A Narrative History
The People of Iowa
SPECIAL TREATMENT OF THEIR CHIEF ENTERPRISES IN
EDUCATION, RELIGION, VALOR, INDUSTRY,
EDGAR RUBEY HARLAN, LL. B., A. M.
Curator of the
Historical, Memorial and Art Department of Iowa
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Inc.
Chicago and New York
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 acted in
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 time and
energies were generously given to the community, frequently at the sacrifice of
important personal business interests.
John MacVicar was born at Galt, Ontario, Canada, July 4, 1859, the youngest
of the seven children of John and Mary (McEwen) MacVicar. His parents were
natives of Scotland and were Scotch Presbyterians. Shortly after his birth
the family moved to Guelph, Ontario, and when he was nine years of age they
established a new home at Erie, Pennsylvania. There John MacVicar attended the
public schools until he was thirteen. After the death of his mother he went
to work to support himself, selling newspapers and acting as errand boy,
during which time he attended night school.
The Scotch characteristics of industry, thrift and perseverance enabled him
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, and from his
varied contacts with men and affairs his abilities were adjusted to new needs 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 for himself as
a dealer in wallpaper.
The year 1888 saw his entrance into local politics, when he was elected town
recorder of North Des Moines. In attempting to correct some of the evils
existing in local affairs his course attracted much attention and one of the
results was that in the following year he was elected mayor. In 1890 North Des
Moines was annexed to the city and that brought him into a larger sphere of
political action. He took a prominent part in the campaign against the high
charges maintained by the waterworks company. He was made chairman of
several mass meetings and member of committees, and a large share of the success in
reducing high water rates was credited to his labors and untiring energy.
It was in 1896 that Mr. MacVicar was elected on the Republican ticket for
his first term as mayor of Des Moines. The chief plank in his platform was a
demand for the municipal control by the city of public franchises. He also
proposed a reduction of taxation. In 1898 he was reelected and was also chosen
for a third term in 1900. For some time he was also a member of the City
Council. In 1908, when Des Moines adopted the commission form of government,
being one of the first large cities in the Middle West to adopt the plan, he
was chosen superintendent of the department of streets 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 the commission. During 1922-24 he was
superintendent of public safety. In 1928 he was again elected mayor of Des
Moines, and was the honored incumbent of that office when he died, November 15,
His practical service in enlarging the body of knowledge known as political
science was not confined to Iowa. Mr. MacVicar in 1897 was chosen president
of the League of American Municipalities, which had just been organized. He
was the youngest mayor represented in the membership of the League. In 1916
he was again elected president of this organization, which, as all students
of municipal history know, has exercised a powerful influence in the direction
of municipal efficiency and reform. From 1900 he served as secretary of the
League and also acted as editor of the publication American Municipalities.
As secretary of the League he spent a year and a half in New York City in
research work. He was author of numerous articles on municipal affairs. In
1898 he was elected president of the League of Iowa Municipalities. He was
commissioner general of the International Municipal 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. He was the
oldest man to enter the service from Iowa during the World war. He did not
receive an overseas assignment, but was called to active duty as assistant
quartermaster at Fort Douglas, Salt Lake City, Utah, May 8, 1917. He was mayor of
Des Moines when war was declared. After the city was designated as the site
of Camp Dodge, with thousands of recruits coming from all over the Middle
West, and with other extraordinary problems confronting the city government, it
was necessary for the welfare of the community that the mayor should be at
hand. At the request of the Citizens Committee he returned to complete his term
and at the same time perform his military duties. In handling the problems
of wartime conditions Mr. MacVicar earned the lasting gratitude of the people
of the city and the state at large. At the expiration of his term of office
he was assigned to military duty at Fort Sam Houston, where he remained
until after the armistice, being honorably discharged March 6, 1919.
Mr. MacVicar was a staunch Republican. He was a member of the American
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 1884 to Miss Netie Nash. Her father, Rev. John A. Nash,
was a pioneer Baptist minister of Des Moines and the founder of Des Moines
College. Mr. MacVicar is survived by his wife and two of their four children,
Marjorie, Mrs. Locke Macomber, and John MacVicar, Jr.
Posted at this site with Debbie's permission
*Check stated facts, do not know how accurate.
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