Walter S. Dickey

Walter S. Dickey
Walter S. Dickey. Courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

Walter S. Dickey was a turn-of-the-century urban pioneer. He arrived in Kansas City in 1885 and devoted himself to several fledgling businesses.

Dickey was born and educated in Toronto, the oldest of 11 children. His mother descended from the Mayflower pilgrims and his father was an Irish immigrant. After joining his family in Kansas City at the age of 23, he immediately became a United States citizen and got involved in the Republican Party. Under Dickey’s chairmanship of the Missouri Republican state central committee, Herbert S. Hadley was elected Missouri’s first Republican governor since the Civil War.

Dickey married Katherine McMullen, daughter of a Canadian senator, in 1889, and the couple had five children.

Four years after arriving in Kansas City, Dickey purchased an unsuccessful plant that manufactured burnt clay products or ceramic pipes. Within five years, he paid off the plant’s $100,000 purchase price. At first, the plant only made drainage pipes for farm fields. The W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company grew to become the largest producer of burnt clay products in the world, with 21 plants across the country and in Mexico City. The company received the largest contract ever made at the time, for the conduit of long distance lines for the Bell Telephone system.

Dickey purchased the Kansas City Journal and the Kansas City Post in the 1920s, eventually consolidating them. He took an active hand in managing the Journal-Post, but turned the operation over to his son and son-in-law in 1929. He retained principal ownership of the newspaper until his death.

Dickey also promoted local river trade, serving as president of the Kansas City Missouri River Navigation Company. Through this enterprise, he organized a barge line on the Missouri River between Kansas City and St. Louis. The line was quite successful until the company sold its entire fleet to the U.S. government during World War I.

Dickey died unexpectedly in 1931 at his home.

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