Iowa's Presidential Hopefuls

A 54-year-old bachelor who advertised for a wife and a tall, clumsy man nicknamed "Big-Eyed Bill" are two of the eight Iowans who ran for president. Only one of them made it to the White House. 

"Big-Eyed Bill" Goes to Capitol Hill: William B. Allison

William B. Allison (1825-1908) represented Iowa in Congress longer than any other Iowan—43 years. Allison wasn't always a Hawkeye. He was born a Buckeye, growing up on a farm in what is now Ashland County, Ohio.

Church and school were probably Allison's two most important childhood interests. His classmates called him "Big-Eyed Bill" and he was often teased because of his appearance. He was tall and clumsy, but could take the teasing with "good humor" as one classmate described.

Allison taught school before studying law and entering politics. Back in Ohio, Allison's law practice was only moderately successful, and his political ventures failed. He looked around for a new home and chose Dubuque. Though he failed twice to obtain the Republican presidential nomination, Iowans elected him to serve eight years in the House of Representatives and 35 years in the Senate. Allison died shortly after being nominated for senator for the seventh time.

Hopeful Democrat: Horace Boies

Like most of Iowa's early governors, Horace Boies (1827-1923) was born on a farm. But unlike most of them, he never got too far away from farms. He was born and raised near Buffalo, New York. At the age of 16, he moved to the Wisconsin Territory in 1843 with only 75 cents to his name. Boies "roughed it" for five years. When he was 21, he returned to New York to study law.

Boies returned to the Midwest in 1867 and settled in Waterloo, Iowa, where he was a successful lawyer. He became the second largest land holder in Grundy County. He had come a long way since arriving in Wisconsin with 75 cents!

In 1880 Boies joined the Democratic Party in Iowa because Republicans wanted statewide prohibition and high taxes on goods brought from other countries. Nine years later in 1889 he ran for governor of Iowa and won. At the age of 62, Boies became the 13th governor of Iowa.

Delegates at the Democratic National Conventions twice considered Boies as a nominee for president, but he was never actually chosen. When he retired, he lived on his farms in Grundy County and in California.

"Jumpin' Jim": James B. Weaver

James B. Weaver (1833-1912) was the first Iowan to run for president of the United States. As an adventuresome 19 year old, Weaver hunted for gold in California, then he returned to Iowa to work as a store clerk. After graduating from an Ohio law school in 1854, he practiced law in Bloomfield, Iowa, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Weaver volunteered for the war as a lieutenant, was promoted to colonel and later to brigadier general. He had a close call when a bullet went through his hat during a battle in Tennessee, but Weaver was never injured.

Honorable service in the Civil War led Weaver into politics. Some people called him a visionary because of his radical ideas. Others laughed at him. He supported a federal income tax, building of the Panama Canal, and government control of railroads. Many of his political dreams eventually came true, although the three-term legislator was never elected president.

He earned the nickname "Jumpin' Jim" because he changed political parties many times during his career. James Weaver spent his later years as mayor of Colfax, Iowa, cleaning up the town's corrupt government

Compromise Candidate: Albert B. Cummins

Leadership and speaking abilities made Albert B. Cummins (1850-1926) stand out in Iowa's political crowd. He was a man of Scotch-Irish parents, was dedicated and courageous, and worked very hard to reach his goals. As a teenager, Cummins went to school and worked as a carpenter. When he was 17 years old, he went to law school, and worked so hard that he finished in two years instead of four—and also tutored other students on the side! After graduating, Cummins worked as a lawyer in Des Moines.

Cummins entered politics because he wanted to be a U.S. senator from Iowa. Although he campaigned, he did not win the election. However, he did serve as Iowa's governor from 1902 to 1907. Cummins again campaigned for the U.S. Senate and finally won.

In the presidential election of 1912, the Republican Party could not decide who to choose for a candidate—William H. Taft or Theodore Roosevelt. Cummins received some nomination votes as a "compromise candidate," but not enough to win. Four years later. Cummins won Iowa's only presidential primary ever held, but he was not a serious challenger in the national presidential race.

The Hopeful Bachelor: Andrew Hisey

Andrew Hisey (1854-1928) wanted to be president of the United States. But he was afraid the American people wouldn't vote for him because he didn't have a wife. So the 54-year-old bachelor from Tama went to Drake University in Des Moines to search for a bride. Hisey advertised that he'd be a good husband who would never cause his wife's "brow to frown."

Whether or not Hisey succeeded in finding a wife is not certain. It is clear that he struck out as a politician. He ran for mayor of Tama in 1903 and for governor of Iowa in 1906, losing both races. Hisey's name never made it onto the 1908 presidential ballot.

The Only One Who Made It: Herbert Hoover

His skill as a mining engineer led Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) around the world. Known as a "doctor of sick mines," he worked in Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and the United States. Later, Hoover supervised food distribution to millions of starving World War I victims in Belgium and France. He extended aid programs to the Soviet Union because, he explained, "Starving people should be fed, whatever their politics."

Born in West Branch, Iowa, Hoover never dreamed of becoming president. He did dream of a college education, though, and he worked hard to earn it.

After Hoover's landslide victory in the 1928 presidential election, he soon became known as the "children's president." Children often visited him at the White House, and much of his work as president was devoted to nurturing America's youth.

Herbert Hoover's advice to kids who wanted to be president: get a good education, be honest, considerate and a good sport. Then, he said, "You will be a person of standing in your community even if you do not make the White House."

Farmer's Friend: Henry A. Wallace

Henry A. Wallace (1888-1965) followed in his father's footsteps. Like his father (and grandfather), he was editor of Wallaces' Farmer magazine. This job kept him in touch with the problems farmers constantly battled. It was no surprise to Iowans when President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected Wallace to serve as Secretary of Agriculture—a cabinet position Wallace's father once held, too!

Besides studying farmers' problems, Wallace worked to create solutions. His experiments with developing better varieties of corn led to the founding of Pioneer Seed Corn Company, now known as DuPont Pioneer. As Secretary of Agriculture he supported laws which helped fanners recover from the Great Depression.

Wallace also served as President Roosevelt's vice-president. But Wallace's bid for the presidency was unsuccessful. Nominated by the Progressive Party in 1948, he received only 2.4 percent of the vote. After his defeat, Wallace dropped out of politics.

Son of a Coal Miner: Tom Harkin

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin ran for president in 1992 on the Democratic ticket. He reminded voters that he was the son of an immigrant coal miner, his father having no formal education, and yet he acquired the "American Dream." From his humble beginnings in Cumming, Iowa, he rose to become a U.S. senator.

As a candidate for president he fought to "reclaim the American Dream." He believed that the average American— not just the rich and privileged—should have a chance to enjoy the "rich possibilities of life in America."

In his campaign for president he came out against tax breaks for the wealthy. He favored national health care and opposed exporting jobs to foreign countries. And he claimed he would make safety and fairness in the workplace a top priority if elected president.

In January 1992 Harkin won the Iowa caucuses. But he lost the nomination from his party to Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

A Long, Rough Road

The road to the White House is never easy. There are plenty of rough spots and most people don’t make it. Only a few have made it in the entire history of the country. And although most of the Iowans who ran for the presidency didn’t make it, one did. And Iowans like to remember that at least once an Iowan made it to the top of the American political ladder!


  • Millie Frese, “Iowa's Seven Hopefuls,” The Goldfinch 13, no. 2 (November 1991): 18-21.


What would have been different if all of Iowa's Presidential candidates had won the national election? How might Iowa's history have been different?

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What times in history did these candidates run for office? Find out when they ran for office and what was happening in history at the time. How did they “fit” in history?