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Kimball Elevator Company Records

Identifier: MsC0524

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Scope and Contents

The Kimball Elevator Company collection dates from 1871 to 1934 and is comprised of business letters and forms. These are incoming orders and forms -- very little outgoing mail from the company is represented in the collection. These are arranged chronologically. The collection contains some materials whose relationship to the Kimball business is not readily apparent, though for reasons of provenance they have been left with the collection. Some of these materials do have a common thread, and they have been removed from the main body of the collection. Besides a small file of miscellaneous items, there are receipts for J. C. Young of Taylorville, California; C. E. Young, also of Taylorville, California; H. W. Stephens of Windy, West Virginia; and I.C.C. Whitmore of Eureka, Nevada. These three appear to have been dry goods merchants and these records are apparently orders to their suppliers. Also represented are records of two banks, both in Carson City, Nevada -- the Bullion and Exchange Bank and the State Bank and Trust. The local Iowa connection as well as the company's involvement with interests across the country make this collection interesting to business historians. Many small companies in Iowa ordered freight elevators from Kimball, and a microcosm of the sorts of businesses operating in Iowa around the turn of the nineteenth century can be gained from looking at incoming orders. In addition, the country's westward development can be deduced by the orders placed from western states, which represent the preponderance of orders after Iowa. Washington and Oregon are heavily represented in this collection. As well, there are a few orders from Canada and Mexico. This collection is also of interest from a graphic design standpoint, showing turn-of-the-century letterhead and stationery designs of the businesses ordering elevators from Kimball, as well as blueprints from that era.


  • Creation: 1871-1934


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Biographical / Historical

he Kimball Elevator Company was started in Anamosa, Iowa, in 1892. A grocer who wanted an easy way to get potatoes from his basement to his shop floor could find no one to make him an elevator, so he went to the local machine shop, owned by the father of William H. and Charles E. Kimball. They agreed to build this freight elevator, and the Kimball Brothers' Elevator Company was born.

In 1892, they moved their main operation to Council Bluffs, though a branch still operated in Anamosa. They had considered other locations, such as Cleveland, Ohio, but were lured to Council Bluffs by a petition, signed by seventy-nine Council Bluffs businessmen, pledging the brothers about $1500 if they would open their plant in Council Bluffs. The excellent rail service in Council Bluffs may also have contributed to their decision to locate their new factory there. The company was incorporated under Iowa law in 1901.

Kimball Brothers had their own foundry, and the elevators were made entirely at the Council Bluffs factory. By 1928, they were turning out one elevator every day, and by 1953, they had manufactured 14,000 elevators. In 1947, they had branch offices in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Gary, Indiana, Kansas City, Missouri, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. By 1955 they had offices in California, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Louisiana, and Ohio. Kimball Brothers were innovators in the elevator business. In 1928, they manufactured a high-speed push-button elevator capable of traveling 300 feet per minute. Their taper drum safety catch became a standard in the industry.

Every elevator was custom built. Kimball elevators went from 200 feet underground to 300 feet in the air. Elevators built by Kimball ranged from a 40,000 pound freight elevator at the J. I Case plant in Racine, Wisconsin, to the only elevator that operated at a 25 degree angle at the Pathfinder Dam near Casper, Wyoming, to chair lifts for the handicapped, to a gold plated elevator in a Hollywood home, to an elevator for taking patient records from a storage vault to the hospital office. Actress Norma Shearer used a Kimball elevator to raise a large theater screen from a concealed floor-level position in the ballroom of her home. An elevator for inspecting mines was installed at Fort Randall Dam in Pickston, South Dakota. This elevator, measuring seventeen feet long, eight feet wide, and nine feet high, was completely portable and could be moved from one mine shaft to another by a gantry crane which picked up the penthouse car and slipped it on and off tracks in each shaft.

In 1953, the O'Keefe Elevator Company of Omaha, Nebraska purchased an interest in the Kimball Brothers' Elevator Company. Dennis O'Keefe had been an elevator installer for Kimball Brothers in 1912 before going into business for himself. The company still exists today as the O'Keefe Elevator Company of Omaha.


2.75 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Papers of the Kimball Brothers' Elevator Company, 1883-1934. Incoming correspondence and order forms for freight and passenger elevator and dumb waiter company, located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Method of Acquisition

These papers were purchased by the University of Iowa Libraries in 2001.

Related Materials

Please refer to External Documents to access a reproduced Kimball Brothers catalog.

Jacque Roethler, November 2001
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)