Omaha Mayors

Omaha’s mayors have come from all walks of life. Twenty of the city’s chief executives were businessmen, including a grocer, a beer brewer, three bankers and five in real estate.

Eleven lawyers filled the ranks, joined by a surveyor, a teacher and two engineers. Most of those who served as mayor have hailed from the eastern half of the country. Glenn Cunningham became the first native son elected mayor in 1948. Eight Omahans have followed him. Four have come from New York, with three each from Illinois and Ohio. Two sets of brothers filled the role – Canadians Ezra and Joseph Millard and Omahans Glenn and Robert Cunningham.

Several have aspired to higher office, though relatively few have made it to the state or national stage. James Boyd is the only former Omaha mayor to serve as Governor of Nebraska.

Joseph  Millard and Edward Zorinsky served as Nebraska Senators, while Glenn Cunningham and Hal Daub each served several terms as Second District representative to Congress. Terms of those elected to the mayor’s office have ranged from Andrew Poppleton’s seven months – he was one of five who resigned – to nearly 21 years by James Dahlman.

While some were beloved and others beset with problems, the men who aspired to the office of Mayor of Omaha shared an affection for the city and a real desire to improve the lives of its people.

Search by Year

March 5, 1857 – March 2, 1858

Jesse Lowe

March 2, 1858 – September 14, 1858

Andrew J. Poppleton

September 14, 1858  – March 10, 1859

George R. Armstrong

March 10, 1859 – March 6, 1860

David Belden

March 6, 1860 – March 5, 1861

Clinton Briggs

March 5, 1861 – November 5, 1862

George R. Armstrong

November 5, 1862 – March 15, 1864

Benjamin E. Kennedy

March 15, 1864 – March 9, 1865

Addison R. Gilmore

March 9, 1865 – March 6, 1867

Lorin Miller

March 6, 1867 – March 4, 1868

Charles H. Brown

March 4, 1868 – June 7, 1869

George M. Roberts

June 7, 1869 – April 10, 1871

Ezra Millard

June 7, 1869 – April 10, 1871

Ezra Millard

April 10, 1871 – April 9, 1872

Smith S. Caldwell

April 9, 1872 – April 7, 1873

Joseph H. Millard

April 7, 1873 – February 3, 1874

William M. Brewer

April 13, 1874 – April 9, 1877

Champion S. Chase

April 9, 1877 – April 7, 1879

Reuben H. Wilbur

April 7, 1879 – April 12, 1881

Champion S. Chase

April 7, 1879 – April 12, 1881

Champion S. Chase

April 12, 1881 – April 10, 1883

James E. Boyd

April 10, 1883 – June 30, 1884

Champion S. Chase

April 14, 1885 – May 10, 1887

James E. Boyd

May 10, 1887 – January 10, 1890

William J. Broatch

January 7, 1890 – January 5, 1892

Richard C. Cushing

January 5, 1892 – January 7, 1896

George P. Bemis

January 7, 1896 – May 10, 1897

William J. Broatch

March 10, 1897 – March 23, 1906

Frank Moores

March 10, 1897 – March 23, 1906

Frank Moores

May 21, 1906 – May 13, 1918

James C. Dahlman

May 21, 1906 – May 13, 1918

James C. Dahlman

May 13, 1918 – May 17, 1921

Edward P. Smith

May 13, 1918 – May 17, 1921

Edward P. Smith

May 17, 1921 – January 21, 1930

James C. Dahlman

May 17, 1921 – January 21, 1930

James C. Dahlman

February 4, 1930 – May 16, 1933

Richard Metcalfe

May 16, 1933 – May 26, 1936

Roy Towl

May 26, 1936 – May 29, 1945

Daniel Butler

May 26, 1936 – May 29, 1945

Daniel Butler

May 29, 1945 – May 25, 1948

Charles Leeman

May 25, 1948 – May 25, 1954

Glenn Cunningham

May 25, 1948 – May 25, 1954

Glenn Cunningham

May 25, 1954 – May 22, 1961

Johnny Rosenblatt

May 25, 1954 – May 22, 1961

Johnny Rosenblatt

May 22, 1961 – May 24, 1965

James J. Dworak

Search by Name

 George ArmstrongGeorge R. Armstrong

September 14, 1858 – March 10, 1859
March 5, 1861 – November 5, 1862

George Armstrong collaborated with George C. Bovey to manufacture bricks and build many of Omaha’s early buildings, including the territorial capitol and Pioneer Block. He came to Omaha in 1854 after more than 10 years as a printer and newspaper editor in Ohio.

Mr. Armstrong was a representative to the Third and Fourth Legislative sessions. He served as interim mayor following the resignation of Andrew Poppleton. He was elected to the office in 1861 and at the same time served as probate judge. He resigned both offices to organize the Second Nebraska Cavalry, rising to the rank of colonel. Following his military service he served nine years as clerk of the District Court.

With his son Ewing he built a large agriculture implement warehouse at 13th and Izard in 1886. He retired in 1891 and died at the age of 77 in 1896.

4 David BeldenDavid Douglas Belden

March 10, 1859 – March 6, 1860

David Belden was an Omaha attorney and businessman. He was a representative of the Sixth Legislative Session in 1859 and a councilman to the Seventh and Eight sessions.

While serving as mayor, all land titles came through his office, since he acted as fiduciary for the city. He had to adjudicate opposing claims and deed lots to the lawful owners. He opposed the claims of many members of the Territorial Legislature who were given lots as inducements for pro-Omaha votes in the territorial capital debate.

Mr. Belden acted as caretaker for investments of the Joseph Barker family for three years while the family resided in England. Several of his letters to the Barkers are included in Their Man in Omaha, the book published in 2005 by the Douglas County Historical Society.

He moved to Denver in 1863, where he became a member of the territorial legislature and later a judge. He was accused of selling his vote to move the capital from Golden to Denver. The Golden Transcript reported that “no man in the then territory had brighter prospects for advancement than did (Mr. Belden), but his love for filthy lucre caused him to sell his honor to the Denver outfit upon the removal of the capital from Golden.” The newspaper stated that he received $5,000 for his vote. The Rocky Mountain Herald defended the Honorable Mr. Belden, stating he “never received a cent for his vote.”

Mr. Belden died in Denver at age 76 in 1897.

20 George Bemis reduGeorge Pickering Bemis

January 5, 1892 – January 7, 1896

Boston-born George Bemis, a protege of George Francis Train, ran a successful real estate business in Omaha before politics beckoned. He defeated his Democratic opponent in 1891 by what was then the largest majority ever given a candidate.

In 1861 at the age of 23, he ventured to England and helped his cousin, Mr. Train, introduce street railways to London. Mr. Bemis became general manager of the “London American,” a newspaper that advocated the Union cause. In 1864 the cousins organized the “Credit Mobilier” and a year later the “Credit Foncier”. Both were land acquisition and construction companies that financed the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. The men were squeezed out of Credit Mobilier, which was later wracked with scandal. Mr. Bemis accompanied Mr. Train on several global sojourns. Mr. Train is considered by some the inspiration for Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”

Shortly after arriving in Omaha in 1868, Mr. Bemis formed the George Bemis Land Company and in 1889 platted the exclusive subdivision that bares his name. The Bemis Park neighborhood’s tree-lined streets were the first in Omaha to be laid out according to topography rather than the grid pattern used throughout the rest of the city.

He invoked a populist outlook when addressing a delegate convention of the People’s Party in Omaha in 1892. Among his comments: “You are here to protest against the wealth of the nation being absorbed by the few, while thousands are unemployed and many suffering for the necessities of life. You have laid the foundation of a great party. You have broken down the barriers of sectionalism and buried the bitterness of the past, extinguished the glowing embers of the campfires of hate, wiped out the imaginary line that separated the north from the south, and with hearts filled with hope you meet here in convention to nominate candidates who will lead your party in the coming campaign.”

Following his two terms as mayor, the Omaha Bee characterized his tenure as “conscientious and faithful public service and fearless discharge of duty.” The Bee continued, “Mr. Bemis never flinched from defending the the public and never bartered away the rights of the taxpayers. It will be many a year before Omaha secures another mayor who will be as devoted to its welfare and as courageous in the discharge of duty as George P. Bemis.” Ed Morearty’s take on Mr. Bemis was 180 degrees opposite. Said the “Omaha Memories” author: “For the purpose of signing all warrants and public documents he was apparently alive; aside from that he breathed only with the consent of [Bee publisher] Edward Rosewater and W.J. Connell.”

