthesis of joy and sadness shone. At the time, the Trumbauer recordings impressed such jazz musicians as Max Kaminsky, Fletcher Henderson, Lester Young, and Louis Arm-strong, and became what Beiderbecke's most recent biographer calls "the consecration" of his life's work.

The pinnacle of his professional career came in the fall of 1927, when he joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, a formidable 28 musician organization at the top of the music business. Beiderbecke added his hot solos to the highly arranged music and played fourth cornet. He finally impressed his family with his newfound status and prestige, but his struggles with the arranged music, the band's intense performance schedule, and his deepening alcoholism soon undermined him.

Beiderbecke died unaware of his contribution. Whiteman eulogized him as "a genius who knew of something beautiful to strive for."His original music inspired dozens of jazz cornetists, most notably Andy Secrest, Red Nichols, Rex Stewart, Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheatham, Jimmy McPartland, Tom Pletcher, Richard Sudhalter, and Randy Sanke. His life and music have been celebrated yearly since 1972 at Davenport's Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival.

Sources Beiderbecke has been the subject of several full biographies, including Jean Pierre Lion, Bix: The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend (2005); Philip R. Evans and Linda K. Evans, Bix: The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story (1998); and Richard M. Sudhalter and Philip R. Evans, with William Dean-Myatt, Bix: Man and Legend (1975). For particular focus on the influence of Davenport's river culture on Beiderbecke, see William Howland Kenney, Jazz on the River (2005). Contributor: William Howland Kenney

Cite as: Kenney, William Howland. "Beiderbecke, Leon Bismarck "Bix"" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.



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