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Biographical Dictionary of Iowa Biographies


David William Belin,
(June 20, 1928-January 17, 1999)

Distinguished lawyer, accomplished musician, appointed member of two national commissions, author of several books and other publications, generous philanthropist, tireless proponent of the universal values of Judaism, and initiator of outreach programs for interfaith families - was born in Washington, D.C., to Louis I. and Esther (Klass) Belin. In the early 1940s the Belins (including David's younger brother Daniel) moved to Sioux City to help run the Klass family produce company during World War II. Belin graduated from Sioux City Central High School in 1946. Although he had been admitted to the Juilliard School of Music, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served a tour of duty in Japan and Korea. During part of his military stint, he was a concert violinist in the Armed Forces Special Services.

With the support of the G.I. Bill, Belin enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1948. He received a bachelor's degree in 1951, master of business administration degree in 1953, and law degree in 1954. He was associate editor of the Michigan Law Review and initiated into Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Delta Sigma Rho (forensics), Beta Alpha Psi (accounting), and Order of the Coif. In 1954 Belin moved to Des Moines, joining the law firm of Herrick and Langdon. In 1978 he and other lawyers continued a successor firm known today as Belin Lamson McCormick Zumbach Flynn. The National Law Journal listed Belin three times as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States. Among his specialties were corporate and constitutional law, taxation, and estate planning. In 1993 he published a book titled Leaving Money Wisely: Creative Estate Planning for Middle- and Upper-Income Americans for the 1990s.

Appointment to two national investigative and oversight commissions thrust Belin into the public limelight. In 1964 he was chosen by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to be a legal counsel to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. An outspoken critic of the many conspiracy theories (including Oliver Stone's 1991 film, JFK), Belin published two books on the Kennedy assassination: November 22, 1963: You Are the Jury and Final Disclosure: The Full Truth about the Assassination of President Kennedy. In 1975 President Gerald Ford appointed Belin executive director of the Rockefeller Commission, which was charged with investigating the scope and legality of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) activities in the United States.

While at the University of Michigan, Belin met Constance Newman, and they married in 1952. Constance Belin (a member of the Iowa Board of Regents, 1977-1980, and a member of the West Des Moines School Board, 1975- 1977) died in 1980. The Belins had five children: Jonathan, James, Joy, Thomas, and Laura. In 1992 Belin married Barbara Ross; they maintained residences in Des Moines and New York City.

David and Constance Belin were active members of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines and involved in many philanthropic projects over the years: the Iowa Foundation for Education, Environment and the Arts; the Civic Music Endowment in Des Moines; the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa (with the Blank family); the David W. Belin Lectureship in American Jewish Affairs at the University of Michigan; and grants assisting the Iowa Jewish Historical Society museum.

For many years Belin worked tirelessly with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) to foster Reform Judaism and create a community that welcomed interfaith couples interested in perpetuating those ideals. He was the founding chair of the UAHC Outreach Program, chair of the UAHC/CCAR Commission on Outreach, vice-chair of the UAHC board of trustees, and chair of the North American Board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. He was a cofounder of the Center for the Study of Interfaith Marriage at the City University of New York and the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York City. Pursuant to those activities, Belin was the author of a number of reports, articles, and two booklets: Why Choose Judaism: New Dimensions of Jewish Outreach, and Choosing Judaism: An Opportunity for Everyone.

Belin died as a result of a fall in his hotel room in Rochester, Minnesota, while there for his annual checkup at the Mayo Clinic. His death was noted not only in American newspapers but in the Jerusalem Post as well.

Sources Biographical information is in Contemporary Authors (1980 and 1999 editions); Who's Who in America (1982-1983); and obituaries.
Contributor: David Mayer Gradwohl

Cite as: Gradwohl, David Mayer. "Belin, David William" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


William Worth Belknap,
(September 22, 1829-October 13, 1890)

Civil War hero and secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant - was born in Newburgh, New York, the son of a regular U.S. Army officer. He grew up in the East, graduated from Princeton University in 1848, and passed the bar in 1851 after studying at Georgetown University. Later that year, Belknap moved to Keokuk, Iowa, and took up the practice of law in partnership with Ralph P. Lowe, future governor of Iowa and chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. In 1857 Belknap was elected to the Iowa General Assembly as a "Douglas" Democrat. Along with the first of his eventual three wives, Cora Leroy, Belknap enjoyed considerable social standing as well as growing political prominence.

With the beginning of the Civil War, Belknap, by then a Republican, was commissioned as major in the 15th Iowa Infantry. His military career was brilliant from the beginning, and he advanced rapidly in rank and reputation. He was cited for bravery at Shiloh and Corinth and was singled out for an act of personal heroism during the siege of Atlanta in July 1864, having reached the rank of brevet colonel by that stage. He was then brevetted to the rank of brigadier general and given command of the four regiments of the famous Crocker 's Brigade. He led his men on Sherman's March to the Sea and was promoted to brevet major general at the end of the war. Offered a regular army commission, he declined and instead returned to Keokuk. Based on his war record and his Republican connections, he was named to the coveted office of Collector of the Internal Revenue for Iowa's First District.

Cora had died during the war; in 1868 Belknap married a Kentuckian, Carita Tomlinson. The following year, on the recommendation of Belknap's former commander, William T. Sherman, newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant named Belknap secretary of war, the third-highest ranking cabinet post, responsible not only for the national armed forces, which were drastically reduced following the war, but also administering army posts and the American Indian trade in the West.