He and his wife, Julia Frances Brown, raised three children. He died in 1916 at the age of 80. His body was sent to Waltham, Massachusetts for burial.

18 James Boyd reduJames E. Boyd

April 12, 1881 – April 10, 1883
April 14, 1885 – May 10, 1887

Ireland native James Boyd arrived in Omaha in 1856 with his brother, John, and the two constructed some of Omaha’s first buildings. He later built an impressive business and political career, rising to governor of the state.

Mr. Boyd’s first political position was Douglas County clerk; in 1857 he became the second man elected to that office. The following year he left the city and engaged in a number of activities for the next decade: farming in Buffalo County, merchandising in Kearney, ranching in Wyoming and grading land across Nebraska for the Union Pacific Railroad.

When he returned in 1868, Mr. Boyd invested heavily in Omaha’s gas works. He also helped organize the Omaha & Northwestern railroad. In 1872 he started a pork packing operation in South Omaha and became a pioneer in the meat packing business of the “Magic City”.

Mr. Boyd began serving his first mayoral term in 1881, the same year that his opera house premiered at Fifteenth and Farnam. Street paving, curbing and sewage systems were adopted during his term after he had made extensive personal investigation of the systems of other cities. “Omaha Memories” author Ed Morearty notes that “the moral standard of the city was elevated to a remarkable degree,” owing to Mr. Boyd’s vigorous enforcement of new liquor laws.

Mr. Boyd’s political and business career reached the national level in the 1880s. He was a delegate to the democratic nation committee in 1884 and 1888. He became a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and the New York Stock Exchange. He built a second entertainment palace, Boyd’s Theater, in 1892.

In 1890 Mr. Boyd became the first Democrat elected governor of Nebraska. His gubernatorial reign was tainted (and shortened by a full year) when his predecessor, John Thayer, refused to give up the office, on account of Mr. Boyd’s Irish citizenship. When the United States Supreme Court declared that all residents of Nebraska had become citizens upon the state’s entry in the Union, Mr. Boyd resumed his duties as governor on Feb. 3, 1892.

He and his wife, Anna Henry, had five children and lived in a large house near 19th and Davenport. Mr. Boyd died in 1906 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. An Omaha street and baseball field are named for Mr. Boyd, as is a Nebraska county. His wife, who had come to Omaha in 1858, outlived all but one of their children, passing away in 1928.

William M. Brewer

April 7, 1873 – February 3, 1874

Not in the mold of the typical Omaha mayor, William Brewer was an officer in the Brewer and Bemis Brewing Company, manufacturer of lager, beer, ale, porter and malt at Sixth and Pacific streets. He earned the backing of the Daily Herald and led its “Citizens’ Ticket” against Champion Chase. The newspaper described Mr. Brewer as a “high-minded, honorable citizen” who “has been connected with the most important of our business interests” and noted that “few men have done more to give commercial character to Omaha.”

The effusive editorial went on to champion Mr. Brewer as “a man of honor and stainless reputation who commands universal respect, esteem and confidence.” Once in office, the mayor reorganized the police force and emphasized crime prevention. His term was cut short when business interests called him to Chicago. Council member James Gibson served the remaining two months of Mr. Brewer’s term.

5 Clinton BriggsClinton Briggs

March 6, 1860 – March 5, 1861

Clinton Briggs was an attorney who came to Omaha from Michigan in 1855. He served as a county judge and as a representative to the Territorial Legislature before being elected mayor in 1860. Mr. Briggs’ mayoral term was distinguished by the completion of the telegraph between New York and San Francisco, via Salt Lake, and he sent the first congratulatory message to those cities.

Mr. Briggs had a successful law practice with John I. Redick for ten years. The firm represented one side of every important case in the city. In 1875 he helped frame the code of civil procedure as a member of the Constitutional Convention. Two years later, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate. Mr. Briggs was retained by a number of Nebraska counties in tax suits against large railroad concerns, ultimately convincing them to pay taxes on their land grants.

He died tragically in 1882 when he fell from a Burlington train en route to Chicago. Briggs Street was named in his honor.

21 William BroatchWilliam J. Broatch

May 10, 1887 – January 7, 1890
January 7, 1896 – May 10, 1897

William J. Broatch came to Omaha in 1874 and operated a hardware outlet for iron, steel and lumber. In 1880 he built a three-story building for his business. The building, still standing at 1209 Harney St., added a fourth story in 1887.

A Connecticut native, he was forced to support his mother and four siblings at the young age of 12, when his father died. As an officer in the Civil War, he was cited for gallant and meritorious service. He remained in the army and served as an aide-de-camp to General Philip Cooke in Omaha and as an Indian agent in South Dakota.

Mr. Broatch became active in civic affairs soon after his arrival in Omaha. He was elected to the Omaha School Board in 1877 and became a charter member of the Omaha Board of Trade. He was appointed to the Missouri River Commission by President Chester Arthur. While a member of the Nebraska Legislature in 1881 he helped pass tougher liquor licensing laws.

A solid Republican with “a tolerance for all people”, Mr. Broatch sought to correct the abuses of city government. He was described by detractors as “calculating and as the builder of a political machine second to none. He lost the Republican nomination for mayor in 1889 to George Lininger.

Harmony rather than acrimony seemed to rule during his second term as mayor, seven years after his first. He “sought to avoid entangling alliances and political dictation” and “succeeded in making a credible record” according to Ed Morearty in “Omaha Memories”.

In the 1900s, Mr. Broatch continued his business career. He became part owner of the Omaha Barb Wire Fence and Nail Company and Uncle Sam’s Breakfast Food Co. He and his wife, Julia Schnieder, were the parents of two sons.

Mr. Broatch died in 1922 at Lord Lister hospital following a brief illness. An Omaha Bee editorial eulogized him as “a friend to be valued and an antagonist respected.”

Charles H. Brown

March 6, 1867 – March 4, 1868

Charles Brown was born in Stephentown, New York in 1834. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1860 and in June of that year came to Omaha. He assisted in the construction of the Pacific Telegraph across the plains for about one year. Mr. Brown was appointed prosecuting attorney for Douglas County in 1862. While in that post he secured the conviction of Cyrus Tator, who was the first man legally executed in the Nebraska Territory.

In 1864 he was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention and the territorial legislature. In 1865 he was elected to the City Council. Mr. Brown became mayor in 1867, shortly before Nebraska became the 37th state of the union. His accomplishments during his year as chief executive were impressive. On entering office the city had a $60,000 deficit; on leaving it, there was a cash balance of over $8,000. Serving also as ex-officio judge of the City Court, Mayor Brown tried over 4,000 cases.

In 1875, he was again a member of the Constitutional Convention, which framed the state constitution. He began the first of several terms in the State Senate in 1876. Mr. Brown won the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in 1884, barely losing in the general election.

As he approached his death in April 1897, Mr. Brown left directions regarding his funeral. Those included that “everything that looks like ostentatious display be eliminated from the ceremonies.”

31 Dan Butler cropDan Bernard Butler

May 26, 1936 – May 29, 1945

Dan Butler did not fare well as a football coach. After the Creighton University team that he helped coach lost in 1905 to Morningside and Bellevue College, the Bluejays were throttled by the Nebraska Cornhuskers 103 – 0. Perhaps that is why Mr. Butler steered toward politics and public service.

He had become a bookkeeper in the county clerk’s office in 1902, then won the city clerk election in 1906. Mr. Butler served as a city commissioner from 1912 to 1927 and again from 1933 to 1945, heading up various city departments. His fellow commissioners elected him mayor in 1936, 1939 and 1942.

Born in Ottawa, IL in 1879, the young Mr. Butler moved with his family to Omaha when he was seven. After graduating from Creighton University, where he was a star fullback, he kept books for the Union Pacific and Pacific Express before beginning his civic career. His only years out of a government post were from 1927 to 1933, when he worked as a coal dealer and then for the state banking and insurance department.

