Richard Bissell

Richard Bissell

Richard Pike Bissell (1913 - 1977) was a native of Dubuque, Iowa, which is located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Although he attended an elite prep school in New Hampshire and was a 1936 graduate of Harvard University, he never escaped the river's lure. After receiving his B.A. in anthropology, Bissell took a job as a seaman on the American Export Lines. In 1938, he married and returned to Dubuque, where he went to work in the family business. The couple bought a houseboat and lived on the Mississippi. Unable to enlist in the Navy during Word War II, he instead joined the crew of the Central Barge Company of Chicago. He worked on towboats on the Ohio, Mississippi, Illinois, Monongahela, and Tennessee rivers, rising from a deckhand to a river pilot.

When the war ended he returned to Dubuque and resumed his work for H.B. Glover Company, the garment factory founded by his grandfather a century earlier. Bissell began writing about his river experiences and had his stories published in journals such as Atlantic Monthly, Colliers, and Esquire. Bissell's greatest success came when he wrote a humorous novel based on the activities at the garment factory. 7 ½ Cents changed the Bissell's lives. The family moved to the East coast so he could turn the book into a musical play for Broadway. Now titled The Pajama Game, it was a smash and soon became a motion picture. This experience provided the fodder for his novel Say, Darling, which also became a Broadway musical.

Richard Bissell wrote twelve books and numerous articles over the course of his career. In 1975, the Bissell's moved back to Dubuque - to the house his grandfather built. He died there on May 4, 1977, at the age of sixty-three.

Papers of Richard Pike Bissell, permissions kindly granted by Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

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