Moving to Washington, D.C., William and Carita became leading figures in the capital's postwar society. They established a fashionable and lavishly appointed home and entertained on a grand scale. Unfortunately, Carita was in delicate health, and she died not long after giving birth to a son, Robert, who himself died five months later. Two years later Belknap took Amanda "Puss" Tomlinson, his second wife's sister, as his third wife, and the couple assumed life near the top of Washington's social pyramid.

To all public appearances, Belknap's term as secretary of war was uneventful until 1876. He kept a relatively low professional profile and seemed to have escaped the scandal and corruption at the top of the administration that emerged during Grant's second term in office. But on March 2, 1876, Belknap's old college roommate, Hiester Clymer, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, interrupted debate in the House of Representatives to report as chair of the House Committee on Expenditures in the War Department. Clymer declared that his committee's hearings had uncovered "unquestioned evidence of the malfeasance in office by General William W. Belknap."Although Belknap had resigned a few hours before the accusations were made, Clymer moved that Belknap be impeached.

As the preponderance of testimony and evidence came to show, Belknap had apparently profited from a scheme to sell the Indian post tradership at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, to Caleb P. Marsh, a New York businessman. The deal had been struck indirectly in 1870 by Carita Belknap, the secretary's second wife, who cautioned Marsh to negotiate through her and to avoid direct discussions of the post tradership with Belknap. Although the ar rangements were complicated, Marsh eventually paid $20,000 over five years directly to Belknap, who signed receipts for the money. Subsequently, Belknap and his supporters claimed that the secretary thought the money came from private investments Puss had placed with Marsh.

When Marsh was called to testify to Clymer's investigative committee in late February 1876, Belknap realized he was caught. He managed to get his resignation in to President Grant just before Clymer could call for his impeachment. Despite claims by his few supporters that his resignation removed him from Congress's jurisdiction, he was im peached unanimously by the House. A week later he was also indicted on civil charges and placed under house arrest.

After weeks of further investigation by the House committee, including testimony by General George A. Custer, on his way to an appointment in July with several thousand Sioux warriors at the Little Big Horn, the Senate convened a trial of Belknap, spending several more weeks discussing whether the senators had jurisdiction. When direct arguments began, Belkap's attorneys relied mostly on the argument that he could not be convicted because he had resigned before the articles of impeachment had been formally brought against him. In the end, enough senators agreed to let Belknap escape. Twenty-five of 60 senators voted not guilty on technical grounds-leaving the vote short of the required two-thirds-although 23 senators publicly declared that they thought him guilty in fact. All senators agreed he had taken the money.

Following the trial, Puss and her daughters moved to Paris, France, where they remained until after Belknap's death. The former secretary himself moved to Philadelphia in the immediate aftermath of his disgrace but eventually returned to Washington and quietly practiced law until his death.

Belknap remained a hero to his former Civil War army colleagues, despite his public dishonor, and in later years the veterans of Crocker's Brigade raised an impressive monument to Belknap, including a bas-relief portrait at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

Sources Belknap's private papers are held at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, and are available on microfilm at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City. A full biography is Edward S. Cooper, William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace (2003). The official record is "The Trial of William W. Belknap," Congressional Record, 44th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 4, pts. 2 and 7. See also L. Edward Purcell, "The Fall of an Iowa Hero," Palimpsest 57 (1976), 130-45; Roger D. Bridges, "The Impeachment and Trial of William Worth Belknap, Secretary of War" (master's thesis, State College of Iowa, 1963); Robert C. Prickett, "The Malfeasance of William Worth Belknap," North Dakota History 17 (1950), 5-51, 97-100; and Philip D. Jordan, "The Domestic Finances of Secretary of War W. W. Belknap," Iowa Journal of History 52 (1954), 193-202.
Contributor: L. Edward Purcell

Cite as: Purcell, L Edward. "Belknap, William Worth" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


Clifford Edward Berry,
(April 19, 1918-October 30, 1963)

Computer inventor - was the eldest of four children of Fred Gordon Berry and Grace (Strohm) Berry. Fred Berry operated an electrical appliance store in Gladbrook, Iowa, when the children were young. Clifford was an avid ham radio buff and keenly interested in electronics. In 1928 or 1929 the Berry family relocated to Marengo, a larger community where Fred Berry had taken a job with the Iowa Power Company. In Marengo, the Berry family's circumstances changed dramatically when Fred was shot to death by a disgruntled employee, leaving a widow with four children. For financial reasons, the family remained in Marengo until Clifford entered Iowa State College (ISC) in 1934. At that point, Grace moved the entire family to Ames.

At ISC, Clifford was recognized for his academic achievements. In 1939 he received a B.S. in electrical engineering and began work on graduate degrees in physics and mathematics. Through a mutual friend, Berry met John Vincent Atanasoff, a respected electrical engineer and physicist, who hired the young man as an assistant for the 1939-1940 academic year. At the time he met Berry, Atanasoff was involved in a bold scheme to develop a calculating machine based on four interrelated concepts: digital electronic logic circuits, binary enumeration, serial calculation, and regenerative memory. Before Atanasoff, no one had integrated electronic elements into machine calculation as thoroughly as Atanasoff proposed to do.

The two men got along well from the beginning. "Berry was one of the best things that could have happened to the project," Atanasoff recalled later. "After he had worked for a short time, I knew that he had the requisite mechanical and electronic skills, but also that he had vision and inventive skills as well."Atanasoff entrusted Berry with assembling parts of the computer itself using plans drawn by Atanasoff. Berry is also credited with developing the electronic means by which base-10 numbers were entered into the computer for calculation in base-2 and then retrieved as numeric statements in base-10.