When he took office as mayor, he had accumulated 28 years as a public servant – with over half of that time as a city commissioner – leading supporters to call him “Omaha’s most experienced mayor”. The hallmarks of Mr. Butler’s mayoral terms were sound finance, low taxes and impartial and effective law enforcement. He wanted to stamp out vice and “gun-toting rats”.

Though he was backed by the Dennison political machine in the early days, he developed an independent streak that ruffled the feathers of the underworld boss. When the mayor was frustrated with the inability of law enforcement to crack down on illegal bookmaking, he had City Attorney Seymour Smith draw up an occupation tax on those establishments. It took a year before a district judge ruled that one couldn’t tax an illegal business.

The lifelong bachelor told a reporter at the end of his nine years as mayor that the public valued his straight talk. “People knew where I stood. I never tried to play both ends against the middle. When I took a stand, I stuck to it.”

He was proud that no scandals darkened his days as mayor. “I was never called a crook. I think that is a pretty fine compliment,” said Mayor Butler. He noted the city’s reduction in bonded indebtedness and the strengthening of the police and fire departments during his tenure.

One of his longtime backers, noted about his friend: “Dan is the same before election as after election – mean both times.” Mr. Butler was labeled variously as gruff, self righteous, blunt and pugnacious. Cheery was not in his vocabulary. As mayor he dominated the council so completely that detractors called it “Dan Butler and the six Charley McCarthys.”

He was not known as an innovator but as a guardian of the people’s interests. He was also the self-appointed guardian of the city’s morals. He lobbied to remove the word “damn” from the Pulitzer prize-winning “Idiot’s Delight”, banned “Tobacco Road”, told Sally Rand to keep her clothes on, and ordered Mari Sandoz’s novel “Slogum House” off the shelves. He apparently bestowed his imprimatur on two movies that premiered in Omaha during his reign: Union Pacific and Boys Town.

Mr. Butler’s term ended when he finished last in a field of 14 in the 1945 election. When he sought to reenter politics in 1948, the Omaha World-Herald slammed him, referring to his administration as “drowsy” and “do-nothing”.

When Mr. Butler succumbed just five years later to a lung malignancy, the same newspaper praised his long years of public service, “particularly during his war against the gangs. Dan Butler served Omaha well and earned the gratitude of all the people.”

While still serving as mayor, Mr. Butler had the chance to have a street named in his honor. He turned it down. “I didn’t like the idea of anyone driving over me.”

Smith Samuel Caldwell

April 18, 1871 – April 9, 1872

Smith Caldwell ventured west from his native New York and arrived in Omaha in 1859. Though trained as a lawyer, he found the legal business dull and joined Ezra and Joseph Millard in their banking firms. He later affiliated with Charles Hamilton in a firm that eventually merged into the United States National Bank.

Mr. Caldwell built the Caldwell block – on the south side of Douglas Street between 13th and 14th streets – which housed among other businesses the Academy of Music. He was instrumental in erecting the Grand Central Hotel. He was a director of the South Omaha Land Syndicate, the forerunner to the Union Stockyards Co. A man of scholarly tastes and refinement, Mr. Caldwell sat on the first board of the Omaha Public Library.

He died at just 49 years of age in 1884 and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

16 Champion ChaseChampion S. Chase

April 13, 1874 – April 9, 1877
April 7, 1879 – April 12, 1881
April 10, 1883 – June 30, 1884

Though chosen as the city’s top elected official four times, Champion S. Chase was one of only two Omaha mayors to be removed from office. Educated as a teacher in his native New Hampshire, Mr. Chase later studied law in New York. He had a successful legal and political career in Wisconsin prior to service in the Civil War, during which he reached the rank of colonel.

Shortly after arriving in Omaha in 1867, he was appointed state attorney general. He was also elected to the board of trustees of Brownell Hall, then a school for young ladies. In 1869 he was appointed a regent of the state university.

After losing in his first bid for the mayor’s job, Mr. Chase was elected in 1874. As mayor, he favored extensive public improvements and recommended the establishment of a system of parks and boulevards. Commenting on the underside of the city during Mr. Chase’s tenure, author Ed F. Morearty in “Omaha Memories” said Omaha was run “free and easy, saloons were numerous and never closed, gambling was wide open” and “cheap, rough and tough theaters were numerous and limitless as to conduct.”

At the mayor’s impeachment trial on June 30, 1884, the city council voted unanimously to remove Mr. Chase from office for reasons of drunkenness, incompetence by reason of drunkenness, derangement of the nervous system and neglect of duty. The loss of his wife, Mary, to cancer in 1882 may have contributed to his ill health and financial difficulties. Council member Patrick Murphy completed his term.

Though stained by his removal from office, Mr. Chase carried with him a reputation as a brilliant orator and lifelong friend of the oppressed. One of his final civic positions was as president of the state humane society. A southwest Nebraska county (Chase) and a town within that county (Champion) are named for him. He died in 1898. His son, Clement, for 50 years published the society newspaper, the Omaha Excelsior.

Glenn C. Cunningham

May 25, 1948 – May 25, 1954

In 1948 Glenn Cunningham became Omaha’s first native son to claim the title of mayor. At 35 years of age he also ranks as the youngest man ever elected to the office, barely edging James Dworak. By the time his political career ended in 1990, he had served two years on the Omaha School Board, one year as a city commissioner, six years as mayor, 14 years as Second District Congressman and another 14 on the governing board of Metropolitan Community College.

His only political defeat came in 1970, when he lost the Republican Congressional primary to John McCollister. It was a loss that left him bitter for nearly two years. In a 1972 interview Cunningham said the “old line” Republicans thought he wasn’t partisan enough. “I never got along with the Republican hierarchy. I figured I should represent all the people.”

In a letter to constituents at the conclusion of his Congressional terms, Mr. Cunningham described himself as a “work horse” rather than a “show horse.” He said he was proud that his “record, honesty and integrity have never been attacked.” He noted that he pioneered the mailing of regular reports on his activities, at his own expense.

Disappointed that nothing was named for him after 30 years in public service, Mr. Cunningham was later rewarded when a 395-acre lake in northwest Omaha was named Glenn Cunningham Lake. It was an appropriate honor, for Mr. Cunningham had a hand in creating the lake by urging Congress to authorize flood control projects on the Papio Creek. Flooding of the creek in 1964 and 1965 caused the deaths of seven Omahans.

Another flood — the Missouri River flood of 1952 — figured prominently in Mr. Cunningham’s mayoral administration. Mr. Cunningham called the flood “the greatest crisis in Omaha’s history so far as the Missouri River is concerned.” It caused nearly $300 million in damage statewide. Sioux City took the brunt of the flood, with much of it eight feet under water. The river crested in Omaha at 30 feet, the highest on record.

In a 2002 interview with Nebraska Educational Television, Mr. Cunningham said the city’s Civil Defense team — formed as a Cold War precaution — led the fight against the flood waters. With military organization and precision, they devised a plan that kept most of Omaha dry. Some 35,000 volunteers began topping levees on both sides of the river with about five feet of sandbags and boards, stretching along nearly 15 miles of shoreline.

Highlights of Mayor Cunningham’s six years were meetings with Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, and visits by ambassadors and world leaders, he said. He was proud of city improvements that included a new garbage disposal plan, a new Department of Street Transportation, an improved Library and Health Department and better wages and street conditions for city workers. Mr. Cunningham said he worked the hardest to acquire low-cost housing for the poor.

His first three years were the roughest, Mayor Cunningham said when assessing the job. He offered to resign in November 1949 if a majority of the City Council favored it. Frustrated that none of his fellow commissioners would advance his budget, Mr. Cunningham declared, “There is a deliberate campaign to sabotage everything I do.” The mayor received an outpouring of support to stay on the job. He waged a battle with the Omaha World-Herald over the newspaper’s advocacy of a city manager government.

Prior to his time as a City Commissioner, he served seven years as manager of the Omaha Safety Council. Mr. Cunningham also sold insurance and worked briefly for the Chamber of Commerce. He replaced the late Joe Dolan on the City Council in 1947 and was named Fire Commissioner. He was elected to the Omaha School Board in 1946 and kept that post nearly a year into his mayoral term, resigning in February 1949.

