Iowa Heritage Digital Collections
State Library of Iowa

1878-1882, John H. Gear


1878-1882, John H. Gear



John H Gear, Iowa's eleventh Governor was born in Ithaca, New York, the son of Ezekiel Gilbert Gear, a clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal church, and Miranda (Cook) Gear. He attended common schools in Ithaca until age 12, when his family moved to Galena, Illinois. In 1838 his father was appointed chaplain at Fort Snelling in Minnesota Territory. They remained there for five years, with Gear helpingand being tutored byhis father. In 1843 the family moved again to Burlington in Iowa Territory, which remained Gear's home and base of operations for the remainder of his life. After working as a clerk in a wholesale grocery store for several years, he became a partner in 1853 and sole proprietor in 1855. During the next two decades, Gear emerged as a leading business figure in southeastern Iowa, playing a crucial role in several efforts to entice railroads to the Hawkeye State. In 1852 he married Harriet Foote, a union that eventually produced four children. Gear began his political career as a Burlington alderman from 1852 until 1863, when he was elected mayor. In 1871 he was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives, where he served for six years. In 1874 Gear was made Speaker of the House on the 137th ballot as a compromise candidate between the regular Republicans and the Anti-Monopoly Party. He was chosen for a second term as Speaker in 1876. Gear won the 1877 Republican gubernatorial nomination and was elected governor. He was re-elected to a second term in 1879. During his tenure, he fought to reduce the large state deficit that his administration inherited. He initiated a progressive bookkeeping system, he secured legislation that dissolved the war and defense debt, and he advocated overhauling business procedures in the administration of state agencies. He was elected as a Republican to represent Iowa's 1st congressional district in the U.S. House for the Fiftieth and Fifty-first Congresses, serving from March 4, 1887 to March 3, 1891. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1890, but was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, serving from 1892 to 1893. He returned to the U.S. House for one final term, winning the 1892 1st district election, then serving in the Fifty-third Congress, from March 4, 1893 to March 3, 1895. In 1894, Gear was elected by the Iowa General Assembly to the United States Senate. Gear rarely spoke on the Senate floor, introduced no legislation, and presented himself as a dutiful servant of the administration of President William McKinley. By the end of his term in 1900, Gear was suffering so seriously from heart disease that his wife accompanied him to the Senate chamber each day in order to prevent him from succumbing to overwork and stress. Although he was reelected to the Senate, Gear died during the summer of 1900 in Washington, D.C. He was reelected in 1900. He served from March 4, 1895, until his death on July 14, 1900 at the age of 75, before the start of his second term. He had been chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Pacific Railroads in the Fifty-fourth through Fifty-Sixth Congresses. He was buried in Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington, Iowa.


State Library of Iowa and State Historical Society of Iowa


1878; 1879; 1880; 1881; 1882;


Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, National Governor's Association


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