Founded in 1854, the city of Grinnell is named for abolitionist Josiah B. Grinnell, to whom Horace Greeley gave the famous advice “Go West, young man, go West.”
J.B. Grinnell was a leader in state government and chaired the legislative committee that planned Iowa’s system of public education. He was also a staunch opponent of slavery. The city of Grinnell became a stop on the Underground Railroad, providing shelter to abolitionist John Brown and allowing nearly 1,000 freed slaves to pass through town.
Since the day Grinnell was founded, the city has been an active center for progressive development in business and education. Grinnell University was established in 1855 and later merged with Iowa College. The first college building on the new campus was completed in 1861. Today, more than 1,600 students from all over the world attend Grinnell College, which is known nationally as a top liberal arts college.
Part of Grinnell’s larger-scale development can be attributed to the railroad, which arrived in 1863. A bustling downtown business district quickly developed around the train depot, a welcoming locale for business and services. Though a fire in 1889 destroyed the original downtown business district, the town rapidly recovered and business continued to prosper.
Grinnell’s first industry. The Morrison Glove Factory (known as Delong Sportswear) was established in 1856. By the 1900s, the company was the world’s largest manufacturer of gauntlet gloves. Several industries have had an impact on Grinnell’s commercial development, including transportation manufacturing (first buggies in the early 1800s then automobiles until 1916), playground equipment manufacturing, and milling. Agriculture was also a strong contributor to Grinnell’s economy.
Development throughout the 20th century brought further advancements and Grinnell today is a city that continues to prosper.