The son of a plumber, he grew up in South Omaha and graduated from South High and the University of Omaha. He later said, “It is gratifying to me to have been born of humble parents in South Omaha and to have risen through the ranks and become personal friends of our country’s great leaders, including six presidents.” He showed his bi-partisan nature by naming Lyndon Baines Johnson the friendliest and most compassionate of the presidents.

He died in 2003 at the age of 91 and is buried at Hillcrest Cemetery. His wife, Janis, died in 1987. He was survived by six children — Glenn Jr., James, David, Judith, Mary and Ann.

Richard C. Cushing

January 7, 1890 – January 5, 1892

When James Boyd turned down the nomination for mayor, Democrats nominated Richard Cushing, who had served as a representative to the Nebraska Legislature in 1889. Though a relative unknown, he easily defeated George Lininger for the mayoral post.

Mr. Cushing was out of town when he was nominated and was also away from the city during the election, necessitating his notification of the developments by telegram.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Cushing noted — in describing Omaha’s “wide, clean and well paved streets,” wonderful growth, solid and substantial prosperity of business and manufacturing enterprises, numerous, excellent schools and thousands of handsome dwellings — that “all have contributed to give our city a name that is second to none of the newer great cities of our country.” He urged his city council to leave “nothing undone or untried” in advancing the city.

Mr. Cushing taught school in Wisconsin until the outbreak of the Civil War. Assigned to the quartermaster’s department, he later rose to post superintendent at Fort Morgan, Colorado. Following the war the Rochester, New York native settled in Plattsmouth, where he lived for 15 years. A 10-year member of the city council, he was “the moving spirit in the growth and enterprise of that thriving city,” according to an obituary in The True Voice.

Mr. Cushing came to Omaha in the mid-1880s and formed the railroad contracting firm of Mallory, Cushing & Co. He was named president of the East Omaha Land Company, which he helped organize in 1887. After his term as mayor in 1892, he became a vice president of Nebraska National Bank.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1906 and died there in 1913.

25 Mayor Dahlman cropJames C. Dahlman

May 21, 1906 – May 13, 1918
May 17, 1921 – January 21, 1930

James C. Dahlman had lived a full and varied life even before he began the first of seven terms as mayor of Omaha in 1906. Elected to the municipal post at age 49, Mr. Dahlman was a popular figure both locally and nationally during his 21 years in office.

Though he was sometimes blamed for Omaha’s rough and tumble reputation, Mr. Dahlman won the admiration of friends and opponents alike. He was seen as loyal, just, honest, compassionate and a friend to the common man — traits that helped him win an unprecedented string of mayoral elections.

Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, the Texas-born former cattle drover brought a practical and homespun style to Omaha politics. When confronted about his lack of schooling during his first campaign, Mr. Dahlman retorted, “No, I guess I’m not educated. But folks, if you elect me mayor and any ordinance comes up that takes away one red cent unjustly, I’ll just write, ‘Nothin doin’.’ Any sucker that can’t understand that ain’t as well educated as I am.”

His status as “perpetual mayor” owed a heavy debt to political boss Tom Dennison, the shadowy figure who ran Omaha’s underworld in the first three decades of the twentieth century. But Mr. Dahlman won his first election with little support from Mr. Dennison, defeating Erastus

Benson, the candidate of the “Law and Order League.” Mr. Dahlman favored a hands-off policy toward the vice — mainly in the form of gambling and prostitution— that flourished in the downtown area known as the Third Ward. Boss Dennison responded by throwing his support behind “Cowboy Jim.” Since 1892 Mr. Dennison had been the middleman between gamblers, saloon owners and brothel keepers on one side and police and politicians on the other. Even after Nebraska went “dry” in 1917, liquor flowed through the ward, supplied by Dennison-supported bootleggers.

Born in DeWitt County, Texas in 1856, Mr. Dahlman had little formal education but had become a state horse-riding champion by age 17. His reason for leaving Texas in 1878 is contested. The mayor stated that he had killed his brother-in-law during an argument and came to Nebraska under an assumed identity. Some historians say he was wanted by the Texas Rangers for cattle rustling.

Mr. Dahlman worked as a cowboy and ranch hand in Nebraska and Wyoming. He became foreman at the N Bar Ranch near Gordon, Nebraska. He got his first taste of politics serving on the Chadron City Council in 1884. He also served as Dawes County Sheriff and later as mayor of Chadron. During those years he forged a friendship with William Jennings Bryan and became prominent in the Nebraska Democratic Party. He became party chairman and nominated Mr. Bryan for president in 1896.

He moved to Omaha in 1898 and took a job as a livestock commissioner. Along with his wife, Abbie, and daughters, Ruth and Dorothy, Mr. Dahlman moved into a modest house at 2901 Hickory. Though relatively unknown in Omaha, he was approached by Democratic leaders to run for mayor in 1906. He was a natural campaigner who drew large crowds; his lariat skills and frontier tales were part of his appeal.

In explaining his popularity, Dahlman noted he had provided an honest, economical, liberal administration. “Justice where justice belongs, not only to the rich, but to the humblest man or woman.” Mr. Dahlman noted his heavy use of pardons, forgiving some 8,000 people. He often gave in to wives who pleaded for the release of their husbands.

Some contend that popularity was his greatest achievement and that he accomplished little during his many terms. But Mr. Dahlman did push through the state legislature a constitutional amendment that authorized “home rule” in Omaha, allowing the city a measure of autonomy. The “home rule” amendment was approved by voters in 1912. That same year the state legislature also approved for Omaha the commission form of government. Though his political opponents hoped it would unseat him, Mr. Dahlman continued to win the mayoral seat through election by his fellow commissioners.

He advocated public ownership of utilities, pressed for the construction or railroad viaducts and oversaw the city’s burgeoning parks and boulevard system. A lover of the city’s children, Mayor Dahlman organized both an annual Christmas party and spring picnic for Omaha’s youth.

During Mayor Dahlman’s reign, the city grew from a town of 132,000 in 1906 to a metropolis with a population of 214,000 in 1930. South Omaha and Dundee in 1915 and Benson and Florence in 1917 were added to the count through annexation. Omaha strengthened its image as a leading grain, dairy and meat packing center and had become home to an increasing number of factories and heavy industry. Mayor Dahlman participated in countless social and philanthropic organizations and entertained hundreds of dignitaries during his time in office.

While preparing to seek his eight term, Mr. Dahlman died at Excelsior Springs, Missouri, where he was trying to regain his health. His death on January 21, 1930 came just 10 days after he had filed for reelection.

He died a poor man, so 15 funeral directors offered to cover all expenses for the mayor’s burial. Seventy-five thousand mourners filed past his casket in city hall. Said Bruce McCullough, editor of the Daily Journal Stockman, following Mr. Dahlman’s death: “I don’t know any man who had more genuine friends or who was more genuinely friendly.”

Mr. Dahlman is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. His name was memorialized through a school, park and avenue that were named for him.

35 James DworakJames J. Dworak

May 22, 1961 – May 24, 1965

James Dworak succeeded Johnny Rosenblatt as mayor of Omaha, and he wanted nothing more than success. He hoped to top Mr. Rosenblatt’s popularity and record of achievement.

But clashes with the media, the city council and business leaders halted progress during his administration. Controversies involving the public safety department, urban renewal and race relations led to a recall campaign. The final nail in his political coffin came when Mr. Dworak, a former mortician, was indicted on bribery charges in his fourth year of office.

Mr. Dworak was born in Omaha and graduated from Tech High in 1943. Following four years in the Army Air Corps, he attended Creighton University for two years. He earned a degree from the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science. He joined his father and brother in the family mortuary business and became a vice president.

When he announced his run for mayor, Mr. Dworak stated, “The people who are for me are sick and tired of being dictated to by a handful of financial and social giants who have held Omaha in the palms of their hands for the past several years.” He upset the candidate favored by most business leaders, squeezing out a 342-vote margin over attorney James F. Green.

He became mayor a few months short of his 36th birthday, having served four years on the city council prior to his run for mayor. At his swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Dworak, wearing his trademark bow tie, said, “I approach the position with humility and a complete desire to be the best mayor Omaha ever had.” City Council President Harry Trustin expected “nothing but great success the next four years.”

