William Gordon (1857-1933) was an enthusiastic Sioux City promoter who made his fortune during the boom years of the city's growth. Nearly wiped out by the disastrous Floyd River Flood of 1892 and the Financial Panic of 1893, he rebuilt his business and remained a staunch Sioux City supporter until his death in 1933.
Gordon was born in Ireland in 1857. He was educated in Irish schools until he went to work for William Gregg and Son, iron merchants in Belfast, when he was fourteen years old. His next job was with a building materials company in Liverpool and London. Then, in 1882, Gordon decided to venture to Australia, by way of the United States.
Gordon landed in New York, and quickly found a job with Cambria Steel Works in Philadelphia. Before long, however, he left that job for a position with the Russell and Erwinn Hardware Company of New York City. He didn't stay there for long either, and soon Gordon was headed west to seek his fortune.
He stopped in Chicago, where he became acquainted with George Fowler, who owned a meat packing business. Fowler sent the young Gordon to Kansas City, then on to New Mexico. Then, Gordon headed back northeast across Oklahoma and Kansas, traveling by horseback. Upon his return to Chicago, the president of the Illinois Central Railroad asked Gordon to inspect rail lines in northwest Iowa and visit the little town of Sioux City. Thus, William Gordon arrived in Sioux City, Iowa on May 25, 1883, and he made the town his home for the next fifty years.
Gordon found a job with Davis and Wann, grain merchants and became active in the business community. He left the city for a short time to take the job of bookkeeper for F. H. Peavey and Company of Minneapolis, but soon returned to Sioux City. He helped establish Security National Bank and became its first bookkeeper. However, Gordon's true interest was in real estate, and he plunged into development, business and speculation.
Gordon was instrumental in bringing the Fowler Packing Company to the stockyards. In 1888, he erected the Iowa Building at Fifth and Pierce, and in 1889 he built the Gordon Building at the corner of Fourth and Iowa. Also in 1889, Gordon formed the Boston Investment Company, which spent over a million dollars to finance the Massachusetts Building, the Plymouth Block and the Boston Block. His company built the Sioux City Engine Works, Paris Stove Works, a large shoe factory, and other industries. He began industrial development in Leeds, and he became a director in the Sioux City Northern and the Nebraska and Western railroads.
Gordon was a dreamer and an innovator. He was instrumental in the development of the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company, which built the Sioux City elevated railway. A supporter of the Sioux City Corn Palaces, he chartered a train from Boston and brought back a group of eastern investors to see the second corn palace. An article in the Sioux City Journal quotes him as saying, "It cost me $4,000, but I made $30,000 out of it."
Throughout his entire life, Gordon remained a supporter of riverfront development. After a particularly disastrous flood in 1888, Gordon was instrumental in obtaining $250,000 in federal funds to stabilize the Missouri riverfront and put the river back in its channel. In its tribute to William Gordon at the time of his death, the Sioux City Journal noted, "Downtown Sioux City owes its present existence to the work of Mr. Gordon."
The big Floyd River Flood of 1892, combined with the national Financial Panic of 1893, brought an end to the boom years of Sioux City. It also wiped out the fortunes of William Gordon and his fellow speculators. Gordon left for California for a brief while, but returned to re-establish his real estate business in Sioux City. The 1894-95 edition of R.L. Polk and Company Sioux City Directory lists William Gordon's profession as Real Estate and his home as 2719 Jackson Street. He remained a successful and respected businessman, with a special interest in riverfront and railroad development. He was instrumental in the development of major railroad yards in the suburb of Riverside. Because of his great interest in riverfront development, the road along the riverfront was named Gordon Drive in his honor. He called Sioux City his home until his death in 1933.
At the time of his death the Sioux City Journal reflected: "In the boom days Mr. Gordon was younger than other men active in development enterprises and he may not have been equipped to do business in such large figures as some of his colleagues, but he dreamed the same dreams that the Hedges' and Garretson's and the Peirce's dreamed, and he had the same confidence that these men had in the future greatness of Sioux City. In faith, hope and enthusiasm, he never could be outdone by any man.
"Throughout the 40 years that have passed since the collapse of the boom, Mr. Gordon kept that same faith, hope, and enthusiasm. He was an optimist when others have felt down in the mouth. Sioux City will miss him with a definiteness with which it would miss few others, because he belonged to an almost extinct type of community booster- a class of loyalists of whom Shakespeare might have said "We shall not see their like again."