MsC 86

Collection Dates: 1850 -- 1911
(Bulk Dates: 1860s)
1 linear ft.

Collection Guide

This document describes a Manuscript Collection held by the

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries

Guide Contents

Administrative Information

Biographical Note

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Related Materials

Acquisition and Processing Information

Box Contents List

Administrative Information

Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.

Copyright:  Please read The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on "Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished Materials"

Use of Collections:  The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.

Biographical Note

Peter Dey was born January 27, 1825 in Seneca County, New York. His grandfather was a Colonel in the Revolutionary War. Dey graduated from Geneva College in Geneva, New York in 1844, after which he studied law until 1846. In 1846 he was employed by the New York and Erie Railroad as a civil engineer. He worked on the Cayuga and Seneca Canal building locks. He also worked on the Erie Canal and for several railroads. In 1853 he came west to Iowa as a surveyor for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. Dey was mayor of Iowa City in 1860. He left the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad in 1863 and began work for the Union Pacific as a surveyor, working as far west as Salt Lake. Grenville Dodge worked for Dey as a rodman, and Dodge called him "one of the most eminent engineers of the country."

During his time with the Union Pacific, he worked with Charles "Doc" Durant and he met Lincoln. There is in this collection a newspaper clipping describing this meeting. Why he left the Union Pacific is uncertain. Some sources say he quit when asked to pad his estimates for work, from $30,000 per mile to $50,000. One newspaper clipping credits Dey's resignation with instigating the investigation that brought to light the transgressions of the Credit Mobilier, and eventually spread scandal right up to Congress, where Oliver and Oakes Ames were implicated. Dodge, however, states that Dey resigned because his recommendation for how the railroad should progress west of Omaha was ignored and the road was built in defiance of government conditions. Whatever the case, it seems that Dey would not be allied with the questionable dealings of the Credit Mobilier and the Union Pacific Railroad.

After leaving the Union Pacific, Dey returned to Iowa City, where he engaged in surveying a north-south road. In 1869 he was elected President of First National Bank, where he served until 1878. In 1872 he was appointed by the legislature to a commission to build the state capitol. He served on this commission until 1884, when the capitol was finished. In 1878 he was appointed to the Railroad Commission and in 1888 he was elected Commissioner of Railroads in Iowa, where he served until 1895. Many other states are said to have modeled their railroad commissions on that of Iowa's under Dey. In 1895, he was again elected President of First National Bank. He died on July 10, 1911, two weeks after he relinquished his duties as president of the bank and the Farmers Loan and Trust Company.

In 1856 he had married Catherine Thompson, and they had six children, one of whom worked at the bank with his father. On September 11, 1857 they moved into the house at 507 North Clinton Street, which today serves as the home of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

J. Roethler, February 2006

Scope and Contents

This collection contains over forty diaries of this surveyor and businessman, as well as account books from some of his surveying projects, including some payroll entries. The correspondence contains letters from General Dodge and Senator LaFollette and much other correspondence which provides information about Dey and his work with the railroads. Although the papers do not contain enough information to provide a complete biography of Dey or a history of the construction of the railroads, they do contain important evidence for biographical and historical purposes in these two areas. There is also a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, including items from early Iowa City newspapers.

Photographs: This collection contains a photograph of Thomas Edison taken in New Jersey in 1901 or 1902, as well as a photograph of Edward Everett, a photograph of Robert Finkbine, and an engraving of Dey (shown above), as well as photographs of the fire that burned the St. James block in Iowa City.

Related Materials

Johnson, Jack Thomas. Peter Anthony Dey: Integrity in Public Service. Special Collections x-Collection 94-2018; Law Library F621 D48 J6; Main Library F621 D 48

Report of Peter A. Dey, Engineer in Charge of Preliminary Survey, 1864? Special Collections x-Collection HE2791 U54 D4

Letters to John A. Dix, 1862 -- 1865. Special Collections Department MsL D528 d

Papers of Levi O. Leonard These contain correspondence from Dey, as well as a lecture prepared by Leonard on Dey.

Dey's son Marvin also worked on the Union Pacific Railroad, in Kansas City and Chicago. While in Chicago he attended the theatre about once a week. In 1951 he presented his collection of theatre programs to the University of Iowa. They are kept at PN 2277 I6 D3.

Acquisition and Processing Information

These papers were given to the University of Iowa Libraries by Myra Dey Wright in 1959.

Guide posted to Internet: February 2006.

Box Contents List

Biographical sketch, written by one of his children



Index to correspondence

Diaries and notebooks

Images (Photographs and an etching)

Notebook (perhaps belonging to M. M. Hall?)


Speeches and essays


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