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Iowa History Daily: January 31 - Gardner "Mike" Cowles Jr.

Iowa History Daily: On January 31, 1903, Gardner “Mike” Cowles Jr. was born in Algona. A far-famed newspaper and magazine publisher whose family owned “The Des Moines Register,” “Minneapolis Tribune,” and “Minneapolis Star,” Cowles also owned the infamous ‘Cardiff Giant’ during the 1940s.

The elder Gardner Cowles built a business empire after settling in Algona where he served as school superintendent and part-owner of the “Algon7uja Republican” before growing assets as a large-scale farmer and stockholder/officer of at least ten banks. With a partner he bought the “Des Moines Register and Tribune” in 1915. 

Cowles Jr. spent his early childhood in Algona before education at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard. A co-owner of the Cowles Media Company with his brother John starting in 1935, he went on to found “Look” magazine in 1937. In the late 1930s he also became part owner of the pioneering coming book industry giant Comic Magazine’s Inc.

During World War II, Cowles Jr. served as the assistant director of the Office of War Information. A longtime promoter and confidant of politician Wendell Willkie, Cowles also gained fame for purchasing the Cardiff Giant (made of Fort Dodge gypsum) for display in his basement in the post-war era. His daughter, Lois Cowles Harrison went on to become one of Iowa’s most revered women’s rights activists, philanthropists, and civic leaders. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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