A Narrative History
The People of Iowa
SPECIALTREATMENT OF THEIR CHIEF ENTERPRISES IN
EDUCATION, RELIGION, VALOR,INDUSTRY,
EDGAR RUBEY HARLAN, LL. B., A.M.
Curator of the
Historical, Memorial and Art Department ofIowa
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Inc.
Chicago and NewYork
JOHN MacVICAR at the time of his death was serving as mayor of the City of
Des Moines.At different times over a period of thirty years having actedin
a similar capacity, his long experience made him an authority on municipal
government, and he was so recognized not only in Iowa but over the nation.He
was active in Des moines politics for over forty years, and his timeand
energies were generously given to the community, frequently at the sacrificeof
important personal business interests.
John MacVicar was born at Galt, Ontario, Canada, July 4, 1859, theyoungest
of the seven children of John and Mary (McEwen) MacVicar.Hisparents were
natives of Scotland and were Scotch Presbyterians.Shortlyafter his birth
the family moved to Guelph, Ontario, and when he was nine yearsof age they
established a new home at Erie, Pennsylvania.There JohnMacVicar attended the
public schools until he was thirteen. After the death ofhis mother he went
to work to support himself, selling newspapers and acting aserrand boy,
during which time he attended night school.
The Scotch characteristics of industry, thrift and perseverance enabledhim
to see opportunities for advancement where the average boy would have
discovered nothing but an endless routine.In the best sense of the word,Mr.
MacVicar was an educated man.His mental growth never stopped, andfrom his
varied contacts with men and affairs his abilities were adjusted to newneeds and
increasing demands upon them.
In 1882 he came to Des Moines to accept a responsible position with the
large wholesale and retail paper house of Redhead, Wellslager & Company,with
whom he remained for ten years.For six years he was in business forhimself as
a dealer in wallpaper.
The year 1888 saw his entrance into local politics, when he was electedtown
recorder of North Des Moines.In attempting to correct some of theevils
existing in local affairs his course attracted much attention and one ofthe
results was that in the following year he was elected mayor.In 1890North Des
Moines was annexed to the city and that brought him into a largersphere of
political action.He took a prominent part in the campaignagainst the high
charges maintained by the waterworks company.He was madechairman of
several mass meetings and member of committees, and a large share ofthe success in
reducing high water rates was credited to his labors and untiringenergy.
It was in 1896 that Mr. MacVicar was elected on the Republican ticketfor
his first term as mayor of Des Moines.The chief plank in his platformwas a
demand for the municipal control by the city of public franchises.He also
proposed a reduction of taxation.In 1898 he was reelectedand was also chosen
for a third term in 1900.For some time he was also amember of the City
Council.In 1908, when Des Moines adopted thecommission form of government,
being one of the first large cities in the MiddleWest to adopt the plan, he
was chosen superintendent of the department ofstreets and public improvements,
and served in that capacity from 1908 to 1912.In 1914 he was again elected
mayor of the city or president of thecommission.During 1922-24 he was
superintendent of public safety.In 1928 he was again elected mayor of Des
Moines, and was the honoredincumbent of that office when he died, November 15,
His practical service in enlarging the body of knowledge known aspolitical
science was not confined to Iowa.Mr. MacVicar in 1897 waschosen president
of the League of American Municipalities, which had just beenorganized.He
was the youngest mayor represented in the membership of theLeague.In 1916
he was again elected president of this organization,which, as all students
of municipal history know, has exercised a powerfulinfluence in the direction
of municipal efficiency and reform.From 1900he served as secretary of the
League and also acted as editor of the publicationAmerican Municipalities.
As secretary of the League he spent a year and ahalf in New York City in
research work.He was author of numerous articleson municipal affairs.In
1898 he was elected president of the League ofIowa Municipalities.He was
commissioner general of the InternationalMunicipal Congress and Exposition at
Mr. MacVicar in 1916 attended the Citizens Military Training Camp at
Plattsburg, New York, and was commissioned a captain in the Quartermaster's
Department, Ninth Regiment, Officers Reserve Corps, February 7, 1917.Hewas the
oldest man to enter the service from Iowa during the World war.Hedid not
receive an overseas assignment, but was called to active duty asassistant
quartermaster at Fort Douglas, Salt Lake City, Utah, May 8, 1917.He was mayor of
Des Moines when war was declared.After the city wasdesignated as the site
of Camp Dodge, with thousands of recruits coming from allover the Middle
West, and with other extraordinary problems confronting the citygovernment, it
was necessary for the welfare of the community that the mayorshould be at
hand.At the request of the Citizens Committee he returned tocomplete his term
and at the same time perform his military duties.Inhandling the problems
of wartime conditions Mr. MacVicar earned the lastinggratitude of the people
of the city and the state at large.At theexpiration of his term of office
he was assigned to military duty at Fort SamHouston, where he remained
until after the armistice, being honorably dischargedMarch 6, 1919.
Mr. MacVicar was a staunch Republican.He was a member of theAmerican
Legion, the Des Moines and Grant Clubs, was affiliated with the Masonic
fraternity and was a member of the Methodist Church.
He was married in 1884to Miss Netie Nash.Her father, Rev. John A. Nash,
was a pioneer Baptistminister of Des Moines and the founder of Des Moines
College.Mr. MacVicaris survived by his wife and two of their four children,
Marjorie, Mrs. LockeMacomber, and John MacVicar, Jr.
Posted at this site with Debbie's permission
*Check stated facts, do not know how accurate.