In December 1939 Atanasoff and Berry presented a prototype-named the "Breadboard Model" due to its small size-to test their key ideas. The test was successful, bringing another $850 to the project by way of a grant from ISC's Research Council, along with the promise of an additional $5,000 from the nonprofit Research Corporation of New York. Those awards would enable Atanasoff and Berry to finance construction and tests of the full-scale computer's component parts. Atanasoff and Berry worked in earnest on the full-scale computer from approximately January 1940 until June 1942. To support their patent application, they produced a technical paper titled "Computing Machines for the Solution of Large Systems of Linear Algebraic Equations," which described the architecture and functioning of their computer. The paper was duly forwarded to ISC officials, who apparently assured the inventors that the college would handle the rest of the patent application and also expedite processing of the Research Corporation funds.

The United States' entry into World War II halted Atanasoff and Berry's work at ISC. In the summer of 1942, both men left Ames to fulfill military obligations. At the time they left Ames, they assumed that the college would hurry their application to the patent office, speed receipt of the Research Corporation's $5,000, and help them get back to work quickly upon the conclusion of their military service.

But during and after the war, their careers took them in different directions. In 1942 Atanasoff took a position with the Naval Ordnance Laboratory outside Washington, D.C., and after the war he created a succession of profitable business firms. Berry's draft assignment sent him to the Consolidated Engineering Corporation in Pasadena, California, where he began a very successful career in corporate-sponsored research. At Consolidated, Berry was responsible in whole or part for dozens of patents. Atanasoff and Berry never worked together again. Nor does it appear that either ever heard from the Patent Office about their computer at ISC.

Ironically, Berry's greatest success as a computer engineer working on his own- after the Atanasoff years of 1939-1942-had to do with the development of a sophisticated analog device named the 30-103 Analog Computer. The 30-103, built by Consolidated Engineering during Berry's tenure there, proved crucial in the advancement of mass spectrometry.

Berry left Consolidated in 1963. In October of that year he was visiting Huntington, Long Island, prior to taking a position as director of advanced development at Vacuum Electronics, when his body was found lying dead in his hotel room. Although ruled by the coroner a "possible suicide," family and friends- including John Atanasoff-found it hard to believe that a family man in the midst of a flourishing career would take his own life.

Sources Mary Bellis, "Clifford Berry," draws on material gathered from Iowa State University sources from the Internet about.com Web site, of which Bellis is a writer and producer. 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), is a diatribe aimed at anyone who would dare to challenge Atanasoff and Berry's primacy in the history of computing, but it does contain interesting transcripts from the court case (see Atanasoff entry). Clark Mollenhoff, Forgotten Father of the Computer (1988), focuses on the trial, the computer, and Atanasoff's due, but does provide essential information about Berry's life and work.
Contributor: Bill Silag

Cite as: Silag, Bill. "Berry, Clifford Edward" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


William Peter Bettendorf,
(July 1, 1857-June 3, 1910)
and
Joseph William Bettendorf
(October 10, 1864-May 16, 1933)

Manufacturers - were the eldest children of German immigrants, Michael and Catherine (Beck) Bettendorf. William was born in Mendota, Illinois, where Michael worked as a teacher and a store clerk. The family moved to Sedalia, Missouri, and then to Leavenworth, Kansas, where Michael worked as a federal government clerk and where Joseph was born. William attended St. Mary's Mission School in Fort Leavenworth, and his father also tutored him at home. At the age of 13, he worked as a messenger boy in Humboldt, Kansas. In 1872 the family moved to Peru, Illinois, where young William spent two years as a clerk in the A. L. Shepard & Company hardware store. He went to work for the Peru Plow Company in 1874 as a machinist's apprentice and in 1878 patented the first successful "power lift" sulky plow. This invention was adopted by seven of the largest manufacturers in the United States, and William received $5,000 in royalty fees. When Joseph reached the age of 18, he, too, went to work for the Peru Plow Company. He started as a machinist and soon became foreman of the assembly department.

William married Mary Wortman from Peru in 1879. They had two children, both of whom died in infancy. Joseph married Elizabeth Ohl in Peru in 1888. They had two sons, Edwin J. and William E.

In 1880 William went to work for the Moline Plow Company in Moline, Illinois, for 10 months and then became foreman for the Parlin & Orendorff Company at Canton, Illinois. By July 1882, he was back at the Peru Plow Company as superintendent. In that capacity, he invented the "Bettendorf metal wheel," which had an iron hub and steel spokes. The new wheel, for use in wagons and other farm vehicles, revolutionized farm machinery. The invention was very successful, but William was not satisfied with the method used to make the new wheels, so he invented new machinery to make the wheels. The Peru Plow Company, however, was unwilling to finance the venture even though the company had paid for the wheel patent and owned a half interest.

In 1886 E. P. Lynch, president of the Eagle Manufacturing Company of Davenport, agreed to help William and Joseph finance the Bettendorf Metal Wheel Company. William took charge of the factory with a salary of $2,500 a year in addition to the profits that patent rights gave him. The business prospered, using machines that William invented. In 1890 the company built a larger factory in Springfield, Ohio, and Joseph moved to Springfield in 1890 to manage the new branch.

In 1891 William invented a combined self-oiling hollow steel axle, bolster, and stakes for farm wagons, which replaced those made of wood. In 1892 he resigned his position as vice president and general manager of the Bettendorf Metal Wheel Company and sold his interests in his patents to his associates. He then turned his attention to patenting machinery to manufacture axles and invented nine special machines. He opened his new business on January 4, 1894, and incorporated the Bettendorf Axle Company in 1895, with himself as president and Joseph as secretary and later as treasurer.

William's next project was to make railroad cars stronger by substituting steel for wood in various parts, including the "Bettendorf frame," a metal box used to house and support car axles rotating on bearings. Eventually, he manufactured entire railway cars.