But the four years of Mayor Dworak’s term were rough and stormy. He had a contentious relationship with the Omaha World-Herald, and at one time published his own newspaper, countering what he considered unfair treatment by the “local daily” and “dedicated to the unHeralded facts.”

While the first 18 months of the Dworak administration were not the smooth ride he had hoped for, the road became especially rocky in early 1963 when vetoes and veto overrides became commonplace. Shortly after the World-Herald questioned the removal of Captain Ted Janning as head of the vice unit, Mr. Dworak told construction magnate Peter Kiewit, then owner of the newspaper, that none of his representatives was welcome at City Hall. The next day he canceled all subscriptions to the paper.

At the midpoint of Mr. Dworak’s term, the World-Herald called him one of city’s most controversial mayors, noting his propensity to prowl the city on pre-dawn vice raids targeting dice games and illegal drinking. He had fired public safety director Joseph Thornton just six months after luring him from the FBI. He suspended and later demoted Police Chief C. Harold Ostler to captain.

Mr. Dworak tangled with Ak-Sar-Ben leaders. He wanted a tax on horse racing as a way to repay the track’s “drain on the city,” and he favored annexing the racetrack.

Mr. Dworak had a tendency to assemble large committees to study city problems. A 58-member bi-racial committee that studied job and housing discrimination was assailed by some as too cumbersome to accomplish anything substantive. The Rev. Rudolph McNair, a 4CL founder, led a group of 120 supporters through downtown Omaha to protest the futility of the committee. The mayor attempted to prevent the march.

In early 1963 another large assemblage, the mayor’s Post Office Committee, deliberated for just 50 minutes before unanimously recommending razing the Post Office and offering the property for private development. Pushed by some in the name of urban renewal, it was a decision still lamented by preservationists.

Mayor Dworak claimed among the successes of his administration construction of the Missouri River sewage treatment plant; new swimming pools, golf courses and housing for the aged; revamping the police communications system; and cooling racial unrest. “Omaha is a better place because I was there,” said Mr. Dworak in one of his rare returns to the city. Though he was sometimes ridiculed for his stubbornness, Mr. Dworak had his supporters. City Clerk Mary Cornett described him as “funny, kind, outgoing and considerate.”

Just six months prior to the bribery and conspiracy charges that led to his ouster, the mayor was the target of a recall effort, primarily due to vice squad shakeups. The bribery charges were levied after Mayor Dworak agreed to accept a $25,000 campaign contribution from Chicago developer John Coleman in exchange for not vetoing a zoning change. Mr. Coleman wanted to build upscale townhomes at 81st and Farnam Streets.

City Councilmen Ernest Adams and Stephen Novak and two others were found guilty of soliciting bribes. Mayor Dworak was acquitted even though he was caught on tape agreeing to accept the campaign contribution. Mr. Dworak claimed he was trying to entrap Mr. Coleman

A.V. Sorensen swamped the incumbent mayor by nearly 24,000 votes in the 1965 election. Mr. Dworak left Omaha before he was acquitted of charges in the Coleman case in February 1966. He moved to California, where he lived the last half of his life in a sort of self-imposed exile. He ran a retail carpet business, sold insurance, and briefly operated a teen night club named The Morgue, with decor that included coffins and mortuary furnishings. For a time he subsisted off social security disability income.

He died at the Fresno (CA) Veterans Administration Medical Center in 2002 at age 77 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. The local newspaper, The Los Banos Enterprise, said Mr. Dworak “loved to sing, laugh, tell jokes and stories.” He was survived by sons Andrew and Alan, and daughters Michaela, Claudia, Jennifer and Paula.

Addison R. Gilmore

March 15, 1864 – March 9, 1865

When the United States Land Office opened in the State House building at 9th and Farnam on March 17, 1857, Addison Gilmore served as receiver. Jesse Lowe, who just 15 days before had been elected mayor, was the first to seek title on 320 acres of land within the city limits.

Mr. Gilmore came to Omaha in 1854 and took a very active part in all matters pertaining to the business, civic and Masonic life of the community, being closely allied in these activities with George Armstrong and Alfred D. Jones. Because of his activity and interest in the United States Congress in the building of a railroad to the Pacific coast, he has been referred to as the first railroad lobbyist. He was a charter member of the Old Settlers Association of Omaha and Douglas County that formed in January 1866. He died that same year at the age of 61.

6 Benjamin KennedyBenjamin Eli Barnet Kennedy

November 5, 1862 – March 15, 1864

Attorney Benjamin Kennedy, a Vermont native, came to Omaha in 1858. He was active in politics, serving as mayor, city solicitor and as a representative or councilman for three territorial legislative sessions. For eight years following his term as mayor, Mr. Kennedy served as director of Omaha’s public schools and oversaw the construction of the city’s first school buildings. In 1872 he was appointed to the state board of education. He was elected a member of the lower house of the state legislature in 1879.

Mayor Kennedy presided at the groundbreaking for the Union Pacific Railroad on December 2, 1863 that drew more than 1,000 citizens. A telegram from New York had announced President Abraham Lincoln’s choice of Omaha for the eastern terminus of the railroad. That same day at two o’clock, a crowd gathered near the ferry landing, speeches were delivered, and the soil was stirred with picks and spades. Noting that the crowd was “elated and buoyant,” Mayor Kennedy said, “The breaking of ground and the inauguration of the great Union Pacific railway have just taken place here, in front of the infant city. This is a momentous occasion.”

In an interview during his retirement years, Mr. Kennedy noted the low pay of the mayor’s office. “The salary of the office at the time was nix and the patronage was next to it. So, while I was mayor, I had to practice law harder than ever. I couldn’t give my whole time to it.”

Mr. Kennedy gained a reputation as an expert in estate and title law. He formed a law partnership with George Gilbert in 1875, a practice that continued for 20 years. An avid hunter and sportsman, he authored a bill to establish the state’s Fish Commission and was a charter member of the Sportsman’s Club, organized to protect game in the state.

He reached the age of 89, passing away in 1916. Mr. Kennedy was the last of the “old school” attorneys of Omaha. He was survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Frances Nims, a son, William, and a daughter, Frances.

Charles W. Leeman

May 29, 1945 – May 25, 1948

Colorful, innovative and energetic, Charles Leeman received high marks for his three years as mayor. His major accomplishment was the City-Wide plan, a long-term development blueprint that received national recognition. In a 13-page spread in 1947, Life magazine concluded that the plan gave Omaha something it had lost during the depression and World War II days: its capacity to dream.

The plan was a model of democracy and civic participation; it brought together 168 volunteers who spent thousand of hours assembling and prioritizing the renovation effort. Following voter approval, the plan led to new streets and parks, improved fire and safety facilities, and eventually, to the development of Municipal (Rosenblatt) Stadium and the Civic Auditorium. In urging citizens to accept the plan, the mayor said it would lift the city from its “cow town” stigma.

Mayor Leeman began an effort to rid Omaha of smog, when smog was hardly a household term. He also led the effort to consolidate city and county health departments. Mr. Leeman advocated a strong aviation development program and recommended an airport capable of accommodating the largest airplanes.

He was perhaps more famous for his colorful ties and always-present cigar than for his policies. Mr. Leeman amassed a collection of 7,500 ties, though he later gave away most of them. When he entered a department store, he would usually walk away with five or six new acquisitions. “I buy them like some people buy bananas,” he once said. His wardrobe was usually freshened by a tie change at midday.

An insurance salesman by trade, the native Texan came to Omaha in 1931 to troubleshoot for his Kansas City-based firm. Expecting to stay only a few months, Mr. Leeman liked Omaha and decided to make it his home. In 1933 he started his own insurance firm.

Mr. Leeman’s only public service prior to running for city commissioner came as chairman of the Downtown Ration Board during World War II. He won over holdovers from Mayor Butler’s administration by “smothering them with fairness.” Said Mr. Leeman, “I took a lot of political heat for them.” In doing so, Mayor Leeman may have cut his own political career short.

In the 1948 election, five of Mayor Leeman’s colleagues from the Good Government League were elected, though Mr. Leeman himself placed 13th among 14 candidates.  Former Mayor Dan Butler, who placed ninth, took particular delight in Mr. Leeman’s defeat. “I feel pretty good about this,” said Mr. Butler. “I took Mr. Leeman out of the picture.” Following his defeat, Mr. Leeman stated, “I feel that I can maintain, even through abuse and injury, the eternal satisfaction of a good conscience and the fact that I have done my best.”

