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


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Kraschel, Nelson George
(October 27, 1889–March 15, 1957)

–27th governor of Iowa—was the son of Fred K. Kraschel, who farmed near Macon, Illinois, and Nancy Jane (Poe) Kraschel. Nelson Kraschel attended Macon High School and from the age of 17 to 20 farmed his sick father's farm. Then he moved to Harlan, Shelby County, Iowa, and became an auctioneer–between 1910 and 1930 selling $50 million of purebred livestock. In 1913 he married Agnes Johnson, a Harlan schoolteacher. They had three sons and adopted a daughter.

    Kraschel entered Democratic politics. After being defeated for the state senate in 1922 and after losing the primary for U.S. senator in 1932, he ran successfully for lieutenant governor in 1932 and was reelected in 1934. He was elected governor in 1936 by only 2,431 votes out of more than a million votes cast. The Republicans won the Iowa Senate, and the Iowa House was tied. Depression politics had been largely bipartisan, but as Kraschel later reflected, "During my incumbency as governor there developed more differences of opinion which culminated in a change in state government."

    His greatest triumph was legislation for homestead tax relief. Kraschel urged that sales, personal, and corporation tax revenues should be applied to old age assistance and emergency poor relief, but most should go to homestead tax relief. That would give tax preference to those who lived in their own homes and farms, "thereby increasing the attractiveness of home ownership which will contribute more than anything else that we cando to insure the stability of our society."The legislature duly passed the Homestead Tax Exemption Act, which relieved the tax burden on homesteads up to $2,500 valuation. Furthermore, the legislature allocated the relevant tax revenues as the governor had urged. He boasted: "The sound financing of Iowa's Old Age Assistance Act and the enactment of the homestead tax preference law have placed Iowa ahead of all other states in the protection of its aged and the encouragement of home ownership."

    In January 1937, citing the previous year's drought, Kraschel called for extending the 1933 and 1935 farm debt moratorium laws, which protected 13,000 farms for their owners. The legislation would expire on March 1, placing thousands of farmer' homes at risk. That would have been disastrous for the farmer and their communities alike because of the number of farms that would be added "to the already menacing problem of farm tenancy."On February 12 the governor issued a proclamation citing the continuing economic emergency that had necessitated the relief acts of 1933 and 1935 and "a new emergency"–the natural disasters of 1936–as reasons for renewing the laws. The General Assembly extended three of the four measures, but the Republican Senate blocked the fourth, and the law expired.

    The governor had advocated that "a well planned system of farm-to-market roads of cheaper construction than our primary system should be immediately devised and constructed."However, he thought the farmto-market bill that the legislature produced was "completely unworkable" and vetoed it, while encouraging a substitute bill. But that was not forthcoming. His only consolation on roads was his successful highway safety program.

    In 1938 Kraschel intervened in the Maytag Company's industrial dispute at Newton. The company had announced a wage cut and locked out its workers, who called a strike and staged a sit-down in the plant. Twelve of their leaders were fired and arrested for sedition. Fearful of the ensuing atmosphere, the company appealed to the governor. He proposed that if the strikers withdrew, he would guarantee that the National Guard would keep the plant closed. Relying on this, the strikers withdrew. The governor then declared martial law in Newton. Then Kraschel reversed his position and announced that the plant would reopen under the protection of the National Guard. He called on the strikers to return to work, the company not to impose the wage cuts, and negotiations to take place on all issues. The strikers returned to work, and eventually a settlement was reached. But the fired strike leaders never got their jobs back. The union president said of Kraschel's changing sides: "We think his position is political suicide."

    In 1938 Kraschel faced the same Republican opponent he had defeated by 2,431 votes in 1936 and lost by nearly 60,000 votes. He returned to farming and auctioneering, and made another unsuccessful bid for governor in 1942. Kraschel lost two sons in World War II. He worked as general agent for the Farm Credit Administration of Omaha (1943- 1949) and then returned to his auctioneering and his cattle.

    During the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 1934, a tribute captured something of Nelson Kraschel, the auctioneer turned politician: "One of the best salesmen, both of himself and party in the Democratic party in Iowa."
Sources include Governor Kraschel's Biennial Message, Iowa House Journal (1939), 22– 36; Des Moines Register, 3/16/1957; and James J. Matles and James Higgins, Them and Us: Struggles of a Rank-and-File Union (1974), 89– 100.
Contributor: Richard Acton