More Historic Des Moines Christmas Ads

December 1907 Midwestern, vol. 2.

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Des Moines Register, December 1903.

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Des Moines Register, December 1903.

Daylight Saving Time in Iowa

Have you recovered from the change in time yet? Ever wonder why we have to reset our clocks twice a year? The merits of Daylight Saving Time (DST) have been argued ever since Benjamin Franklin took a trip to Paris in 1784 and “saw the light,” penning a proposal to economize the use of candles during the daytime.  In 1907, Englishman William Willett wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘The Waste of Daylight’, which led to several European nations adopting his plan for saving daylight. In 1918 the United States officially observed DST but repealed it the next year. According to an article in the Des Moines Tribune on January 14, 1919, the Polk County Farm Improvement Association condemned the law,  stating that quitting at the same hour ”new time” shortened their working day by one hour since they had to get up “before the moon had gone to bed.” A proposal to adopt Daylight Saving Time brought before the Des Moines City Council in 1927 was opposed by such diverse groups as street railway workers, the carpenters union, motion picture operators and post office employees. It didn’t pass. The Iowa House opposed “War Time” in 1943 which the U.S. Congress had passed the year before in order to conserve electricity, but the Iowa Senate refused to go along. By 1962, Iowa communities had 23 distinct combinations of dates for starting and ending DST, leading a September 6, 1964 Des Moines Register headline to state, “Daylight time spreads nightmare of chaos across Iowa.” In Springville (Linn County), for example, city government made the switch to Central Standard Time, while the schools and local merchants stayed with DST. Finally, in 1966, Congress passed and President Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act, standardizing Daylight Saving Time across the country, although it included a provision that a state could exempt itself by passing a state law (which Arizona and Hawaii have done). Folks in the other 48 states, including Iowa, can at least now be fairly sure at what time to line up at Starbucks in the morning.

These books can be found in the Des Moines Public Library:

Spring forward: The annual madness of Daylight Saving Time by Michael Downing.

Seize the daylight: The curious and contentious story of Daylight Saving Time by David Prerau.



Street Surfaces in Des Moines

If you drove down 6th Avenue a couple of weeks ago while they were prepping to pave, you would’ve seen the red brick road that is normally hidden.  Des Moines has had many different types of surfaces over the years:

  • The first surfacing of macadam was applied to Des Moines streets in 1882.
  • Cedar blocks were used from 1882 to 1891.
  • Brick came in 1889, and in 1901 asphalt was applied to 21st St.
  • Concrete arrived on the streets in 1907 on 19th.

Source: Des Moines Register 5/12/1950

You may also be interested in The Origins of Des Moines Street Names.

Old Des Moines University

The area where Park Fair Mall now stands at Second and Euclid is the site of an interesting piece of Des Moines educational history. Highland Park College, Des Moines University, and the University of Lawsonomy once stood on this spot.

Highland Park College was established here in 1889 and operated under that name until 1918, when the Baptist church bought it and renamed it Des Moines University. The school had some 40,000 students and 1,000 pharmacy graduates in its first twenty-five years. Trouble began when a fundamentalist group known as the Baptist Bible Union of North America took over the school in 1927. The administration required all faculty members to agree to eighteen articles of faith. Many faculty members objected to this, and several of them left the university and joined Carl Weeks (later founder of the Armand Cosmetic Company) in forming Des Moines College of Pharmacy in downtown Des Moines. All but two of the pharmacy students at the university left to enroll in the new school.

At the same time that faculty were being required to agree to the articles of faith, students were also having many restrictions placed upon them. It is reported that three girls were disciplined for doing cartwheels during a vaudeville skit. General unhappiness spread, and things came to a head when board chairman Thomas T. Shields fired the entire faculty on May 11, 1929. A few hours later a riot broke out among the students. Angry students marched on the administration building in the afternoon, and that night 150 students attacked the building where the board of trustees was meeting. They threw eggs and rocks and attempted to break down the door to the room where the board members were hiding. Eventually police drove the students from the building, but not before they had wrecked the front office of the school administration building. The school closed in September 1929, and the buildings remained empty until the third, and even stranger, chapter of the area’s history began.

In 1943, Alfred W. Lawson of Detroit bought the property and founded the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy. Early in his career, Lawson was involved in the aviation industry. By the time he came to Des Moines, he was promoting Lawsonomy, sweepingly billed as “the study of everything.” It was said that students (men only) would be required to study for thirty years to achieve the degree of “Knowledgian.” Lawsonomy was based on forty-seven principles based on books written by Lawson, and the curriculum of the school consisted largely of memorizing Lawson’s books. Enrollment at the school was as much as 100 at one time, but dwindled gradually to fewer than twenty by the time the university closed in 1954. The property was sold to developer Frank A. DePuydt for $250, 000, and Lawson died two weeks later on November 29, 1954. DePuydt built the Park Fair Shopping Mall on the site, and a chapter of Des Moines educational history came to an end.

The Riot That Closed Des Moines U.,
Des Moines Tribune, May 11, 1979, p. 38.

First Railroad in Des Moines

On August 29, 1866, the Valley railroad entered Des Moines. The first train that entered left from Keokuk at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Des Moines a few minutes before 3:00 p.m. with 300 passengers from many Iowa towns including Keokuk, Burlington, Fairfield, Ottumwa, and Oskaloosa. The passengers were greeted by a large crowd on the east side of Des Moines (there was no railroad bridge in Des Moines until 1869).

Brigham, Johnson. History of Des Moines and Polk County, Iowa. S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1911.

Long, Barbara Beving and Patrice K. Beam. Des Moines and Polk County: Flag on the Prairie. American Historic Press, 2003.


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