The business soon outgrew the factory in Davenport, and after two disastrous fires in 1902, the brothers relocated to nearby Gilbert, which in 1903 was renamed Bettendorf. Business at the new plant was so successful that the brothers sold the wagon part of the business to concentrate entirely on manufacturing railway cars. The business became well known in the United States and Europe.

In 1908, seven years after the death of his first wife, William married Elizabeth H. Staby. They began construction on a 20-room mansion, but before it was finished, William died at the age of 53 from complications of intestinal cancer. At the time of his death, 25 patents were pending in his name.

Joseph was then appointed company president. Under his guidance, the company continued to flourish. After its name was changed to the Bettendorf Company, it became the largest manufacturing concern in the Davenport area, with shops covering 33 acres and employing up to 2,500 people.

In 1913 the Bettendorf Company received a $15 million order from the Union Pacific Railroad. During World War I, the company cooperated with other railroad car companies to provide 3,000 cars for government use. In addition, the Bettendorf plant produced 30 percent of all the side frames manufactured for the government during the war.

Joseph was also interested in other local industries. He served as president and director of the Bettendorf Water Company, the Bettendorf Light and Power Company, the Linograph Corporation, the Westco-Chip pewa Pump Company, the Micro Corporation, and the Buddy "L" Manufacturing Company. He was a director of the Davenport Bank & Trust Company; the Innes Manufacturing Company; Federal Bake Shops, Inc.; the Davenport Machinery & Foundry Company; and the Davenport Locomotive & Manufacturing Company. He also was a member of the Davenport Industrial Commission, which encouraged industrial development in the area. He was also active in many civic organizations, and he supported the Tri-City Symphony Orchestra and other musical organizations. He also enjoyed improving the beautiful flower gardens that surrounded his residence on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.

Joseph's belief that taxes were too high on real estate and property led to an interest in tax reform. In 1928 he came up with the "gross income tax plan," which he thought would distribute taxes more equitably. His tax plan was considered by the Iowa legislature, but was not passed.

Joseph died on May 16, 1933, at the age of 68 of a coronary thrombosis at his home in Bettendorf. His two sons, Edwin J. and William, continued the family's involvement in the Bettendorf Company.

Sources include Portrait and Biographical History of Scott County, Iowa (1895); National American Biography (1999); and Who Was Who in America (1897-1942) and (1961- 1968). The Davenport Democrat carried William's obituary on 6/5/1910 and Joseph's on 5/17/1933.
Contributor: Pam Rees

Cite as: Rees, Pam. "Bettendorf, William Peter" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


Walter Lawrence Bierring,
(July 15, 1868-June 24, 1961)

Medical educator, public health advocate, and Iowa's foremost bacteriologist in the 20th century - was born in Davenport, Iowa, home to Washington Peck, dean of the State University of Iowa Medical Department (UIMD), where Bierring chose to pursue his medical education. Upon completing his M.D. at Iowa in 1892, Bierring traveled to Europe for postgraduate work in bacteriology. Between 1892 and 1894, he studied at Heidelberg, the University of Vienna, and the Pasteur Institute, where he learned the most advanced techniques and the germ theory.

The UIMD hired Bierring in 1894 as the first chair of its pathology and bacteriology department. In 1895 he developed an antidiphtheria serum, the first such serum developed west of New York City. After testing it on himself, Bierring used it to treat successfully more than 300 cases of diphtheria over the next five years. He continued to press for improved understanding of bacteriology in Iowa. He also lobbied for the creation of a state-funded laboratory, fully equipped to study, identify, and treat bacteria-caused diseases. His efforts were rewarded in 1904 with the establishment of the Bacteriological Laboratory in Iowa City, known today as the University Hygienic Laboratory.

In 1903 Bierring was named chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, and he was still chair when Abraham Flexner reviewed the State University of Iowa's College of Medicine in 1909. Flexner recommended that the college focus on instruction in basic sciences and abandon clinical instruction since the number of patients was too few and the hospital too small to provide for first-class medical education. Bierring defended the college, arguing that students saw more than 10 clinical cases per week in the hospital and additional cases in his recently opened outpatient dispensary.

However, Bierring was unable to deal with a more pressing problem raised by Flexner, the question of physicians using hospital facilities to treat private patients. Flexner saw this as unethical and urged that faculty be paid entirely by the college. Bierring saw this as unreasonable and resigned his chair in April 1910 rather than abandon his private practice, thus severing his two-decade relationship with the State University of Iowa.

Bierring went on to enjoy a long and distinguished career. In 1914 he became the president of the Iowa State Board of Health and head of the state's medical examiners and held those posts until 1925. He was then named to the board of regents of the American College of Physicians, served as president of the National Board of Medical Examiners from 1927 to 1930, was president of the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1934, and was named diplomate on the American Board of Internal Medicine. In those positions, Bierring worked to improve medical curricula, set educational standards for residencies, and introduce rigor into continuing medical education programs.

In 1933 Bierring moved to Des Moines to serve as State Commissioner of Public Health, a post he held until retiring in 1953. In that position Bierring had his most enduring impact on Iowa health care. After World War II, the Hill-Burton Hospital Construction Act provided federal funds to build hospitals in underserved areas of the country. In 1946 Bier-ring oversaw the Iowa Hospital Survey, which showed that many of Iowa's 145 hospitals were not up to federal standards. Bierring then drafted the Iowa Hospital Plan in 1947, effectively setting priorities for the distribution of Hill-Burton funds for Iowa hospital construction for the next decade. His plan and federal funds enabled Iowa to modernize its hospitals and improve its medical infrastructure.

