Iowa State’s First Student: Charles N. Dietz

Dietz, C.N. 2

Charles N. Dietz, Iowa State graduate and lumber businessman

Have you ever wondered what classes were like in Iowa State University’s early days? The Charles N. Dietz Papers, RS 21/7/58, can enlighten you. As the first student to enroll at what was then known as Iowa Agricultural College, Dietz took many notes during classes, several notebooks of which he left behind and are now stored in the University Archives.

Born July 18, 1853 in Oneonta, New York, Charles Dietz and his family relocated to Anamosa, Iowa, when he was just a small child. In the fall of 1869, Dietz drove his lumber cart to campus, arriving several days before it officially opened, and enrolled in the first classes at ISU. In his obituary in the July 1933 issue of The Alumnus, Dietz is mentioned as having described his first impression of the school as “a big, unfenced farm.” During his time at Iowa State, he was captain of one of the military-like student units that planted and harvested crops and performed all sorts of other labor in the early days. His group helped to build some of the early buildings, fence the college farm, dig ditches, and unpack textbooks. Later, he worked in the treasurer’s office where he helped correct entrance exams and was paid eight cents an hour. In addition to all of this, he did, of course, take classes. Among the classes he took were Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, Psychology (referred to as “Intel Philosophy” in one of the notebooks), Landscape Gardening (taught by President Adonijah Welch), Organic Chemistry, and Pathology. The notes Dietz took during these classes are all in the collection. In an entry dated May 22, 1871 in the Landscape Gardening notebook, Dietz took the following notes on a lecture on the distinction between science and art given by President Welch:

“Science is knowledge systematically arranged. Art is science applied in practice to some specific purpose. Landscape Gardening is an art. There are two great divisions of art viz Fine Arts and Useful Arts. Useful Arts apply science to the attainment of convenience, comfort and profit. Fine Arts have a single purpose in view, that is the realization of beauty.”

In 1872, Dietz became part of Iowa State’s first graduating class and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree at the age of 19.

After college, Dietz moved to Chicago to work for a lumber business. Due to the panic of 1873 and the subsequent layoffs of some high salaried personnel, Dietz quickly became one of the lumber company’s chief executives. After eight years in Chicago, he moved with his wife Nettie Woodford Dietz to Omaha to go into the lumber business for himself, starting the C. N. Dietz Lumber Company. Soon a wealthy man, he went on to establish the Sheridan Coal Company in Sheridan, Wyoming, which he owned until 1903. The coal mining town of Dietz, Wyoming was named after him. In 1890, the Dietzes built a home in Omaha, where they entertained such notables as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Helen Keller. Aside from entertaining, in their spare time the couple traveled the world, meeting other notables including future Egyptian president Mahmud Fuad, Herbert Hoover, and J. P. Morgan. Dietz was also quite involved with the Omaha Public Library and served on the library board for many years, later becoming president of the board. After a decline in health, Dietz passed away on June 18, 1933.

Dietz during his college years [check this]

Charles Dietz’s graduation photo, circa 1872

The Charles N. Dietz collection contains a folder of biographical materials and five notebooks from the classes previously mentioned. For more information, take a look at our finding aid and stop in to view the collection! As it’s only one document box, it will take a relatively short amount of time to look through. If you’d like to find out more about Iowa State student life through the years, we have many collections of alumni papers that you are more than welcome to explore. Come on in and see us!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s