Mr. Leeman ran unsuccessfully for city commissioner in 1951 and 1954. In 1956 he was appointed to the State Board of Control, which oversaw Nebraska’s mental health facilities. He became board chairman in 1959.

Mr. Leeman maintained an active insurance business into his 70s. He died at age 85 in 1979 following a long illness. He was survived by his wife, Mary, and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. A. V. Sorensen, who followed as mayor some 20 years after Mr. Leeman’s term, said of his predecessor: “He was interested in everything that was good for Omaha.”


1 Jesse LoweJesse Lowe

March 5, 1857 – March 2, 1858

Some claim that North Carolina native Jesse Lowe named the city of Omaha. He was one of the first to claim land here and was a real estate developer in the fledgling city. Along with his brother, Dr. Enos Lowe, he was an organizer of the Lone Tree Ferry Co. and the subsequent Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Co. His land on the west end of Cuming Street was known as Oak Grove Farm. After Omaha City was incorporated in 1857, Mr. Lowe was elected its first mayor. Mr. Lowe studied law but never practiced the profession. He had the exclusive privilege of trading with the Indian tribes at the adjacent agency. He built the first banking house in Omaha, which later became the United States National Bank. The father of four children, Mr. Lowe is described by James Savage in “History of the City of Omaha” as a man of “sound judgment and excellent principles.” He died in 1868 at the age of 53.

Richard Lee Metcalfe

February 4, 1930 – May 16, 1933

During his inaugural address Mayor Richard L. Metcalfe urged citizens to acquire the “Omaha habit” of boosting their city at every possible opportunity. The new mayor said the future of Omaha was promising and that “united effort” was all that was necessary to make their city one of the great cities.

Though he stated he would not make any startling changes, shortly after taking office he called on Police Commissioner Henry Dunn to snuff out gang warfare after a car at 32nd and Farnam was hit with more than 40 bullets and shotgun slugs. He also severely curbed the pardoning policies of his predecessor.

Born in Upper Alton, Illinois in 1861, the son of a military surgeon, Mr. Metcalfe became a printer’s apprentice as a teen in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He soon advanced to assistant editor. After marrying Bessie Buehler in 1885, the Metcalfes moved to Omaha. Mr. Metcalfe started as a cub reporter for the Omaha Bee, then moved to the Omaha World-Herald, where he was a Lincoln and Washington correspondent. He ascended to editor-in-chief, but stepped down in favor of William Jennings Bryan after he lost the first of his presidential bids in 1896. The two friends later edited The Commoner, a weekly political newspaper, from 1905 to 1913. Mr. Metcalfe also published the weekly Omaha Nebraskan from 1914 to 1920.

Mr. Metcalfe ran for a number of political posts; he twice sought the U.S. Senate seat and made a bid to be Nebraska governor in 1910. He was a frequent political appointee. Woodrow Wilson named him the Civil Governor of the Panama Canal Zone in 1912. Following his term as mayor, Mr. Metcalfe was appointed by President Roosevelt as the state director of the National Emergency Council. At one time he had been considered as a running mate for the three-term president.

His long business career included a stint as advertising manager for J. L. Brandeis & Sons department store. In the late 1920s he joined sons Ted and Kenneth in the Metcalfe Company, a realty and building firm. His other children were Lee and Ellen.

In 1938 a four-acre plot at Happy Hollow Boulevard and Country Club Drive was named Metcalfe Park for the former mayor, whose realty company developed the Country Club addition.

Mr. Metcalfe lived to the age of 92, passing away in 1954. Said a World-Herald editorial the day after his death: “Like most of the old-time editor-politicians, Mr. Metcalfe was a man of unswerving party loyalty. The Democrats were right and the Republicans were wrong and that was all there was to it.”

11 Ezra MillardEzra Millard

June 7, 1869 – April 10, 1871

Ezra Millard, founder of the Omaha National Bank, came to Omaha in 1856. He joined his brother, Joseph, and his uncle, Willard Barrows, in forming Barrows, Millard & Co., a land office that later branched into banking. He later partnered with Smith Caldwell to form Millard, Caldwell & Co.

Mr. Millard was elected president of the Omaha National Bank at its inception in 1866 and backed construction of much of Omaha’s early skyline. He held that post until 1884, when he organized the Commercial National Bank. During his term as mayor, he platted the village 12 miles southwest of Omaha that bears this name.

In addition to banking, the native of Hamilton, Canada was engaged in the grain business and was a director of the Omaha Hotel Association, having bankrolled the Millard Hotel in 1882. He helped organize the Omaha Horse Railway Company and was instrumental in starting the city’s library system. He died at the age of 53 while visiting Saratoga, New York in 1886 and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery. Anna, one of four daughters, helped organize the Visiting Nurses Association in 1896.

Joseph Hopkins Millard

April 9, 1872 – April 7, 1873

Though barely 20 years old on his arrival in Omaha in 1856, Joseph Millard quickly established himself as a capable businessman and prominent citizen. His string of successes started with the land office Barrows, Millard and Co. When gold was discovered in Montana, Mr. Millard moved there and operated a bank in Virginia City for three years. He succeeded his brother, Ezra, as president of the Omaha National Bank in 1884. While president he moved the bank to the former New York Life Building (now the Omaha Building), which had been the site of his former home.

Mr. Millard followed his term as mayor with a 15-year stint as director of the Union Pacific Railroad Company. He was one of the organizers of the Omaha Motor Railway Company, the pioneer electric streetcar system.

After losing an earlier bid, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1901 and served one term. He argued in favor of a lock system for the Panama Canal, swaying the majority against the favored sea level option. Senator Millard fought for a $400,000 appropriation for the rebuilding of Fort Omaha, which led to the establishment of a training school for the Signal Corps.

Following his political career, he continued as president, then chairman of the Omaha National Bank. He collapsed and died at a business meeting in January 1922, leaving the bulk of his fortune to his daughter, Jessie.

Lorin Miller

March 9, 1865 – March 6, 1867

Lorin Miller came to Omaha in 1854. He was born in Westmoreland, New York in 1800. After locating in Omaha he was engaged for several years in surveying land and additions to the city. He came here with his wife and three children, though his wife, in ill health, died within a year.

Mr. Miller served on the school board for several years, along with George Lake and Benjamin Kennedy. While serving as mayor for nearly two years, he also held the office of police magistrate. He was a charter member of the Omaha City Council in 1857. The first City Directory published in 1866 noted that the mayor and other city officials had begun work on “permanent improvements which will beautify the city, enhance the value of real estate, and give us a drainage system unsurpassed.”

One of his children, Dr. George Miller, was one of the city’s first physicians and for years edited the Omaha Daily Herald. Mr. Miller himself was a contributor to the Herald and a historian with firsthand knowledge of the city’s prominent citizens. He died of heart failure in 1888 and was buried alongside his wife in Cardif, New York.

Frank E. Moores

May 10, 1897 – March 23, 1906

Civil War veteran Frank Moores was the genial host to hundreds of dignitaries —including President William McKinley — during the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898. Perhaps the most prestigious event to originate in the city, the exhibition drew more than two million people to Omaha during its five-month run.

Born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1840, Mr. Moores worked on riverboats and at various jobs until the Civil War broke out. Enlisting as a private, he was discharged four years later as a captain, being cited for gallant and meritorious conduct in the field. He served with General Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, was wounded in battle several times, and spent a few days in Richmond’s infamous Libby prison.

Returning to Ohio, Mr. Moores ran a general store until 1874, when he became a passenger agent for the Kansas City, St. Joseph and Council Bluffs Railway. A year later he moved to Omaha, where he became a general agent of the Wabash Railroad.

Mr. Moores’ political career began in 1887, when he was elected to the first of two terms as Clerk of the District Court. Though there was no salary, the incumbent drew his income from assessed fees. The Omaha Daily Bee noted that, “This condition made the place by far the best political office from a pecuniary point of view in the state.”

