John H. Gear

JOHN H. GEAR, the tenth gentleman to occupy the Executive Chair of Iowa, is still a resident of Burlington. He is a native of the Empire State, where in the city of Ithica, April 7, 1825, he was born. Rev. E. G. Gear, his father, was born in New London, Conn., in 1792, and became a distinguished clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church. His family had removed with him, while he was still young, to Pittsfield, Mass., and in the year 1816, after his ordination as a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, he went to New York and located at Onondaga Hill near the city of Syracuse. Shortly after this settlement, the young minister was united in marriage with Miss Miranda E. Cook. After serving various congregations in Western New York for many years, he determined to become a pioneer in Northern Illinois, which at the time, in the year 1836 was being rapidly settled up. He found a desirable location at Galena where he remained until 1838, when he received the appointment as Chaplain in the United States army while located at Fort Snelling, Minn. He lived a long and active life, doing much good, quitting his labors in the year 1874 at the advanced age of eighty-two years.

The only son born to Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Gear was J. H., afterward the distinguished Governor of Iowa. As above stated the birth occurred in 1825. In 1843, when still a young man, he came West to Burlington, where he has since continued to reside, her most distinguished citizen. Shortly after his arrival in the young city, he embarked in his mercantile career, engaging at the time with the firm of Bridgman & Bros., in the capacity of a clerk. Remaining with this firm for a little over a year, he left them for an engagement with W. F. Coolbaugh, who at one time was President of the Union National Bank, of Chicago, and who at that early period was the leading merchant of Eastern Iowa. He served Mr. Coolbaugh so faithfully, and with such marked ability for the following five years, that, when desirous of a partner in his business, the wealthy merchant could find no one in whom he could place greater confidence and with whom he could trust his extensive business relations that pleased him better than the young clerk. Accordingly he was associated as a partner under the firm name of W. F. Coolbaugh & Co. Under this arrangement the firm did a prosperous business for the following five years, when Mr. Gear purchased the entire business, which he carried on with marked success until he became known as the oldest wholesale grocer in the State. He is at present, besides filling other prominent business relations, President of the Rolling Mill Co., of Galesburg.

Mr. Gear has been honored by his fellow citizens with many positions of trust. In 1852 he was elected Alderman; in 1863 was elected Mayor over A. W. Carpenter, being the first Republican up to that time who had been elected in Burlington on a party issue. In 1867 the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Minnesota Railroad Company was organized, and he was chosen as its President. His efforts highly contributed to the success of the enterprise, which did much for Burlington. He was also active in promoting the Burlington & Southwestern Railway, as well as the Burlington & Northwestern narrow gauge road.

He has always acted with the Republican party, and in 1871 was nominated and elected a member of the House of Representatives of the 14th General Assembly. In 1873 he was elected to the 15th General Assembly. The Republican caucus of the House nominated him for Speaker by acclamation, and after a contest of two weeks he was chosen over his opponent, J. W. Dixon. He filled the position of Speaker very acceptably, and at the close of the session all the members of the House, independent of party affiliations, joined in signing their names to a resolution of thanks, which was engraved and presented to him. In 1875 he was the third time nominated to the Assembly by the Republican party, and while his county gave a large Democratic vote he was again elected. He was also again nominated for Speaker by the Republican caucus, and was elected by a handsome majority over his competitor, Hon. John Y. Stone. He is the only man in the State who ever had the honor of being chosen to this high position a second time. He enjoys the reputation of being an able parliamentarian, his rulings never having been appealed from. At the close of the session he again received the unanimous thanks of the House of Representatives for his courtesy and impartiality, and for the able and satisfactory manner in which he had presided over that body.

In 1877 he was nominated for Governor by the Republican convention which met at Des Moines, June 28, and at the election held the following October he received 121,546 votes, against 79,353 for John P. Irish, 10,639 for Elias Jessup and 38,228 for D. P. Stubbs. His plurality over Irish was 42,193. He was inaugurated Jan. 17, 1878, and served four years, being re-elected in 1879 by the following handsome vote: Gear, 157,571; Trimble, 85,0506; Campbell, 45,439; Dungan, 3,258, Gear's majority over all competitors, 23,828. His second inauguration occurred in January of the year 1880.

Gov. Gear's business habits enabled him to discharge the duties of his office with marked ability. He found the financial condition of the State at a low ebb, but raised Iowa's credit to that of the best of our States. In his last biennial message he was able to report: "The warrants out-standing, but not bearing interest, Sept. 30, 1881, amounted to $22,093.74, and there are now in the treasury ample funds to meet the current expenses of the State. The war and defense debt has been paid, except the warrants for $125,000 negotiated by the Executive, Auditor and Treasurer, under the law of the 18th General Assembly, and $2,500 of the original bonds not yet presented for payment. The only other debt owing by the State amounts to $245,435.19, due to the permanent school fund, a portion of which is made irredeem able by the Constitution. These facts place Iowa practically among the States which have no debt, a consideration which must add much to her reputation. The expenses of the State for the last two years are less than those of any other period since 1869, and this notwithstanding the fact that the State is today sustaining several institutions not then in existence; namely, the hospital at Independence, the additional penitentiary, the Normal School and the asylum for the feeble-minded children, besides the girl's department of the reform school. The State also, at present, makes provision for fish culture, for a useful weather service, for sanitary supervision by a Board of Health, for encouraging immigration to the State, for the inspection of coal mines by a State Inspector, and liberally for the military arm of the Government.

Gov. Gear is now in the sixty-first year of his age, and is in the full vigor of both his mental and physical faculties. He was married in 1852 to Harriet S. Foot, formerly of the town of Middlebury, Vermont, by whom he has had four children, two of whom are living.

(Source: Portrait And Biographical Album of Lee County, Iowa, 1887)
Submitted By: Cathy Danielson