Your job as a historian is to show how factories, food-processing industries, and railroads were connected to each other through cause and result relationships.
Explore the following resources related to the development of Waterloo.
In prehistoric times, crude mills made of two stones were used to crush grain for food. Over thousands of years as civilizations developed all over the world, mills became more complex and varied. Some mills were run by water power. Others were powered by wind, animals or human labor.
In the 1830s, the first pioneer settlers in Iowa began to build mills along streams and rivers. They built grist mills which ground grain for food. They also needed saw mills to cut logs into boards.
The Old Sawmill was one of the first mills built in the Waterloo area in 1854. It was torn down in 1906.
Mills were the first industry in Waterloo. Sawmills cut timber into lumber for building homes and businesses. Grain mills ground wheat, corn or oats to make flour. Farmers from miles away depended on the Waterloo mills to purchase their grain and grind it to make flour. The city's four mills attracted business to Waterloo and made the city an important center for business.
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“Wheat was hauled from distances up to 150 miles from Waterloo, and sold here for 50 cents a bushel at the flour mills. Wagons lined up waiting to unload the wheat, and very often it was 10 PM before the last teamster had delivered his wheat and started for the livery stable to find accommodations for his team."
The first flour mill was constructed on the west side of the Cedar River in 1855 and second was built on the east side in 1867. The first grinding stones, called buhrs, were brought from Iowa City. The first waterwheel was transported to Waterloo from Moline, Illinois.
The entrances to Waterloo’s Fourth Street bridge were dominated by large mills. The largest, Union Mill, was located on the upstream side of East Fourth Street and the last to grind flour.
At first mills were constructed very simply. A structure that held a “water wheel” was built along a river or stream. The water wheel was placed partially into the water so that it could be turned by the force of the river. The center shaft of the wheel in a sawmill would power large saws that cut logs into boards.
Water powered mills were also used to grind grain into flour. They were called gristmills. The grain was crushed between rotating stones with surfaces designed with ridges and grooves. The space between the millstones had to be set carefully, close enough to grind all the grain but not to burn it or wear the surface. The millstones had to be sharpened often by the miller.
Later mills were built along a mill race. A mill race was a narrow canal where water was diverted from the river. Energy to turn the mill stones came from the waterwheel that was set in the millrace.
This illustration shows an example of one kind of mill. In this case water rushes over a large wooden waterwheel seen at the left of the diagram. A shaft connects the waterwheel to two large round flat stones. As the water wheel turns, the top millstone rotates. The bottom stone stays still. Kernels of grain are poured through a hole in the top stone and crushed between the heavy millstones as they rotate.
The mill was a busy, exciting place remembered Fred Fisher who grew up working in the Union Mill. Many times as a lad Fred ran up and down its dust covered stairways, exploring the elevators, spouts and whirling shafts on every floor. He remembered watching the miller lying on his soft bag patiently sharpening the mill stone. He also remembered going down into the dark depths of the building to listen to the roar of the water wheels that made the big building tremble with their power.
Because of improved transportation, many industries developed in Iowa after 1870. Cities grew and factories were built. Iowa’s industries needed people to work in factories. As more people came to the state, more jobs were created. Then railroads expanded and more industries came to Iowa. One industry led to another.
Meat packing was one of the new industries. By 1870, all of the major Iowa cities along the Mississippi River had meat packing plants. Why did they develop in the river cities?
Meat packing factories developed along the Mississippi River because this location provided transportation for the finished meat products. The river provided water for the production process. And there were many farmers nearby who raised hogs to sell to the markets. People who wanted to work in factories also lived in the river cities. As the state developed, meat packing factories appeared in other cities. In 1871, the Sinclair Meat Packing Company was started in Cedar Rapids. In 1878, the John Morrell meat-packing plant was built in Ottumwa.
In 1891, John W. Rath and E.F. Rath started the Rath Packing Company in Waterloo. When their packing plant in Dubuque burned down, they looked for another location. They wanted to be close to the farmers who were raising cattle and hogs for market. That way they wouldn’t have to pay as much to transport the animals to the packing plant. Waterloo was located in the center of the hog and cattle producing area of Iowa.
With just $25,000, the plant was built on the east side of the Cedar River in a newly developing industrial area of Waterloo.
At first the plant was small. It only needed to hire a few workers and contained just two ice houses and a smoke room.
As the company grew and prospered, it hired more people. Then it was able to produce more products.
Rath transported products by rail. The introduction of refrigerated rail cars provided a way for butter, dairy, and meat products from the Midwest to appear on dinner tables in eastern cities. Meat products from Waterloo could be sent to Ohio or Pennsylvania.
Iowa was opened for pioneer settlement in 1833. Over the next 20 years, the land that we now know as Iowa, was gradually negotiated or “ceded” away from the Indian groups who lived in Iowa. The map below illustrates these land areas also called “cessions”. A “cession” is something such as a territory that is ceded to another group.