Those fees were a point of contention when Republican Mr. Moores faced Democrat E. E. Howell in the bitterly fought 1897 mayoral election. Former Mayor Broatch refused to relinquish the office to his successor, stating that Mr. Moores was not properly qualified due to the mishandling of funds. The newly elected mayor obtained a writ forcing Mr. Broatch’s ouster. The state Supreme Court later ruled in favor of Mr. Moores and declared him guiltless of any wrongdoing.

Mr. Moores had an open-door policy and would spend hours each day listening to out-of-work laborers and destitute mothers, sometimes providing loans out of his own pocket. He was an ardent supporter of the fire department and consistently advocated improving stations and equipment. After the loss of four firemen in the 1903 Allen Brothers blaze, he berated city council members because they had repeatedly delayed construction of a station at 11th and Jackson streets.

The mayor followed a liberal liquor policy during the Trans-Miss because, as the Omaha Bee noted, “it was the express demand of the business interests that as much personal liberty be permitted as consistent with peace and good order.” That policy made him unpopular with ministers of the day. In 1901 a “blue law” was enacted to protect the Sabbath and to curb drinking, cigar smoking and the sale of seemingly harmless items. The measure was so restrictive that it was soon rescinded.

Mr. Moores’ family consisted of his wife, Katherine, and children, Harry, Adele and Kate. His first wife died in 1898 when she was thrown from a horse. He married his longtime secretary, Mary Malone, in 1905. She was his nurse and constant companion during his final months.

He was the first Omaha mayor to die in office, succumbing to tuberculosis just two months short of completing three full terms. For weeks prior to his death, according to the Omaha Bee, he subsisted on milk and brandy, “being unable to assimilate other nourishment.” City Council President Harry Zimman fulfilled the final two months of his term.

Mr. Moores was the first mayor to have a public funeral. His body laid in state in the city hall rotunda prior to burial at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

2 Andrew Jackson PoppletonAndrew Jackson Poppleton

March 2, 1858 – September 14, 1858

Andrew Jackson Poppleton gained fame as an attorney after arriving in Omaha in 1854. He was a member of the first territorial legislature, where he served as speaker. He became the city’s second mayor, though he served less than seven months of the one-year term.

Along with John Webster, he successfully defended Ponca Chief Standing Bear in the landmark 1879 trial that set legal precedent in granting Indians status as persons under the law.

Mr. Poppleton argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and for many years was an attorney for the Union Pacific Railroad. He built the Poppleton Block, an Italianate structure that typifies early commercial buildings constructed in Omaha. Having grown up on a farm in Michigan, his agricultural interests continued in later life. He farmed and raised trotting horses on 1200 acres near Elkhorn. In later life he served as city attorney and as director of the Omaha Public Library. He died in 1896 and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

Poppleton Avenue was named for him.

George M. Roberts

March 4, 1868 – June 7, 1869

A relative newcomer to Omaha, George Roberts was bitterly opposed by the Omaha Daily Herald during his bid to become mayor. Accused by the newspaper of coveting the “radical” vote and assailed because of his relative youth and inexperience, Roberts won the race against former mayor Lorin Miller. (Herald editor George Miller was the son of the former mayor.)

Roberts served for 15 months, at the same time trying cases as police magistrate. He lost the next election and immediately left for Quincy, Illinois, where he joined his father in the hardware business.


John R. Rosenblatt

May 25, 1954 – May 22, 1961

Johnny Rosenblatt, the man whose name is synonymous with baseball in Omaha, led his hometown with warmth and optimism. One of six children born to Jewish immigrants, he started selling newspapers at age 7. He seemed a natural salesman, whether it was pitching papers, the municipal stadium project or the city at large.

Mr. Rosenblatt was more than just a baseball fan, he was a top outfielder in amateur and semipro leagues for nearly 20 years. He played many games at Rourke Park near 15th and Vinton, the predecessor to Municipal Stadium. As a semipro player, under the name Johnny Ross, Mr. Rosenblatt faced Satchel Paige, the famed Negro League pitcher. “I never saw a pitch travel so fast in all my life,” he said of the experience. He also played in a 1927 exhibition with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

The mayor won many friends and accolades during his career in sports and politics. He was called “the supreme gentleman” by Archbishop Gerald T. Bergan. Longtime City Clerk Mary Galligan Cornett said he was “absolutely the greatest guy you ever knew.” City Planning Director Alden Aust described him as “one of the best and most successful mayors I have known.” Aust continued his praise, listing Mr. Rosenblatt’s attributes as friendly, gentle, optimistic, trusting and self-effacing.

After starring as an athlete at Technical High School, Mr. Rosenblatt attended the University of Iowa on a baseball scholarship but had to leave college to help support his family. He played basketball briefly at Omaha University. The young Mr. Rosenblatt played baseball in sandlot leagues for a few years, then Roberts Dairy came calling for the left-handed outfielder in 1933. The company wanted him for its fast-pitch Omaha League team. He got more than a position on the team, he landed a sales job. Thus began a relationship with Roberts that lasted more than 20 years. Mr. Rosenblatt even returned to the dairy after his political career.

In the early 1940s, Mr. Rosenblatt and several businessmen were seeking a AAA baseball franchise for Omaha. The idea for building a ballpark received major impetus in 1944 when Omaha was ruled out as a possible site for an American Association franchise because it lacked a suitable stadium. Rourke Park had burned to the ground in 1936.

Mr. Rosenblatt and his friend Eddie Jelen were the prime movers behind the stadium push. As chairman of the Municipal Stadium Sports Committee, Mr. Rosenblatt approached the city council to request a referendum in April 1945 for a stadium bond issue. By a 3 to 1 margin, voters approved a $480,000 bond issue. A second bond issue of $280,000 was needed in 1948 to complete the infield, install lights and finish parking lots.

Mr. Rosenblatt ran for city commissioner in 1948, primarily on platform to complete the stadium project properly. The inaugural event in October 1948 drew some 15,000 fans, who saw major leaguers and Nebraska natives Rex Barney, Richie Ashburn and Johnny Hoop compete against a collection of sandlot and minor league players.

In his zeal to promote the new stadium, Mr. Rosenblatt proposed some outlandish proposals that did not materialize, such as Nebraska vs. Notre Dame and Army vs. Omaha University football games. He did pull off a Los Angeles Rams-New York Giants exhibition football game that attracted 13,000 fans and generated $9,000 for Childrens Hospital. He also arranged for the American Legion’s Little World Series, which drew 47,000 fans over several days.

He joined Ed Pettis and Morris Jacobs in persuading the NCAA to relocate its men’s championship baseball series to Omaha’s new stadium. In 1950 the College World Series settled into Municipal Stadium after two years in Kalamazoo, Michigan and one in Wichita. In a 1971 B’nai B’rith salute, Mr. Rosenblatt said the College World Series has been “an inspiration to the youth of our community.”

His original goal for the stadium was fulfilled in 1955, when the St. Louis Cardinals brought a AAA baseball team to Municipal Stadium. The Omaha Cardinals occupied the stadium until 1959. Mr. Rosenblatt then negotiated with the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose Omaha Dodgers farm team played two years at the stadium.

Though he threatened to resign in 1949, Mr. Rosenblatt served admirably in public life, first as public property commissioner and then as street commissioner. He was first elected mayor in 1954. In 1957, midway through his seven years tenure, he became the first mayor since James Dahlman directly elected by the people. A change in the city charter called for direct election of the mayor rather than the commissioner-appointed system that had been in place since 1912.

In a 1961 interview, Mr. Rosenblatt named diplomacy as perhaps the crucial skill that defined his political career. “My main effort has been aimed toward avoiding fights,” he said. “So much of the work of a city administrator is a matter of public relations or human relations.” Mr. Rosenblatt learned to compromise after the defeat of the Omaha Plan, a massive — and expensive — public improvement proposal in 1958. He was able to convince voters to approve bond issues for the most crucial needs, such as sewage treatment plants. The mayor was proud of the 20 percent growth Omaha recorded through annexations. The Interstate highway system was started in Omaha during his term.

In June 1961, just after James Dworak had assumed the mayor’s office, Mr. Rosenblatt received a lifetime pass to the stadium he built. Three year later the city council voted unanimously to name it Rosenblatt Stadium.

Ironically, as head of the Chamber of Commerce Sports Committee in 1963, Mr. Rosenblatt appointed a subcommittee to review the possibility of a downtown stadium.

