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Noyes, LaVerne W.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Noyes, LaVerne W.

(January 7, 1849 - July 24, 1919)

Quick Facts

Iowa State student, inventor, manufacturer, philanthropist, donor of funds for the construction of Lake LaVerne on campus. 

LaVerne W. Noyes was born on January 7, 1849 at Genoa, New York, a son of Leonard R. and Jane Jessup Noyes.  He lived there until the age of five when his family moved to Springville, Linn County, Iowa.  He grew up on a farm near there and attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids and Cornell College in Mt. Vernon.  He then entered Iowa State College (now University) when it first opened to classes in 1868 and graduated in 1872.  While a student there, he met Ida Elizabeth Smith, who had entered Iowa State in 1870.  They married on May 24, 1877.  A year after graduation, Noyes moved to Batavia, Illinois where he sold haying tools that he had invented. 

In 1879, Noyes moved to Chicago and lived there for the rest of his life.  He had just recently invented what became known as the Noyes Dictionary Holder.  Ida had trouble holding her large copy of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and asked him to devise something to help her.  After several weeks, he put together  a series of wires to make a holder.  He began to manufacture the Noyes Dictionary Holder and also obtained patents on improved farm machinery which he sold to various manufacturers. An example of the Noyes Dictionary Holder can be seen in the Farm House Museum’s permanent collection on Iowa State campus. (see below for label information)

His greatest success came in the manufacture of a new steel windmill.  In 1887, he turned his interest to the improvement of wooden windmills, and by the following year had invented a new steel windmill that was more efficient and powerful than the wooden ones by widening the sails and changing the angle of curve to allow them to run at higher speeds.  He called the new windmill the “Aermotor” and formed the Aermotor Company the following year to start manufacturing them. Within a few years, he made an improvement by building tilting towers which allowed the tower to be lowered to the ground for oiling or other needed repairs.  This was superior to all older windmills in which the tower always had to be climbed to oil the motor.  Later, in 1913, he made a further improvement to make all working parts oiled at all times without need for manual oiling.  The company was extremely successful and  eventually began manufacturing pumps, tanks, gasoline engines, and a varied line of water supply goods.  At maturity, the company occupied nine acres in the center of Chicago's manufacturing district and and 250,000 square feet of floor space.  Also, as early as 1895, he began experimenting in the use of wind power for generating electricity.

Noyes became a multimillionaire from the sales of his inventions, and in his later years turned to philanthropy.  After Ida died in 1912, he donated $300,000 to the University of Chicago to build the Ida Noyes Hall, a large Gothic structure which was dedicated to the young women of the university.  In 1918, he established the LaVerne W. Noyes Foundation and endowed it with $2,500,000 for the education of World War I soldier, sailor, and marine veterans. 

He did not forget his Alma mater, Iowa State College.  In 1914, he employed O. C. Simonds, a landscape gardener in Chicago, to study the possibilities of beautifying the south end of the campus by developing a park.  Simonds indicated that a lake could be built by constructing a dam on College Creek.  Noyes donated $10,000 for the construction of that lake.  Noyes wrote to President Stanton about this proposal which the Board of Education adopted in June, 1915.  Construction began in September and was substantially completed by December.  On the suggestion of the Story County Alumni at a meeting in May, 1916 that the lake be named “Lake LaVerne” in Noyes's honor, the Board approved.  With a number of improvements over the years, Lake LaVerne is still one of the beautiful sites on the Iowa State campus. 

Lake LaVerne. Photo by Chris Gannon, Iowa State University.

Along with running his company and his philanthropic ventures, Noyes was also involved in many other professional activities.  These included  serving as president of the the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, the National Business League of North America, and the Civic Federation of Chicago.  He was also a governor of the Art Institute of Chicago, trustee of Lewis Institute, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, member of the Chicago Historical Society,  and president of the board of trustees of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

LaVerne W. Noyes died at the Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago on July 24, 1919.

 Selected Sources

The main source of information here is found in the LaVerne and Ida Noyes Collection in Special Collections (RS 21/7/235) in the Parks Library at Iowa State University.  It includes extensive biographical information on both LaVerne and Ida Noyes; detailed biographical articles by Thomas W. Goodspeed on both LaVerne and Ida Noyes; information from Iowa State College sources, such as the Directory of Graduates, Division of Engineering, 1912; the Nineteen-Eighteen Bomb Year Book, pp. 9-12 (the entire yearbook was dedicated to Noyes); and an article by Noyes, “The Manufacturer and the Farmer,” The Alumnus, Volume 5, Number 4, January, 1919, pp. 2-8; the National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Volume 17. New York. James T. White & Company, 1927, pp. 156-157; his patent on the Noyes Dictionary Holder, United States Patent Office, Letters Patent No.621,363, dated March, 21, 1899; an article by F. H. King, “One Year's Work Done By a 16-Foot Geared Windmill,” University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No.68. Madison, WI, June, 1898, which includes photos, drawings, and technical descriptions of the Aermotor Windmill; Noyes's Last Will and Testament; obituaries in various Chicago newspapers from July, 1919; letters and an affidavit regarding the construction of Lake LaVerne; and several online articles on Lake LaVerne.

Other sources on Lake LaVerne include Robert William Werle, A Historical Review and Analysis of the Iowa State University Landscape from 1858 to 1966 (master's thesis), Iowa State University, 1966; and H. Summerfield Day, “Lake LaVerne,” The Iowa State University Campus and Its Buildings 1859-1979. Ames, IA. Iowa State University, 1980, pp. 15-17.

Other general sources include Earle D. Ross, A History of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. Ames, IA. Iowa State College Press, 1942, pp. 181, 195; “Events and Discussion,” The University of Chicago Magazine, Volume 5, Number 9, July, 1913, p. 295;  and an entry for Noyes on

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