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History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/4/Peter A. Dey

PETER A. DEY was born at Romulus, Seneca County, New York, January 27, 1825. He received his education in the public schools and at Geneva College, New York. He became a civil engineer and moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where he followed his profession in railroad construction. It was while in the line of his profession that a supreme test of the character of the man was made. The notorious “Credit Mobilier of America” had been organized by Thomas C. Durant, Oliver Ames, Oakes Ames and other capitalists for the purpose of constructing the Pacific Railroad. The Government subsidies granted for the construction of the road amounted to the enormous sum of $64,000 a mile for a part, and $96,000 a mile for the remainder. Peter A. Dey was the chief engineer of the construction, and having made a survey of the first hundred miles reported that it could be constructed for $30,000 per mile. The Government was offering $32,000 and an enormous land grant in addition for this portion of the road. An article in Scribner's Monthly for March, 1874, tells the story of how the Credit Mobilier made a profit of $5,000,000 in building two hundred and forty-six miles of the road. The following illustrates the stern integrity of the Iowa man who was Chief Engineer.

“When his estimate was made to the Directors, it was returned to him with orders to retouch it with higher colors, to put in embankments on paper where none existed on earth, to make the old embankments heavier, to increase the expense generally, and he was requested to send in his estimate that it would cost $50,000 per mile. When Mr. Dey was informed that this part of the road was let to —— —— at $50,000 per mile, which he knew could be done for $30,000, this difference amounting to $5,000,000 on the two hundred and forty-six miles, he resigned his position as Chief Engineer in a noble letter to the president of the road. He closed that letter with this statement: 'My views of the Pacific Road are perhaps peculiar. I look upon its managers as trustees of the bounty of Congress. … You are doubtless informed how disproportioned the amount to be paid is to the work contracted for. I need not expatiate on the sincerity of my course, when you reflect upon the fact that I have resigned the best position in my profession this country has offered to any man.'”

This fidelity to public interest is the one bright spot in that disgraceful era of corruption which reached into Congress and blackened the reputation of scores of public officials. It is not strange that Peter A. Dey, whose stern integrity was thus tested, should have been chosen as the Democratic member of the Commission which built the State House, a work which for all time will stand as a monument to the ability and integrity of Robert S. Finkbine, Peter A. Dey and John G. Foote. In 1878, upon the creation of the State Railroad Commission, Mr. Dey was appointed by the Governor a member, where he served until the Commission was reorganized and the commissioners were elected by the people. Notwithstanding the fact that the State was strongly Republican, Peter A. Dey, a life-long Democrat, was elected and served continuously (with the exception of one year) until 1895. Mr. Dey has been president of the First National Bank of Iowa City more than sixteen years.