The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Hall, Howard
(December 31, 1894–May 16, 1971)

–Cedar Rapids businessman and philanthropist–described himself as "the son of a blacksmith from Jones County."Actually, he was the son of prominent businessman Harry D. Hall and his wife, Margaret (Lamey) Hall, from the small town of Onslow, Iowa. Asthma and allergies caused Howard to leave school after eighth grade. In 1909 the family moved to Cedar Rapids, where Howard worked as a delivery boy for Commercial National Bank.

    Despite his health problems, Hall enlisted in the U.S. Army's Quartermaster's Corps in 1917. Ever one to use his contacts, Hall requested letters from the bank president to his congressman, and soon he was a lieutenant. He served with the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I as an aide to General H. M. Lord and once escorted $5 million in payroll funds across the Atlantic.

    When he returned to Cedar Rapids after the war, he and John Jay bought a controlling interest in Carmody Foundry, which then became Iowa Steel and Iron. In 1922 the two paid $45,000 for the Bertschey Engineering Company property and incorporated it as Iowa Manufacturing Company a year later. As the automobile increased in popularity, the potential for road-paving equipment was obvious. Iowa Manufacturing made rock crushers that used iron casting and truck frames made by Iowa Steel and Iron. From the beginning, Hall had a good relationship with his workers.

    In 1924 Hall married the eldest daughter of George Bruce Douglas and Irene (Hazeltine) Douglas in a lavish ceremony at their home, Brucemore. Margaret had attended Jackson School with Mamie Eisenhower before enrolling at the Spence School for Girls in New York City. She was a promising sculptor but devoted herself to her husband and home. The Halls first lived in the Garden House on the Brucemore estate and in 1937 inherited Brucemore in its entirety.

    Although the economic depression had a huge impact on Howard Hall's business, the Iowa Good Roads Association and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) helped him survive. During World War II, Iowa Manufacturing ran extended hours to fill war orders. In the 1940s Hall invested in oil and gas leases because of the excess profits tax that applied to companies profiting from war work.

    Hall convened an informal group of leading businessmen known as the "Sunday School," which met at the Brucemore pool. Regulars included banker S. E. Coquillette, Iowa Electric president Sutherland Dows, May Drug Company president Lou Feldman, Iowa Milling Company president Jo Sinaiko, physicians Stuart McQuiston and David Thaler, plus his brother-in-law Beahl Perrine. Hall wanted the community to grow and prosper, so he lent his considerable talents to economic development efforts, including Link-Belt Speeder, Goss, and Square D. Hall also led a group of local investors who bought Amana Refrigeration from the Amana Society.

    Hall had an apartment in Miami and a home in the Keys, but he was never away from business for long. Labor relations were a huge concern at his plants, although he was seen as a good employer who cared about his workers. On one occasion he hosted Jimmy Hoffa, a meeting set so Hall could gain greater insight into unions and their members.

    Hall's legacy is strong, based primarily in philanthropy. Throughout his life he was generous to numerous causes, occasionally anonymously. After an employee, Tom Ross, was forced to go to Canada for radiation therapy because no local facility could do it, the Hall Radiation Center opened in 1957 as the first cobalt treatment center in Iowa. In 1959 he made a significant contribution toward Hallmar, a 26-bed long-term care facility adjacent to Mercy Hospital. Most significant is the Hall-Perrine Foundation, which he and Margaret created with his mother, Margaret (Lamey) Hall; his sister, Irene (Hall) Perrine; and brother-in-law, Beahl Perrine. The foundation has funded projects for Coe, Cornell, and Mount Mercy colleges; many medical-related endeavors; and major capital projects for nearly every nonprofit organization in Linn County. The Halls' philanthropic tradition continues decades after their deaths.

    Hall loved his home, Brucemore, and used it extensively for business-related entertaining. Among the best-known residences in the state, Brucemore was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1976 and opened to the public in 1981 after Margaret (Douglas) Hall's death. Today it is both a historic site and a center of community cultural activity. Rather than a shrine to the Halls, it is an active place through which generations of people enjoy his legacy and generosity.
Sources The archives at Brucemore, now a National Trust Historic Site in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hold primary source materials related to Hall's life and career. See also Elinor Day, Call Me Howard: The Story of the Hall-Perrine Foundation (1998).
Contributor: Peggy Boyle Whitworth