Where Indian groups once lived, large numbers of pioneers now came to settle in Iowa. First they settled in the eastern counties. Gradually they moved west until by 1870, pioneer settlers had purchased land and built homes and farms in every county of the state.
The first pioneer settlers arrived in Waterloo in the summer of 1845. George and Mary Hanna and their two children, and Mary's brother, John Melrose, arrived at the east bank of the Cedar River. The Hannas staked their claim and became the first settlers of "Prarie Rapids Crossing."
They were joined later that year by William Virden and his family. In 1846, Charles and America Mullan came to the area from Illinois as did James Virden, William's brother. Over the next several years, the community continued to grow. In 1850 the whole of Black Hawk County had only 135 settlers. By 1860, just ten years later, the population of Waterloo was about 1,200.
Most of Iowa’s pioneer settlers came from states in the East. Others came across the ocean on ships from countries in Europe. They arrived at Ellis Island in New York City before being allowed to enter the country. They came by wagon, stagecoach, steamboat, or train. Some even walked part of the way. Iowa’s new settlers often traveled using more than one of these means of transportation.
Some people think change came slowly in pioneer days. It is certainly true that covered wagons and buggies moved much more slowly than cars and airplanes. But in many respects, changes came very quickly in pioneer days.
For example, between 1833 and 1870, over one million pioneer settlers moved to Iowa. They cleared the land for farming, built homes and barns, laid out towns, created businesses and spanned the state with railroad track.
By 1870, four railroads had been built in Iowa and by 1895 there were five! The main lines ran from the eastern border to the western border of the state.
Railroads were extremely important to the development of Iowa’s industries. Because the railroads connected the state with the rest of the country, products made in Iowa’s factories could be shipped to other states all over the country.
The Illinois Central Railroad was the main line through Waterloo. As railroading developed, Waterloo had many railroad lines that carried products in and out of the city. Because trains were huge and only traveled where the tracks were laid, designers had to work carefully to make sure the tracks were at just the right places. They also developed the roundhouse which was built to allow engines to be changed from one train to another.
The train engine was rolled onto the platform. The engine was then disconnected from the rest of the train. The platform could rotate so that another engine could be connected to the train.
Railroads were a wonderful invention but they could also be dangerous. Tracks had to be maintained so trains didn’t derail and cause great property damage and loss of life. Conductors had to be careful that only one train was on the same section of track at the same time. If a train got on the wrong track and collided with another, many people could be hurt or killed and much damage could be done to property. Early railroad conductors depended on hand signals to communicate.
This chart illustrates some of the signals conductors used to communicate before more advanced technology allowed them to speak to one another electronically.
During the early years of the twentieth century, African Americans living in southern states moved to northern cities where jobs could be found. Sometimes crop failures motivated them to move. Racial hatred and prejudice also caused African Americans living in the south to look for work in states to the north.
While many African Americans migrated to large cities, a smaller number moved to communities like Waterloo. Between the years of 1910 and 1920 the small community of African Americans in Waterloo expanded from a handful of isolated residents to an active community boasting more than 800 members.
In 1911, a national railroad strike stopped the trains. Workers in Waterloo refused to work unless the Illinois Central Railroad Company ICRR provided better work conditions and higher pay.
In response, the ICRR transferred many African American workers from Mississippi to Waterloo. At first, most African Americans had to live in box cars in the rail yards. Because of segregation and prejudice, African American workers were not welcomed to move into most of Waterloo’s neighborhoods.
Later they came to live in homes in an area shaped like a triangle bordered by Sumner and Mobile Streets and the rail yards. As this neighborhood developed, churches and businesses were formed, becoming the core of the community. African Americans not only helped to build the railroad, but also helped to create Waterloo’s diverse cultural heritage.
Have you ever heard someone call your refrigerator the “ice box”? Before refrigerators were available for use in homes, many people literally had an ice box in their house to keep food cool. In 1910 in Waterloo, the Herrick Refrigerator Company manufactured ice boxes. People could buy meat products from Rath Packing Company and preserve them in their ice box.
The ice box had an insulated compartment for ice and another for food. The ice was replaced periodically by purchasing blocks from the "iceman," whose wagon was a common sight on the streets of towns and cities.
In the winter, ice was harvested from the river and kept in a large building. Sawdust was packed between each block to keep it from melting during the hot summer. During the warmer months of spring, summer and fall, ice was sold door to door by the “ice man.”
By 1922, improved refrigerated railroad cars had been developed. This allowed Rath Packing Company to send well-preserved goods to every state in the union and throughout Canada.
During World War I (1914-1918) half of Rath products were sent to Europe. This was a very good time for the company and it continued to expand and grow. By 1922, Rath Packing Company employed nearly 600 workers. It was estimated to be worth over one-million dollars.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, wages fell as the economy weakened. At that time a worker earned only 20 cents per hour. As the country grew out of the Depression, Rath Packing Company continued to prosper. By 1940 it employed 5,270 workers.