Parkinson’s disease had started to slow Mr. Rosenblatt late in his mayoral term. He underwent brain surgery procedures and drug interventions, but the disease persisted. Mr. Rosenblatt died on October 29, 1979. He was laid to rest at Beth El Cemetery at age 71.

Mr. Rosenblatt was married to the former Freeda Brodkey for 39 years. His son, Steve, served on the Omaha City Council from 1973 to 1981 and as a Douglas County Commissioner from 1981 to 1995. He now lives in Phoenix.

Edward Parsons Smith

May 13, 1918 – May 17, 1921

Shortly after his death, Ed P. Smith was called “one of the bravest and best men I ever knew” by interim Mayor Richard Metcalfe. Mr. Smith is best remembered as the mayor who nearly lost his life attempting to prevent Omaha’s most horrific hate crime, the lynching of Will Brown in 1919.

An imposing figure with a square jaw and a booming voice, Mr. Smith was himself strung up when he tried to dissuade a mob who demanded that he relinquish Mr. Brown, a black prisoner being held in the courthouse jail for the alleged rape of a white woman. The mayor lost consciousness but was saved when a police detective cut him down. The prisoner was dragged out of the courthouse and hanged. Rioters burned his body and dragged it through the streets.

That ugly episode in Omaha history apparently haunted Mr. Smith the rest of his life. Newspaper reports stated that he suffered a nervous breakdown prior to his death in 1930.

Born on a farm near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Mr. Smith went to work at an early age; both parents had died by the time he was 17. While once interested in medicine, he gravitated toward law. After earning a law degree from the University of Iowa, Mr. Smith moved to Seward, Nebraska, where he practiced law for five years. He arrived in Omaha in 1890. His law partners included C. J. Smyth and J. B. Sheehan. He represented the Omaha Grain Exchange, where he became a specialist in interstate commerce law. He spent two years as Nebraska’s assistant attorney general.

Though he held no political office prior to becoming mayor, Mr. Smith was active in the Democratic Party. He campaigned for William Jennings Bryan beginning with his first bid for president in 1896.

Reformers had tried to unseat James Dahlman since he first took office in 1906 but had failed in three elections. By the 1918 election, moderate and radical reformers had formed a coalition that — bolstered by the state’s recently enacted prohibition law and the desire to clean up a corrupt police force — was able to claim victory over Mr. Dahlman’s ticket for the first time. The uneasy alliance between moderates and reformers proved to be the undoing of the coalition once in office. Generally they favored making Omaha safer and cleaner and to offer no asylum for “the burglar, the boodler or the bootlegger.” But John Dean Ringer, a South Omaha attorney who became police commissioner, sought a zealous campaign against vice that the other commissioners did not support. Even without the riot and lynching, Mayor Smith’s term is often characterized as chaotic and ineffective.

Though plagued with infighting, Mayor Smith’s administration pushed through public ownership of the Omaha Gas Company. Grading projects on Dodge Street and St. Mary’s Avenue also occurred during his administration.

Mayor Smith did not seek reelection; the reform ticket led by Mr. Ringer was soundly defeated by Mr. Dahlman and his slate in the 1921 election.

Mr. Smith retained an interest in local and national politics after his term as mayor and he continued his work as an attorney. He died four months after Mayor Dahlman, on May 21, 1930. Surviving the mayor were his wife, Margaret; sons, Edward and Lisle; and daughter, Ida.

Roy Nathan Towl

May 16, 1933 – May 26, 1936

Roy N. Towl might be called the father of city planning in Omaha. He served the city of Omaha for about 30 years in administrative posts and worked as a civil engineer for some 60 years.

When Ed Smith urged him to join his reform ticket in 1918, Mr. Towl became the city commissioner in charge of public improvements and city planning. He authored the first “City Planning Needs of Omaha” and led a massive street paving project.

Mr. Towl also served as a city commissioner for the police and fire departments from 1930 to 1933. He organized the Independent Voter’s League in 1933 when he sought reelection. Most of his slate won, and Mr. Towl was chosen mayor. A longtime opponent of the Tom Dennison political machine, he and every candidate on his slate received anonymous death threats during the campaign.

Even after Mr. Dennison’s death in 1934, Mayor Towl felt that the boss’s lieutenants were out to “dig his political grave” in the 1936 election. During a campaign speech, he noted that a high-ranking police officer told him in 1931 that he had never taken orders from anyone except Tom Dennison and never would. “This man is no longer on the police force,” Mayor Towl stated.

In endorsing the incumbent for a second term the Omaha World-Herald noted that Mayor Towl “has proven to be a much better mayor than this newspaper expected. He has fought for economy and efficiency. He has been an exponent of good will … and has been a source of strength to the police administration and Chief (Robert) Samardick.” The newspaper considered the police chief an “incorruptible police officer.”

Joblessness was a chief concern for the mayor, as the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Mayor Towl fought for more jobs through the Works Project Administration. He asked businesses to consider seasonal workers and part-time employees to get more people on the payroll. A violent streetcar strike in the final year of his term kept his tenure to one term.

Even though he lost the 1936 election, he came back to serve three more terms as a city commissioner starting in 1939, heading up the parks and public property commissions. He did raise the ire of Hanscom Park area residents when in 1946 he suggested filling in the park’s “stinking, unhealthy hole” of a lagoon.

A Chicago native, the young Mr. Towl moved with his family to South Omaha when he was five. While still a teen, he joined a Union Pacific surveying crew. At age 19, he became a division engineer for the Rock Island Railroad. After graduating from the Armour Institute of Technology, the future mayor was resident engineer for the Illinois Central.

As a civil engineer his expertise was river flow patterns and flood control. He headed the dredging project and other flood-control efforts on the Big and Little Papio Creeks in the early 1960s. He urged the Army Corps of Engineers to straighten the Missouri River at various points to make it more manageable. Mr. Towl was in demand as an engineering consultant both in this country and abroad.

One of the founders of the Fontenelle Forest Association in 1913, Mr. Towl was honored when a park at 93rd and West Center Road was named in his honor in 1970. Mr. Towl died less than a month short of his 93rd birthday in 1974. He was survived by a son, Andrew, a daughter, Charlotte, and his second wife, Bertha.

Reuben H. Wilbur

April 9, 1877 – April 7, 1879

Reuben Henry Wilbur, born in Chatham, New York in 1825, spent his early life as a merchant and a miller in New Lebanon, New York. In 1856 he became the agent in New York City for the North Middlesex Brown Stone Quarry Company.

Mr. Wilbur married Nancy Hitchcock, the sister of Nebraska Senator Phineas Hitchcock, in 1846; they had eight children. A son was born to his second wife, Martha Hughes, in 1893.

While serving as an officer in the Civil War as a member of the 102nd New York Infantry, Captain Wilbur was cited for meritorious service at Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain and Mission Ridge. Following his military service, he was attached to the Internal Revenue Department.

In 1870 he permanently settled in Omaha and first engaged in the book and stationery business. While serving as mayor for two years, he also served as a Police Judge. In 1880 he was named a traveling auditor for the Union Pacific Railroad.

He died in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1898 and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.


Vertical Files, Douglas County Historical Society Library Archives Center
Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha Daily Herald, Omaha World-Herald, Omaha Sun Newspapers, The True Voice
Omaha City Directories
“History of the City of Omaha and South Omaha” by James W. Savage and John T. Bell
“Omaha: The Gate City and Douglas County Nebraska, A Record of Settlement, Progress and Achievement” by Arthur C. Wakely
“Omaha Memories” by Ed F. Morearty
“History of Omaha: From the Pioneer Days to the Present Time” by Alfred Sorenson
“Mayor Jim: An Epic of the West” by Fred Carey
“Political Bossism in Mid-America: Tom Dennison’s Omaha, 1900-1933” by Orville D. Menard
“A Journey with Seymour” by Harry B. Otis and Donald H. Erickson
“The Gate City: A History of Omaha” by Lawrence H. Larsen and Barbara J. Cottrell
Nebraska History magazine
Nebraska Educational Television Statewide Interactive website

Photos courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society and the City of Omaha Mayor’s Office

Close filters
Products Search
Products Price Filter