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Carver, Roy James

Published onJul 30, 2021
Carver, Roy James

(December 15, 1909– June 17, 1981)

Quick Facts

Industrialist and philanthropist



Roy James Carver was born to James R. and Laura (Risley) Carver in Preemption (Mercer County), Illinois. He graduated from high school in Moline, Illinois, in 1927; earned a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois in 1934; and then worked as a highway engineer for the state of Illinois.

During the Depression, in 1938, Carver, with his brother Ralph, founded Carver Pump Company in Matherville, Illinois. Specializing in self-priming pumps, the Carvers' fledgling business soon had the opportunity to supply the U.S. and Allied navies during World War II. The United States' entry into the war in 1941 coincided with Roy Carver's decision to buy out his brother's interests in Carver Pump. The need for a larger production facility for pump manufacturing precipitated a move to Muscatine, Iowa, where Carver purchased an abandoned sauerkraut factory. Muscatine would remain the center for Carver's business operations as well as home for him and his family. Shortly after his move to Muscatine, Carver married Lucille Young in 1942. They raised five children.

Carver Pump remained part of Carver's business assets until his death in 1981, but Bandag, Inc. became synonymous with his success. In 1957 he purchased the North American rights to a "cold" process for manufacturing tires. The "cold" process, invented by Bernard Anton Nowak, cures or vulcanizes rubber tires at lower temperatures than other retreading processes. The name Bandag is from Nowak's initials (BAN), D for Darmstadt (Germany), and AG–the German notation to signify incorporation. Upon Nowak's death in 1961, Carver purchased worldwide rights for the retreading process. "Cold" process retreads proved stronger than tires vulcanized at higher temperatures, but it would take considerable research by Carver's team in Muscatine to develop a tire line that performed to market expectations. Hence, Carver Pump subsidized Bandag in the early years, and Carver is quoted as saying, "We almost brought the Carver Pump Company to its knees during the time we were developing the product [tires] and preparing it for the American market." Research brought key, industry-wide developments, and Carver established franchises, which by the late 1970s would expand to more than 850 dealerships in more than 50 countries. Throughout the 1960s, Carver led Bandag's day-to-day operations and guided it to going public with its stock in 1968. By the early 1970s Carver had positioned Bandag among the top American corporations. In 1973 sales reached $95 million and earned the company the 909th spot among Fortune magazine's top 1,000 companies. In 1980, one year before Carver's death, Bandag achieved $331 million in sales and netted $27 million in profits. At the time of Carver's death, Bandag remained intact under family leadership.

Risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and hard work characterized Carver throughout his life. In addition, in the last decade of his life, Carver became known for both expensive tastes and philanthropy. Steadily, through the 1970s, Carver withdrew from Bandag's daily operations and other business endeavors. At the same time, after separating from his wife in 1972, Carver cultivated a flamboyant lifestyle, with airplanes, yachts, and cars, and homes in Cannes and Miami. Still, Muscatine remained home, and Iowans became the primary beneficiaries of his philanthropy. The Muscatine Journal noted, "He took pleasure in helping others." Although Carver's philanthropy ranged outside of Iowa, including contributions of nearly $200,000 to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign and $1.5 million to Augustana College (Rock Island, Illinois), his focus remained on Iowa. In 1971 he began a legacy of generosity to the University of Iowa with a gift of 85,000 shares of Bandag stock valued at $3.5 million. Carver's gift became the university's single largest gift to that time, and was the first of several to the university. He played a key role in the development of the University Hospital, endowed professorships, and athletics. The Roy J. Carver Pavilion of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Carver-Hawkeye Arena remain among the most visible legacies of nearly $10 million in contributions by the time of Carver's death in 1981.

Carver died of a heart attack in Marbella, Spain, at the age of 71, and was buried in Muscatine's Greenwood Cemetery. His death drew much attention to his wealth, which in 1981 was estimated at between $200 and $300 million. Carver left one-quarter of his wealth for the purpose of a charitable trust, the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, which was established in 1987, after nearly five years of legal proceedings. Located in Muscatine, the Carver Trust became the largest philanthropic foundation in Iowa, with assets valued at $300 million in the early years of the 21st century. Through the trust, the University of Iowa remains a recipient of Carver's goodwill, along with other charitable, educational, scientific, and cultural endeavors in Iowa, as he specified in his will.

Selections of text republished with permission from the Iowa Biographical Dictionary, edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton. Published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. Online publication, 2009.

Selected Sources

Carver's papers are not deposited in a library or archives. Reference files at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, and the Musser Public Library, Muscatine, Iowa, provide ready access to newspaper articles, including obituaries.

Published works relevant to Carver's life and work include L. O. Cheever, "Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow," Palimpsest 53 (1972), 225–56; and M. Chapman, Iowans of Impact (1984).

The Web sites of the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust,, and Bandag,, are also useful.

Daily, Daniel. "Carver, Roy James" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 2 June 2017

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