In addition to his contributions to public health and the medical profession, Bierring wrote on Iowa medical history, drawing on his own diverse experiences. Noteworthy were his brief histories of the departments of internal medicine and bacteriology at the State University of Iowa's College of Medicine and his chapters in One Hundred Years of Iowa Medicine, 1850-1950. Bierring died in Des Moines at age 92. To honor him, the University of Iowa's College of Medicine annually presents the Walter Bierring Award for the most significant contribution to microbiology.

Sources include Lee Anderson and Lewis January, "Walter Bierring and the Flexner Revolution at the University of Iowa College of Medicine," Pharos 55 (1992), 9-12; Walter Bierring, "The Story of Bacteriology at the University of Iowa," Journal of the Iowa State Medical Society 27 (1937), 555-57, 602-6, 656-59; Walter Bierring, The History of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Iowa, 1870-1958 (1958); Walter Bierring, ed., One Hundred Years of Iowa Medicine, 1850-1950 (1951); Iowa Press Association, Who's Who in Iowa (1940); Samuel Levey et al., The Rise of the University Teaching Hospital: A Leadership Perspective on the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (1996); and Stow Persons, The University of Iowa in the Twentieth Century: An Institutional History (1990).
Contributor: Matthew Schaefer

Cite as: Schaefer, Matthew. "Bierring, Walter Lawrence" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


Richard Pike Bissell,
(June 27, 1913-May 4, 1977)

Author, playwright, business executive, and riverboat pilot/master - was born in Dubuque, Iowa, the son of Frederick Bissell, a garment manufacturer, and Edith Mary (Pike) Bissell. He enjoyed a lifelong love affair with the Mississippi River, earning for himself the sobriquet "the Modern Day Mark Twain."Like Twain, he had both a master and a pilot license. He is best known for his river books and for his novel 7½ Cents, which he helped convert into Pajama Game, one of the most popular Broadway musical comedies of the 1950s.

The scion of a wealthy family, he graduated from Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1932. Four years later he graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. in anthropology, an experience that he memorialized in You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man in 1962. After a brief adventure in the Venezuelan oil fields, he signed on as a seaman on an American Export Lines freighter. On February 15, 1938, he married Marian Van Patten Grilk and returned to Dubuque, where they lived on a houseboat on the Mississippi River. Bissell became a vice president in the H. B. Glover Company, a clothing manufacturer founded by his great-grandfather in 1845 and managed by his father. Turned down when he tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Bissell joined the crew of the Central Barge Company of Chicago and worked on towboats on the Ohio, Mississippi, Illinois, Tennessee, and Monongahela rivers. Returning to Dubuque and Glover's after the war, he published several articles on his riverboat experiences in such prestigious national magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Collier's, and Esquire.

In 1950 Bissell published his first novel, A Stretch on the River, a largely autobiographical story whose nonstop dialogue portrayed the excitement, humor, and independence of a hard-working steamboat crew on the upper Mississippi. It was published to significant critical acclaim; several commentators compared Bissell to Twain, and one opined that the author's "ear for dialogue is stunning."The Minneapolis Star-Tribune asserted that "the writing is earthy, sometimes lyrical, sometimes dashed with the hyperbole of tall tales."The Minnesota Historical Society issued a paperback edition in 1987, a decade after the author's death. Both flattered and embarrassed by the frequent comparisons to Twain, Bissell addressed the issue with self-deprecating humor in 1973 with the publication of My Life on the Mississippi, or Why I Am Not Mark Twain.

Over the next few years, Bissell continued to write magazine articles and produced Monongahela, a volume in the Great Rivers of America series. In 1953 he ventured into new territory with the publication of 7½ Cents, in which he drew heavily on his experience in the family business, barely disguised as the Sleep-Tite pajama factory in an unnamed Iowa river town. That same year Bissell moved his family to Rowayton, Connecticut. There he collaborated with famed playwright George Abbott in turning the book into a musical comedy renamed The Pajama Game. With a musical score written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and choreography by Bob Fosse, The Pajama Game became one of the most popular musical comedies on Broadway during the mid 1950s. For his contribution, Bissell received a prestigious Tony Award. In 1957 Abbott and Stanley Donen converted the play into a script for a highly successful movie released by Warner Brothers. That same year Bissell published a best-selling book based on his Broadway experiences titled Say, Darling, which he and his wife, Marian, along with comedian Abe Burrows, translated into another successful musical comedy in 1959.

Over the next 15 years, Bissell produced several books, including Good Bye Ava (1960), Still Circling Moose Jaw (1965), How Many Miles to Galena? (1968), Julia Harrington, Winnebago, Iowa (1969), and New Light on 1776 and All That (1975). Living in a Fairfield, Connecticut, home designed by the famous architect Stanford White in 1909, Bissell traveled extensively; belonged to 11 historical societies; spent his summers in Boothbay Harbor, Maine; and collected everything from antique cars to saloon pianos. His most prized possession was a majestic 11-foot mirror from Mark Twain's New York home. In 1975 he and Marian moved back to Dubuque, where they lived in a house built by his grandfather. He died there two years later at the age of 63.

