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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McFarlane, Arch W.
(April 14, 1885–July 24, 1960)

–fuel company operator, state representative, state senator, and lieutenant governor of Iowa (1928-1933)—was born in Waterloo, Iowa, the son of William Wallace McFarlane, a stone mason and employee of the Illinois Central Railroad, and Emma Julia (Moss) McFarlane. He attended public schools in Waterloo and graduated from Waterloo East High School in 1904. On April 6, 1908, he married his childhood sweetheart, Elsie Hawkins. They had no children.

    Between 1906 and 1914 McFarlane worked for several fuel companies and then started the Puritan Coal Company in Chicago. He also started the Arch McFarlane Fuel Company, Inc. in Waterloo, which he continued to operate for the rest of his life. He was active in the United Commercial Travelers, joining the Waterloo Council in 1907 and rising to the office of Supreme Counselor in 1931.

    In 1914 McFarlane started one of the longest legislative careers in Iowa history by running as a Republican and winning the 66th Iowa House District seat (Black Hawk County). With several short interruptions, he held elective offices almost continuously until his death in 1960. In his early years in the Iowa House, McFarlane's legislative interests ranged from education to regulations on advertising and hunting seasons.

    In 1917 he began to exhibit leadership traits in the legislature when Governor William Harding and his associates in the legislature attempted to reverse powers previously granted to the Iowa State Highway Commission to begin a program of highway improve ments, especially paving of highways. McFarlane sided with the "hard roads" group favoring improved highways and the expansion of the commission's powers. After the House had been locked in a virtual tie for several days, McFarlane executed a maneuver to convince two members to change their votes and save the "hard roads" legislation. Although the fight was bitter, McFarlane exhibited exceptional organizational skills and an ability to work cooperatively with opponents. As a result, he was elected Speaker of the House in 1919 and reelected in 1921.

    In 1922 McFarlane sought the Republican nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa's Third Congressional District but was defeated in the primary. He spent the next four years tending his fuel supply business in Waterloo. In 1926 he ran successfully for the Iowa Senate seat representing the 38th District (Black Hawk and Grundy counties). In the 1927 session he successfully pushed 11 bills through the legislature.

    In 1928 McFarlane was nominated for reelection to the Iowa Senate. However, on September 10 Lieutenant Governor Clem Kimball died after a lengthy illness, and the Republican State Central Committee had to nominate a replacement candidate to avoid losing the office by default in the upcoming general election. Although many names were mentioned, McFarlane was chosen as soon as the committee met on October 1. He was easily elected in November with a 260,000 plurality. On November 15 Governor John Hammill, concerned about the succession between then and January, appointed McFarlane to take office as lieutenant governor immediately. He was reelected in 1930 with a plurality of 140,000 votes.

    By 1932 a political controversy had made McFarlane unpopular at the state level, and he decided instead to run for state representative in his old district in Black Hawk County. He was elected and then reelected in 1934. In 1936 he was defeated for reelection, but beginning in 1938 he was reelected every two years (except 1948, when he was defeated in the primary) until 1954, when he was elected again to the Iowa Senate from the 38th District. In 1958 he was defeated for reelection. During those years, McFarlane introduced or cosponsored many bills in the legislature.

    In 1953 he became the president of the Pioneer Lawmakers Association. In 1956 the association presented a formal portrait of McFarlane to the Iowa State Department of History and Archives. In the 1957 legislative session, he served with the sons of six former legislators who had been his colleagues in the legislature previously. Also that year, the Des Moines Press and Radio Club awarded McFarlane a certificate for distinguished Service in the legislature.

    In 1960, at the age of 75, McFarlane again ran for the Iowa Senate and won the primary in June. In July he went to the Republican National Convention in Chicago. While there, he died very suddenly on July 24 of a heart attack.
Sources The entire August 1958 issue of the Palimpsest focused on the life and career of Arch McFarlane. Articles on McFarlane can also be found in Annals of Iowa 32 (1954), 304–8; and Annals of Iowa 33 (1956), 357–71. Feature articles on McFarlane are in the Des Moines Register, 4/19/1956 (the unveiling of his portrait), and 3/17/1957. A front-page obituary is in the Des Moines Register, 7/25/1960.
Contributor: David Holmgren