(August 25, 1858 - July 6, 1937)
Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds at Iowa State, 1909-1935.
Thomas Sloss was born on August 25, 1858 in Drumgrier, Colmonell Parish, Ayrshire County, Scotland, a son of Andrew Sloss and Martha Campbell Sloss. Little is known of his boyhood in Scotland except that he lived in several communities in Ayrshire including Drumgrier and in Stranraer, Wigtownshire. These areas are all in the southwestern part of Scotland. Ayrshire was also the county where the poet Robert Burns had been born and lived until the age of 27, and Sloss became a life-long enthusiast of the Scottish National Bard's writings. He apparently received some formal education, for in the 1871 Scotland Census, when Sloss was 13, he was listed as a scholar. Also, Sloss became a skilled master carpenter.
In May, 1884, Sloss left Scotland and emigrated to the United States. He came first to Traer, Tama County, Iowa where some of his father's relatives lived, including Iowa's U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury James F. “Tama Jim” Wilson. After a brief time in Traer, Sloss moved to Cedar Rapids and was first employed by a building contractor. Although he knew nothing about heat, light, and power, an officer of the Iowa Railway and Light Company was impressed by Sloss's ingenuity and hired him. Within a few years, Sloss had gained expertise in all those areas, was appointed superintendent of the plant, and became well known and respected in the Cedar Rapids community. Part of his vision of the future was shown when he presented a paper at the Iowa Electrical Association Convention in 1908 in which he advocated the need for grounding all secondary circuits. He was elected to sit on the association's executive committee at the same convention.
Before leaving Scotland, Sloss had become engaged to a young woman, Anne D. Lock(e). She came to New York City about 1887 where they were married after which they proceeded to Iowa. They had eight children; Andrew Campbell, Jean, John Wilson, Grace W., Thomas Jr., Margaret Bragg, Harriet S., and Martha T. Sloss. Although his children all became known in the Ames community over time, Margaret became the best known. She was the first woman to receive a DVM degree from Iowa State (1938) after which she embarked on a very prestigious career in Veterinary Medicine, also at Iowa State.
Sloss had become a close friend of William R. Boyd, who was the chairman of the Finance Committee of the Iowa State Board of Education. In 1909, when Boyd was spearheading the committee's search for a new Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds for Iowa State, he approached Sloss and asked him if he knew anyone “who is pretty nearly as good a man as you are” who could manage the physical plant and superintend construction, Sloss surprised him by saying, “I have eight children to educate. I might be interested in it myself.” It took little time for the Board to hire Sloss to the position that he would manage for the next 26 years.
During those years from 1909 to 1935, Sloss made a sizable contribution to the Iowa State College campus. He was the general contractor for the construction of a Stock Judging Pavilion (1912), a Herdsman's Cottage (1912), a South Studio for Emergency Chemistry (1913), a Poultry Farm (1916), Freeman Hall (1916), Science Hall (1916), a Meat Laboratory (1916-1918), a student hospital (1916-1918) which was renamed the Student Services Building in 1978, a Rendering Plant (1917), a duplex near the Power Plant for Experiment Station workers (1917), Barton Hall (1918), a Field House for Physical Education for Women (1920), the Oak-Elm Lodges and Dining Room (1920), the Armory (1921) and its reconstruction after a fire (1923), a Hog Barn and Pavilion (1922), an Agricultural Engineering Laboratory (1922), a Judging Pavilion (1925), a Veterinary Medicine Research Institute (1927), and an Agricultural Engineering Machine Shed (1931.) Some of these buildings are still extant but many are not.
Sloss was also the contractor for partial construction or repair of other buildings including the installation of plumbing in the Engineering Annex (1910), repair and remodeling of the Farm House (1911), installation of plumbing and desks plus interior remodeling in Gilman Hall (1914), repair of the Stanton House (1914), foundation excavation for Lyon Hall (1914), completion of rooms on the top floor of Lyon Hall (1915), construction of walls around the stadium, later renamed Clyde Williams Field (1914), and adding bracings to the roof trusses of Morrill Hall (1922.) In addition, he made arrangements to house the Music Department after a fire (1912), advocated the construction of a swimming pool (1913), and directed the construction of the dam for Lake LaVerne (1914.)
During these years, the Sloss family lived in various places on the campus. From 1910 to 1924 they lived in a house that had gone under several names but had been called the Klatter Klub just prior to their tenancy. They lived briefly in Lincoln Cottage in 1925 while another house, called “The Pines,” was being readied for them. They lived there from 1925 to 1936, and Sloss made a number of improvements and additions to the house and grounds during that time. The house was later renamed Sloss House in his honor. The building is currently occupied by the Margaret Sloss Women's Center, named for his daughter, Margaret.
Sloss was also very active in the Ames community. He founded the Collegiate Presbyterian Church in his home in 1911 and served as an elder, trustee, and general secretary of the Sunday School. He was president of the Robert Burns Club of Ames. In addition, he was one of the founders of the Association of Superintendents of Buildings and Grounds for State Colleges in America.
Sloss retired from Iowa State in 1935. The next year, he suffered a serious heart attack from which he never recovered. He died at his home on July 6, 1937, and he was interred in Iowa State University Cemetery. The following year, a memorial was established in his honor at Collegiate Presbyterian Church.
Three main sources on the life and career of Thomas Sloss are the Margaret Sloss Papers R/S 14/7/51, Box 2, Folder 16, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University; Facilities Planning and Management R/S 4/8/2. Box 2, Folder 83, also in Special Collections.
H. Summerfield Day, The Iowa State University Campus and Its Buildings 1859-1979. Ames, IA. Iowa State University Press, 1980. The latter source includes dozens of references to Sloss's work on the campus and was used for the listing of the specific work projects in which he was a contractor or manager.
Other general information was found online. Family information, including Public Member Family Trees, the 1871 Scotland Census, the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 U. S. Censuses, a U. S. Passport Application, and family photos were found at ancestryinstitution.com. Interment information was found at findagrave.com.