Sources Bissell's papers are housed in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. The most comprehensive treatments of Bissell are in Contemporary Authors Online (2001); American Authors and Books (1972); and The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (1998). He is also the subject of numerous sketches in periodicals: Atlantic Monthly, June 1953, 84, and December 1962, 164; Library Journal, 11/15/1968 and 1/15/1972; Life, 5/12/1958; Newsweek, 4/14/1968; New York Times, 5/24/1953 and 11/11/1962; New York Times Book Review Sec tion, 9/26/1954, 9/9/1956, 10/23/1960, 11/23/1969, and 12/9/1973; Saturday Review, 5/23/1953; Times (London), 5/25/1973; and Yale Review (Summer 1953).
Contributor: John D. Buenker

Cite as: Buenker, John D. "Bissell, Richard Pike" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


Gladys Bowery Black,
(January 4, 1909-July 19, 1998)

Often called the dean of Iowa ornithologists - motivated generations of birdwatchers to help preserve the state's endangered natural heritage.

Born on a farm east of Pleasantville, Iowa, among the rolling hills and valleys of the Southern Iowa Drift Plain, Black received degrees in nursing from Mercy Hospital in Des Moines and in public health nursing from the University of Minnesota. She married Wayne Black in 1941 and moved with him to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. While working for the U.S. Public Health Service, she also became active in community affairs. A hint of her future public life emerged in 1953, when she was named Warner Robins Woman of the Year.

After the death of her husband in 1956, Black returned to Pleasantville. Fully occupied as a public health nurse and a caregiver for her mother, she nonetheless entered upon a new career, focusing her civic volunteerism on a different sort of community: birdlife. As an educator, wildlife rehabilitator, speaker, researcher, writer, and activist, Black used her considerable intelligence to inform the public about the singular beauty of birds and her considerable energy to ensure that their lifeways and habitats were defended and protected.

Immediately upon her return to Iowa, Black became actively involved in the Iowa Ornithologists' Union. The Iowa skies were rich in avian life, both resident and migratory, and Black ultimately identified more than 300 species around Pleasantville. She organized bird-banding field trips and other nature projects for schoolchildren, systematically recorded data about the birdlife as well as the plants and animals around her, corresponded with other naturalists around the state and across the nation, opened her home to care for sick and wounded birds, and in many other ways endeavored to pass her knowledge and enthusiasm on to young and old alike.

In May 1970 Black became not just a strong environmentalist but a radicalized one. Since the damming of the Des Moines River the previous year had created Lake Red Rock near her home, she hoped that great blue herons could nest successfully on the floodplain near Red Rock Bluff. In April it looked as if her hope would be realized: 12 pairs of the beautiful birds courted, built nests, and incubated eggs. By the end of May, however, their thin-shelled eggs had broken, and their nests were deserted. Black's passionate demands for research into this crisis led to its cause: in her words, "a horrifying load of persistent pesticide residues in the embryos."From then on, she was a relentless advocate for environmental health, and she had an enviable forum for her agenda: the renowned Des Moines Register.

In 1970 Black began writing a column for the newspaper, which at that time was widely read throughout the state. Black soon became a household name. Through her short, lively articles about Iowa birds, she reached thousands of readers, enlisting them in her campaign to protect their land and its avian inhabitants. She wrote for the Register until 1987, and after that she continued to write for weekly newspapers; her columns were collected in two well-received books, Birds of Iowa (1979) and Iowa Birdlife (1992).

Black's relaxed and informal writing style was immediately accessible to laypeople yet authoritative enough for the professional. She created a world where birds were so undeniably significant that her readers accepted the necessity of protecting the habitat and safety of their avian neighbors. She provided engaging anecdotes and firsthand information to her readers, and in return they became her research partners by answering surveys, conducted through her columns, on evening grosbeaks and snowy owls.

In the summer of 1977 Black became even more of a household name when she took on the Iowa Conservation Commission, which had set a dove-hunting season for the forthcoming fall. According to her studies, a dove season went against the principles of good game management, and Black rallied support to take the commission to court. In the following session, the state legislature banned dove hunting in Iowa.

Black called herself "strictly an amateur," but her colleagues thought otherwise. In 1977 the Iowa Ornithologists' Union awarded her honorary membership. In 1978 Simpson College gave her an honorary doctor of science degree. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers honored her for her conservation and education efforts around Lake Red Rock, and the Iowa Academy of Science presented her with an award of merit. In 1983 she was named a Fellow of the Iowa Academy. In 1985 she was elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. In 2004 the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation established a bald eagle refuge at Lake Red Rock and a college scholarship in her honor.

The public voice of Iowa birdwatchers died on July 19, 1998. According to photographer and writer Larry Stone, "Black introduced thousands of Iowans to the joys of birds and birding. But her passion for protecting the environment-and her scorn for despoilers of the earth-remains an even more lasting legacy."

Sources include Gladys Black, Iowa Birdlife (1992); Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, www.inhf.org, accessed 8/27/2007; Ann Johnson, "Meet an Iowa Birder: Dr. Gladys B. Black," Iowa Bird Life 60 (Fall 1990), 85-87; Jean C. Prior, Landforms of Iowa (1991); and Desmond Strooh, "Dr. Gladys B. Black," Best Essays on Women in Science and Engineering for 8-9 Grades, www.state.ia.us/government/dhr/sw/wom_history/03_Winning_es says.pdf, accessed 8/27/2007.
Contributor: Holly Carver

Cite as: Carver, Holly. "Black, Gladys Bowery" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


Makataimeshekiakiak Black Hawk, or Black Sparrow Hawk
(1763?-October 3, 1838)

Sauk tribal leader - was born at Saukenuk, the largest Sauk village, near the mouth of the Rock River in western Illinois in 1763. He reached adulthood as fundamental changes reached the Indians of the upper Mississippi Valley. For generations, tribes in that region had dealt with French, British, and Spanish traders and officials, but few of those people lived near them. With American independence in the 1780s, citizens and government negotiators surged westward. By 1804 the United States had purchased Louisiana, the region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Within a few months American negotiator William Henry Harrison had persuaded a few Sauk leaders to cede all of their territory in present-day Illinois and Wisconsin to the federal government. That treaty infuriated many of the Sauk, who rejected its legality. The treaty dispute between the tribe and the government divided the Sauk and their allies, the Meskwaki, for a generation, and Black Hawk became a focal point for anti-American ideas and actions. During the late 18th century, he became a recognized warrior and leader, organizing and leading frequent attacks against enemy tribes, and gaining a solid core of followers within his society.

