TFI #7 – Entrepreneur John Plumbe, Jr. – 1838.

Entrepreneur John Plumbe, Jr.

In 1836, a visionary born in Wales came to Dubuque after serving as a civil engineer who helped with the construction of America’s first interstate railroad – a 60-mile stretch between Petersburg, Virginia and Blakely Depot, North Carolina. You see, John Plumbe, Jr. was a dreamer, and after moving to Iowa, he came to believe that the best future for America would be achieved thru a coast-to-coast railway system. His first step was to convince Congress to finance a set of tracks from the shores of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, but in 1838, legislators told Plumbe that it would be easier to build a railroad to the moon than to develop a transcontinental railroad! Discouraged but not done, Plumbe went on to other interests, authoring his classic book, Sketches of Iowa and Wisconsin (1839) – one of the earliest works published west of the Mississippi advocating immigration. In it, he maps out, for the first time, Governor Lucas’ vision for Johnson County’s “City of Iowa” – Iowa City.

CHECK OUT THE COMPLETE BLOG SERIES – Iowa City’s Top 50 Influencers – Part I

Back in 1979 – The Iowa City Press Citizen ran a special seven-page section called Chronology 1841/1979 and it featured Iowa City’s famed historian – Irving Weber – and his look at 25 People Who Left Their Stamp On Iowa City. So, here we are – forty-four years later – and now, I’m offering these two posts – dedicated to those who have greatly influenced our city over the first 100 years or so. This page features the First 25, and as you can see, each of the 25 names has a brief overview with a link(s) to read more, if you like. Enjoy!

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4 thoughts on “TFI #7 – Entrepreneur John Plumbe, Jr. – 1838.

  1. I am curious if anyone knows how many family members of these pioneers are still living in Iowa City? In my own case, there are no descendants of my great grandfather, Thomas C Carson.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great question David. I usually try to hunt down descendants using Find-A-Grave – which at least gives me a bit of info to start. Looks like John Plumbe, Jr. had no children as far I know. Would love to hear more stories from you on your g grandfather! send em my way! :0)


    • You can find out more about my great-grandfather in the book History of Johnson County, which you probably know about. There is more about him and our family in old Press-Citizen Fact a Day About Iowa City articles by JER (Jacob E Rizenstein) and articles by Irving Weber. Both were good friends of my grandparents. Briefly, what I know about Thomas is that he arrived on first passenger train in January1856, was in the retail farm implement business, utility business (gas and electric), and president of the Johnson County Savings Bank (Iowa State B&T building). He died in Philadelphia (1905) when he suffered a fractured skull after falling while getting off a streetcar owned by his brother’s company. To show how times have changed, his brother settled $3,000 a year on the widow and nephews. The last nephew died in 1949, and he was still getting the payment. Sorry to go on for so long.


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