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Carpenter, William Lytle
(October 5, 1841–September 26, 1915)

–Civil War soldier, secretary of the Iowa State Grange, one-term mayor of Des Moines, and reformer—was born near Salem, Ohio. In 1844 the family moved to Pittsburgh, where William's father was an industrial worker. William attended public schools and the Epworth Academy, a Methodist school, until his family moved to Iowa to farm, first in Dubuque County and then in Black Hawk County. William did farm labor and taught in a public school until 1862, when he enlisted in Company G of the 32nd Iowa Infantry Regiment.

    After training in Iowa, the regiment moved to St. Louis, where some of its troops, including Company G, guarded railroad lines until mid 1863; Carpenter was commissioned as second lieutenant during that period. His company then participated in the successful campaign against Little Rock, Arkansas. More guard work followed until January 1864, when the 32nd Regiment was reunited, with Carpenter as its adjutant, and assigned to the Red River Campaign, which was aimed at Confederate ports. For Carpenter's regiment, the campaign included one costly fight, at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, on April 9, 1864; two-thirds of the regiment's members were not present when the roll was next called. Carpenter, however, was present and carried on through fighting at Nashville, Tennessee (after which his gallantry was specially commended in general orders), and the conquest of Mobile, Alabama.

    Carpenter returned to Black Hawk County after the war, then moved to Des Moines. He served as secretary of Iowa's State Grange for a few years beginning in 1875. Later, in partnership with James H. Coon and John H. Given, he ventured into the manufacture of barbed wire, which was a booming business but complicated by legal battles over patents. Leading firms sued competitors, including Carpenter, Coon, and Given, for what they argued were patent violations. The barbed wire battle also involved organizations, notably the Iowa farmer' Protective Association, established to fight monopolies and excessive prices. Association members agreed to buy wire from James Coon and his partners at prices that would help to pay damages when lawsuits against them succeeded. Meanwhile, Washburn and Moen, a power in the wire business, persuaded Coon to surrender, for a certain payment, all of the firm's machinery to Washburn and Moen. Carpenter and Given, who were in the factory when its machinery was to be removed, managed, after additional negotiations, to secure payment for their part of the firm's machinery and patents. Within a few months, they were back in business, still allied with the farmer' Protective Association. Carpenter stuck to the enterprise in the face of legal challenges and competitors' prices, which had fallen below those the association had agreed to pay. Finally, in 1887, he sold his business, including some remaining wire, "miserable stuff," according to the buyer, and moved on to other interests.

    An unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1886, he was elected mayor of Des Moines in 1888 as a "temperance man of long standing... an anti monopolist and a woman suffragist and in sympathy with all reforms."After he decisively lost his bid for reelection in 1890, Carpenter was appointed custodian of the state capitol. Thereafter he engaged in real estate transactions and served on commissions to aid needy folk, including victims of famine in India, warfare in Cuba, and a terrible flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, near Carpenter's boyhood home. He was also active in the Grand Army of the Republic, belonged to the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and was "an active and influential member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church."
Sources include Des Moines Register and Leader, 8/30/1908; Iowa Tribune, 3/7/1888; Des Moines Daily News, 2/22/1890; Iowa State Register, 3/7/1890; Benjamin F. Gue, History of Iowa (1903); Earl W. Hayter, "An Iowa farmer' Protective Association: A Barbed Wire Patent Protest Movement," Iowa Journal of History and Politics 37 (1939), 331–62; Encyclopedia of the American Civil War (2000); and "William L. Carpenter," in "Biographies and Obituaries of Civil War Veterans," at
Contributor: Donald Marti