American entrance into Iowa and Illinois and efforts to prevent Sauk raids on other tribes infuriated the young warrior. He turned increasingly to the British for support and encouragement. During the War of 1812, he led several hundred warriors to Detroit. From there they fought against the United States in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Returning to Saukenuk in late 1813, the warriors learned that Keokuk had been appointed war leader there in their absence.

To Black Hawk's annoyance, the younger man's superior oratorical skills helped him dominate tribal affairs and relations with the United States for several decades. Nonetheless, Black Hawk continued to direct military campaigns. In May 1814 he defeated Major Zachary Taylor and more than 400 U.S. troops near the mouth of the Rock River. Sporadic raids continued into 1815, and the Rock River Sauk refused to meet American negotiators at Portage des Sioux that year. In 1816 they signed another agreement under threat of American attack. This reaffirmed the disputed 1804 treaty, but Black Hawk and several others refused to sign the new accord.

From 1816 to 1829 white pioneers moved into Sauk territory, and by the latter year had begun to seize land at Saukenuk. By that time most of the Sauk and Meskwaki had agreed to stay west of the Mississippi in Iowa and Missouri, and only a minority chose to return east to Illinois. That group, referred to by American officials as the British Band because of their supposed reliance on officials in Canada, included discontented Sauk, Meskwaki, and some nearby Kickapoo who came together to defy Illinois officials' demands that they leave the state. In June 1831 General Edmund P. Gaines, commanding army regulars, forced the British Band from Saukenuk into Iowa.

That winter the Sauk-Winnebago prophet Wabokieshiek, or White Cloud, invited the British Band to join his village up the Rock River in northern Illinois, so in April 1832 Black Hawk led perhaps 1,800 people back into Illinois. They hoped to establish a new village, but the pioneers and Illinois politicians denounced the move as an "invasion."Soon militiamen and U.S. Army troops began to pursue the British Band as they moved up the Rock River valley into southern Wisconsin. After weeks of scattered Indian raids and fruitless hunting for their quarry, the whites overtook the Indians at the mouth of the Bad Axe River and killed most of them, ending the conflict.

The government imprisoned Black Hawk and several British Band leaders at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis in 1832. The next year it sent several of them east to Fortress Monroe in Virginia. After taking the captives to several large eastern cities, authorities sent them home. In August 1833 Black Hawk had to agree to accept Keokuk's leadership in the tribe and to remain at peace.

On October 3, 1838, Black Hawk died peacefully. To him, Americans represented a selfish, greedy, and dishonest society. In opposing them, his behavior represented the actions of a patriotic Sauk. He sought to protect the Sauk values and way of life. By the 1830s, however, the frontier situation in his home region had changed so drastically that those ideas existed mostly in his memory.

Sources For a view of how the Black Hawk War has been treated, see Roger L. Nichols, "The Black Hawk War in Retrospect," Wisconsin Magazine of History 65 (1982), 239-46. For a subsequent fully contextualized account of the Black Hawk War from the American Indian perspective, see Kerry Trask, Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America (2006). Roger L. Nichols, Black Hawk and the Warrior's Path (1992) is the only full biography available. Roger L. Nichols, Black Hawk's Autobiography (1999) is one of several editions of that account.
Contributor: Roger L. Nichols

Cite as: Nichols, Roger L. "Black Hawk, Makataimeshekiakiak, or Black Sparrow Hawk" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


John Insley Blair,
(August 22, 1802-December 2, 1899)

Railroad and town developer - was born on a farm in Warren County, New Jersey, to a family of Scottish extraction, direct descendants of John Blair, who in 1720 had emigrated to America from Scotland. The young Blair received a sparse formal education, attending a local school only intermittently during the winter months. Yet he expected to succeed, allegedly telling his mother, "I have seven brothers and three sisters. That's enough in the family to be educated. I am going to get rich."At the age of 11 he became a helper in a store owned by a relative in nearby Hope, New Jersey. There this bright, hard-working, and honest lad had his initial exposure to the world of business. In the early 1820s the always ambitious Blair formed a partnership with another family member in Blairstown, New Jersey, and opened a country general store. Although the partnership proved to be brief, Blair continued the business operations on his own.

But John Insley Blair became more than a village storekeeper. Early on he acquired other mercantile stores in neighboring communities in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, and he commonly placed a family member in charge. With profits generated by those ventures, Blair developed additional interests, including cotton manufacturing and flour milling. Then in the 1830s this budding capitalist became fascinated with the iron industry. In time, he acquired major positions in various Pennsylvania concerns, the centerpiece being the Lackawanna Coal & Iron Company. His mining activities led him into railroading. His most significant railroading venture was the formation of what would evolve into one of the most profitable domestic carriers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (DL&W) Railroad. Not only did Blair own a sizable portion of that expanding road, but he also successfully speculated in real estate, especially in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the DL&W established its maintenance and operational headquarters.

