Meet Calib H. Booth – one of the leading citizens of Dubuque, Iowa. As a matter of fact, Calib was known by the first generation of Dubuque County residents as The Grand Old Man of Dubuque. Moving here in July 1836 – when Iowa was still a part of Michigan Territory – Booth, along with his wife, Henrietta, lived in The Key City for sixty-two years! One of his biographers states…
No man in Dubuque, or perhaps Iowa, has made and lost more money than Booth. He has been a man of great versatility, adapting himself easily to changes, and hence few men have followed so many different occupations. He has been lumberman, merchant, pork packer, miller, banker, land dealer, miner, railroad officer, surveyor general and shot manufacturer, besides the offices he has held and the public services he has performed.
So, allow me here to tell you just a bit more of C.H. Booth’s Dubuque story…
Caleb Hoskins Booth was born on December 26, 1814, in Chester of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Growing up on the family farm, Caleb’s father – a Quaker – died in 1826 – when Caleb was only 12 – at which point, he was sent off to a classical institution in Burlington, New Jersey. There, under the tuition of the celebrated Quaker mathematician, John Gummere, he studied Mathematics, Latin and French.
Trained in civil engineering, Caleb was offered his first job at the age of 17 with the newly-formed Camden and Amboy Rail Road & Transportation Company – New Jersey’s first railroad. But, much to his regret, he was unable to accept this job because, in his father’s instructions to his guardian, Caleb was required to study for a professional occupation. So, in 1833, Caleb became a law student in the office of Samuel Edwards in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he studied three years, and on May 3, 1836, was admitted to the bar.
Only two months after receiving his admittance to the bar, Caleb arrived in the small mining camp on the Mississippi River – known as Dubuque of Michigan Territory. It was July 3, 1836, one day before the establishment of the new Territory of Wisconsin – which Iowa was a part of until 1838.
C.F. immediately became involved in lead mining and smelting with his new business partners William Carter and R. O. Chaney. In 1843, Booth, Carter & Company sank a shaft into an underground bonanza – resulting in the discovery of one the richest veins of lead ever discovered in the Dubuque area. Descriptions said that the lead deposits reflected light in all directions of the surrounding cave, with chunks of ore weighing as much as 1,000 pounds. While estimating the value of the ore was difficult, some miners suspected the total amount could reach one million dollars! Caleb was suddenly a very wealthy man!
Over the next several decades, Booth became involved with the manufacturing of lead bullets (shot) – which became a massive industry for Dubuque – particularly during the Civil War. The process of producing lead shot is normally done using a shot tower (pictured below), and with the large lead deposits found in Dubuque, it was a no-brainer for a wealthy man such as Booth to invest in this lucrative business.
Now, just in case you don’t know how a shot tower works, lead ore is first melted in a work room at the top of the shot tower and then dropped in small amounts (see pic above) through a copper sieve. The liquid lead solidifies as it falls 150 feet to the floor of the tower, and – through the wonders of surface tension – is formed into tiny spheres. The partially-cooled lead balls are “caught” at the floor of the tower in a water-filled basin, and then gathered up and sold as shot (bullets) for revolvers and rifles. Read more here.
The Dubuque Shot Tower (pictured above) wasn’t built until 1856, but our entrepreneur – Caleb Booth – figured out in the late-1840’s that he could use one of his deeper mine shafts to accomplish the same results without the cost of building a tall tower! Clever, don’t you think?
A man who was never afraid of diversifying, Booth, in 1848, opened Key City Mills – the first flour mill in Dubuque, and here, the ever-inventive Caleb developed a process for drying flour that extended its storage.
While becoming well known around Dubuque as a trained lawyer and a successful business man, Booth was in the right place at the right time just as Iowa became its own Territory in 1838. By 1840, he was elected to be Dubuque’s first mayor, and in 1841, was promoted to be a Territorial Representative at the first Iowa Legislative Assembly that met in Iowa City. Read more here.
In early January 1849, with the election of George W. Jones to the U.S. Senate, it was announced that his position as Surveyor General would be opening up. The local newspaper, The Weekly Miner’s Express strongly supported C. H. (see articles below) for the job. On January 16, 1849, Booth was notified of his appointment by President James K. Polk, and for the next two years, he would serve as the Surveyor General of Wisconsin, Iowa & Minnesota. With the office being in Dubuque, Caleb was, indeed, highly qualified for the job, and even when President Zachery Taylor – a Whig – took office later that year, he was kept on despite Caleb being a long-time Democrat.
After two years of dedicated service (1849-1851) as General Surveyor, C.H. Booth was replaced by President Millard Fillmore’s new appointee – George B. Sargent of Davenport. Over the next few years, Booth and Sargent developed a long-standing friendship, growing out of the generous and kindly spirit with which Caleb received Sargent in 1851 when he came to Dubuque to take charge of the Surveyor’s office. Sargent, in gratitude for such kindly treatment, gave Booth his choice of lands to survey, along with a contract as a Deputy Surveyor in Wisconsin – similar to the type of contract Cyrus Sanders had in Johnson County.
As we reported in another post, Dubuque was the home of many visionary pioneers – with one of brightest being John Plumbe, Jr.. As early as 1836, Plumbe saw the need for a transcontinental railroad – one of the first in the U.S. to speak of such things, and Caleb H. Booth saw that vision as well. By the late 1840’s, Booth was gathering investors for a proposed railroad that would hook up with existing lines from back East, cross the Mississippi, and begin a westward movement from Dubuque.
In 1851, Iowa’s two U.S. senators – George W. Jones and Augustus Dodge – proved instrumental in getting the Illinois Central Railroad to extend its line from Galena to East Dubuque, Illinois. With that in place, Jones, along with Booth, Lucius H. Langworthy, and others formed the Dubuque & Pacific Rail Road Company – which was chartered on April 28, 1853. At the time of its organization, there was not even one mile of railroad constructed in Iowa, but all agreed this was a worthy investment. In 1857, Caleb served as Treasurer and became one of the directors of the company, which after many ups and downs, finally re-organized as the Dubuque & Sioux City Rail Road in 1860. Read more here.
In the fall of 1872, Booth, at age 58, was once again elected to the House of Representatives, serving in the Fourteenth General Assembly in Des Moines – this time on the Republican ticket. A long-time Democrat, Booth left the party, like so many others did in 1860, when it refused to speak out about the evils of slavery. At that point, Booth became a Lincoln-supporting Republican, remaining affiliated with that party for the remainder of his political career.
Never really retiring, Caleb returned home to Dubuque after his service in Des Moines and kept his hand in business right up until the end of his 83 years. He and his wife Henrietta Booth – who was also born in Chester, Pennsylvania in the same year as Caleb (1814) – were married in 1838, raised two children, and were charter members of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Dubuque. Henrietta died on February 3, 1896 – at age 82. Caleb H. Booth passed two years later, on June 19, 1898, at the ripe old age of 83. Both are buried at Linwood Cemetery in Dubuque.
In his obituary, C.H. Booth is given this glowing review of one life – well lived…
In 1872, (Booth) was sent to the legislature again, and his election on the Republican ticket in a county, at that time, overwhelmingly Democrat, shows how great was the popularity of the man. He held many public offices during his long and good life, and he was a faithful servant to the people. In business, he was interested in a number of different enterprises, most of which succeeded through his untiring energy. Booth was a lover and student of science, and during his busy life, he found time to make several very important and valuable inventions, among which was the modern method of making shot, and a steam dredge. Booth was known in his home city as “the grand old man of Dubuque,” and no one ever commanded greater respect and love of the people of that city. He was well known throughout the state, and his death is mourned by the people at large.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.