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Fisher, William
(September 2, 1838–November 29, 1906)

–engineer, inventor, and businessman—was a native of March, Cambridgeshire, England. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 10 and lived for a few years in Saybrook, Ohio, before settling near Clinton, Iowa, in 1852. Fisher worked as a shop engineer for the Chicago and North Western Railroad until the Civil War began.

    After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, Fisher enlisted on April 18, 1861, for 90 days service as a private in Company A, First Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which was mustered into service on May 14, 1861, and trained at Keokuk until its departure on June 13 for Missouri, where it was placed under the command of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon. Fisher and the men of the First Iowa Volunteers spent the summer of 1861 fighting small engagements in pursuit of Missouri militia and Confederate troops throughout central and southern Missouri. The regiment was present on the field of battle on August 10, 1861, during the Union defeat at the Battle of Wilson's Creek. Fisher witnessed General Lyon's death by musket fire while positioned behind the ranks of Company A. Following that battle, the regiment traveled to St. Louis and was mustered out of service on August 21, 1861.

    Upon returning to Clinton, Fisher married Martha Ann Loucks in Muscatine on September 15, 1861, and resumed employment with the Chicago and North Western Railroad. Recognized for his engineering skill, Fisher supervised the successful construction and operation of municipal waterworks in Clinton (1874), Anamosa (1875), and Muscatine (1876). His reputation as a waterworks designer and engineer led to employment by the Marshalltown City Council in 1876 to supervise completion of that city's waterworks.

    William and Martha Fisher and their two daughters, Lizzie Jane and Lillie May (a third child, Jasper H., was born on September 6, 1878), moved to Marshalltown in September 1876. William Fisher not only managed the completion of the city's waterworks but also began employment as chief engineer of the pumping house, earning $75 per month. Not long after assuming his duties, Fisher was roused from his bed early one morning and summoned to the waterworks. Local volunteer fire companies were battling a blaze that threatened the entire city. Fisher took charge of hand-throttling the steam engines and manually adjusting the steam valves. He worked for 24 consecutive hours to maintain constant water pressure through the mains, thus enabling the hose companies to extinguish the fire.

    Afterward, Fisher applied his engineering genius to the problem of maintaining constant pressure through the city's water mains during times of heavy use. His solution was a pump governor manufactured in 1880 with the collaboration of foundry owner and mechanic George Beebe. Shortly after production began, Fisher installed the device on the steam engines at the Marshalltown waterworks. The device regulated engine speed based on water pipe pressure, ensuring a consistently pressurized flow. That same year Fisher and Beebe applied for a patent on the governor and began marketing the product. While continuing employment as chief engineer at the Marshalltown waterworks, Fisher (along with business partner Beebe) formed the Fisher and Beebe Company and, later, on September 16, 1884, received a patent for a "Governor for Pumping Engines."The small company grew slowly during the 1880s, reaching a manufacturing milestone of selling 40 pump governors by 1887. The following year the company marketed its products with a handwritten catalog.

    As the company's profits and market base slowly grew, Fisher divided his time between developing and experimenting with new devices—including reducing valve designs—and continuing employment as chief engineer for the Marshalltown waterworks. In 1886 he became a U.S. citizen and accepted a job designing and installing the waterworks system for the Iowa Soldiers' Home; he remained there as the facility's chief engineer until 1892. Fisher then committed himself full time to the entrepreneurial governor enterprise, extending the company's clientele to waterworks, railroads, rawhide plants, breweries, and steel works across the United States. In 1900 the business was incorporated as Fisher Governor Company. William Fisher became president, and the company's products began selling worldwide.

    In addition to his professional accomplishments, Fisher served as Second Ward city councilman in Marshalltown from 1897 to 1904 and as treasurer for the Iowa and National Association of Stationary Engineers, and was a member of the Masons for 46 years. He died of pneumonia at his home in Marshalltown at age 68.
Sources include Report of the Adjutant General to the State of Iowa (1861); Andreas' Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa (1875); The History of Marshall County, Iowa (1878); "Letter Book" and "Receipt Book," 1880s, Fisher Controls Heritage Collection, Emerson Process Management, Marshall-town; Marshalltown, Iowa, Queen City of the West (1888); an obituary in the Marshalltown Times-Republican, 11/29/1906; Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion (1908), vol. 1; A Narrative History of the People of Iowa (1931), vol. 5; The Continuing History of Marshall County (1999); The Fisher Story: 125 Years of Process Control Experience (2005); and Marshalltown Public Library and Historical Society of Marshall County reference files.
Contributor: Michael W. Vogt