Always on the lookout for attractive business opportunities, Blair eventually seized upon investments in the trans-Mississippi West. In the summer of 1860, following his participation in the Republican presidential convention in Chicago, he visited eastern Iowa. "Blair seems to have no sooner touched Iowa soil," observed one historian, "whereupon he perceived the boundless opportunities for opening up the West and the great possibilities of a trans-continental railroad with all its advantages to the Union."Quickly Blair acquired an interest in the Cedar Rapids & Missouri River line, a future core unit of the Chicago and North Western Railway, and in 1863 he participated in the survey work for that line through much of central and western Iowa. In charge of two of the railroad's affiliates, the Iowa Railroad Construction Company and the Iowa Railroad Land Company, Blair did much to win local financial support and to develop townsites, including Blairstown in Benton County. The triumph of these ventures prompted him to become involved in other trans-Chicago carriers, most notably the Sioux City & Pacific and the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley railroads. Blair liked to develop a frontier pike, promote townsites and dispose of land, and then sell or lease the railroad to another company.

Blair's mining, manufacturing, real estate, and railroad investments made him an enormous amount of money, creating an estate at the time of his death estimated to be worth between $50 million and $70 million. Yet Blair was generous, contributing funds to Princeton University and Grinnell and Lafayette colleges. His favorite educational institution, however, was Blair Presbyterian Academy, a coeducational secondary school in Blairstown, New Jersey, that he helped to found in 1848 and continued to fund throughout his life. Unlike some contemporary industrial leaders, Blair did not live in splendor; he maintained a modest lifestyle. A devoted husband and father, Blair in 1828 married Ann Locke, and they were parents of a son, DeWitt Clinton Blair. Blair did not slow down until shortly before his death; in his mid 80s, he traveled extensively, and into his 90s he rose early to begin another business day.

Sources include John H. Brown, ed., Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States (1900); "Early Railroad Builders of Iowa," North Western 7 (June-July 1911), 41; Anthony L. Cassen, ed., "Surveying the First Railroad across Iowa: The Journal of John I. Blair," Annals of Iowa 35 (1960), 321-62; Robert J. Casey and W. A. S. Douglas, The Lackawanna Story (1951); and Dictionary of America Biography (1957).
Contributor: H. Roger Grant

Cite as: Grant, H Roger. "Blair, John Insley" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015


William Wallace Blair,
(October 11, 1828-April 18, 1896)

Prominent Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) missionary and official - was born in Holly, New York, the fifth son of James and Fannie Blair. He grew up and worked on a farm near Amboy, Illinois, until 1854. For several years he owned and operated a mercantile store in East Paw Paw, Illinois. Much of his life was dedicated to service as a missionary for the RLDS.

The course of Blair's life was set by his conversion to the Latter Day Saint religion in 1851. He was baptized by William Smith, whose brother Joseph Smith II, founder of the movement, was killed in 1844. However, in less than a year Blair became disaffected with William Smith's teachings. When missionaries from the newly formed RLDS visited him in 1856, he felt led by the Holy Spirit to join the organization. The group fiercely opposed polygamy, and believed Joseph Smith III, son of the original prophet, would eventually lead them. Blair was baptized April 7, 1857, and ordained a High Priest the next day. Within a year he was an Apostle.

No person except Joseph Smith III, who was the Prophet/President from 1860 until 1914, served in more offices or exercised more influence over the church than W. W. Blair during his lifetime. Blair's official activities included being church recorder (1859- 1860); on the board that established the first church paper, the True Latter Day Saints' Herald (1859); Apostle with extensive missionary activity (1858-1873); counselor to Joseph Smith III in the First Presidency (1873-1896); on the committee to contact Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of Joseph Smith II, to obtain and publish Smith's manuscript revisions of the Bible (1867); on the church's Board of Publication (1875-1896); associate editor of the church paper, the Latter Day Saints' Herald (1885-1896); and editor of the Saints' Advocate, a magazine designed to convert followers of Brigham Young in Utah (1875- 1885). Blair's missionary activity ranged from California to Massachusetts, with an emphasis on the Midwest. He made hundreds of converts across Iowa from persons connected with the original Latter Day Saint church or its offshoots. He was on the committee that, in 1874, selected the area of Lamoni, Iowa, as the new location for the church headquarters and its press.

In 1885 Blair and his family moved to Lamoni. Blair's marriage to Elizabeth Doty in 1849 produced seven children, four of whom became prominent in Lamoni's mercantile, banking, real estate, and utility businesses and in local politics.

Blair's numerous writings centered on defending the prophetic nature of Joseph Smith II, validating the claim that Joseph Smith III was his father's rightful successor to the Latter Day Saint church, and trying to solve internal disputes within the Reorganized Church. The last emerged from the membership's disparate doctrinal background and complex relationships among administrative groups in the church.

W. W. Blair usually spoke his mind directly. That, and his tendency toward literalism and conservative interpretations of the scriptures, often embroiled him in controversies. He even occasionally found himself at odds with Joseph Smith III, who was generally more open to diverse expressions of the faith and tried to lead the church with a combination of patience and firmness. Despite their disagreements, Blair and Smith remained cordial: Smith prominently displayed a photograph of Blair in his home and named a son William Wallace.

Blair died on April 18, 1896, at Chariton, Iowa, returning from a church conference to his home in Lamoni. With his sudden death, his church lost a staunch and talented supporter, and Iowa lost an influential religious leader who helped establish numerous congregations throughout the state.

Sources Blair's diaries are located in the Temple Archives of the Community of Christ church in Independence, Missouri. (The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was renamed the Community of Christ in 2001.) A son, Frederick B. Blair, edited and published his diaries from March 1859 to 1877 as Memoirs of W. W. Blair (1908). Articles, speeches, debates, and pamphlets are published in the Latter Day Saints' Herald, as is an obituary.
Contributor: Alma R. Blair

Cite as: Blair, Alma R. "Blair, William Wallace" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 January 2015



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