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Musser, Peter Miller
(April 3, 1841–May 22, 1919)

–lumberman—was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he obtained a primary school education. As he grew, he worked with his father, a merchant. When he was 19 years old, he decided to leave Pennsylvania. He moved to Muscatine, Iowa, where he worked with his uncles, Peter and Richard Musser, who operated a retail lumberyard there.

    The Musser uncles had started a lumber business in 1855 with Edward Hoch that was known as Hoch & Musser until Hoch retired in 1858. Thereafter, the firm became R. Musser & Company. Peter M. arrived in Muscatine in 1863. He worked for his uncles for a year before moving to Iowa City to work at a yard his uncle Peter owned there. Peter M. subsequently acquired that yard when his uncle fell ill and sold his interest in the business.

    Business at the Iowa City yard appeared to thrive under Peter M.'s direction. Sales were reported to have varied from $65,000 to $143,000 per year, drawing from a market that generally ranged from 25 to 50 miles around the community. In 1869 Musser established a partnership with John W. Porter to operate the Iowa City yard. The business arrangement with Porter continued until Porter's death in 1883.

    Uncle Peter's health had returned by 1870. Thus he, his brother Richard, C. R. Fox, and Peter M. decided to move the firm in a new direction. Previously, the partners had focused on the various activities associated with marketing lumber. They subsequently decided to produce it and built a new sawmill in the Muscatine vicinity for that purpose. The mill was the domain of Musser & Company and was actually located south of the city, in an area that came to be known as "Musserville."It could produce 11 million feet of lumber annually.

    In 1873 Peter M. acquired his uncles' share of Musser & Company, at which time the firm became P. M. Musser & Company. Two years later Peter M. moved back to Muscatine—no doubt to be closer to his business. Uncles Peter and Richard were never far from the business. In 1876 Richard reacquired interest in P. M. Musser & Company, which again became known as Musser & Company. With professional activities well delineated, Peter M. focused on office management and sales while his uncles devoted their efforts to production.

    In 1881 Musser & Company was incorporated, with Peter as president, Richard as vice president, and Peter M. as secretary/treasurer; C. R. Fox was the superintendent of the associated yard and planing mill. The Mussers' lumber production business expanded in 1881, thereafter achieving annual capacities of 50 million feet of lumber, 12 million feet of lath, and 12 million shingles. A planing mill was added in 1882, thus enabling the firm to offer finished lumber as well. The firm sold its production to retail yards in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

    Musser & Company acquired much of its timber from land it owned in Wisconsin's Chippewa River valley, as well as from Minnesota. The material was harvested and transported by the Mississippi River Logging Company, an entity formed by Frederick Weyerhaeuser, a stockholder of which was Musser & Company. Peter M. became a business associate of Weyerhaeuser's. In addition to a common interest in the Mississippi River Logging Company, for example, Peter M. was a director of Weyerhaeuser Timber Company from 1900 to 1919.

    Dwindling supplies of Mississippi River valley pine led to a significant decline in the region's lumber industry by 1900. In the case of the Mussers' interests, production ended in 1904.

    While he was a prominent lumberman, Peter M. Musser had a wide variety of other interests. He married Julia Elizabeth Hutchinson in 1865, and they had four children, although the youngest three died in childhood. In 1876 he acquired an interest in a bank that came to be known as the Cook, Musser & Company Bank (later named the Muscatine State Bank); Musser was its president for 43 years. He was also involved with the Masons and belonged to the First Methodist Episcopal Church. He was a significant public benefactor and contributed to a wide variety of Muscatine causes; one of the most prominent became Muscatine's Musser Public Library.

    Peter M. Musser contributed much to his industry and community during the last half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. At the time of his death, the library's board of trustees eulogized him by noting that "the minds, hearts and souls of the people of Muscatine will be enlightened, blessed and magnified for generations to come" through the institution to which he gave so much.
Sources The Musser Public Library in Muscatine, Iowa, holds biographical information on Musser, including a lengthy biography published in the Muscatine Journal at the time of his death. The State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, also holds two prominent sources on Musser: a short book titled Peter Miller Musser, born April 3rd, 1841, died May 22nd, 1919, and a vast archival collection that focuses on the Musser Business Records and Family Papers, 1842–1975. Musser is also discussed in a variety of scholarly publications about the 19th-century lumber industry. See, for example, Ralph W. Hidy, Frank Ernest Hill, and Allan Nevins, Timber and Men: The Weyerhaeuser Story (1963).
Contributor: John N. Vogel