Transcribed by Teresa Kesterke from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


John Renner, inventor, dealer in wallpaper, paints, and artists' supplies, and contractor in interior decorating, is controlling a business the extent and importance of which makes him a leading representative of industrial interests of the city, while his inventive genius has gained him recognition far beyond the limits of Burlington.

A native of southern Germany, he was born July 8, 1852, his parents being Johannas and Elizabeth (Katz) Renner. When he had obtained a fair education in the schools of the Fatherland, he began learning the trades of painting, paperhanging, decorating, and upholstering, serving a full apprenticeship within which time he became an experienced and expert workman. He afterward served as a journeyman in a number of the leading cities of his native land, and afterward in France and Switzerland, and in 1881, thinking to enjoy still better business opportunities in America, he sailed for New York City, where he arrived on the first of March. There he remained until July 3, 1882, when he came to Burlington.

For twenty-three years Mr. Renner has now been connected with the industrial interests of this city. He was first employed for three years by the firm of Wyman & Rand, in their upholstering and carpet department, and in April, 1885, he began business on his own account, under the old post office. Later he removed to the present location of Hefner's tinshop, where he remained for about a year, and then removed to his present place of business, at 612 Jefferson Street, where he conducted business for three years, after which he moved across the street to more commodious quarters, occuping 707-11 Jefferson Street. There he was successful, and remained seven years, and in 1896 returned to his present location, at 612 and 614 Jefferson Street, occupying three times the space he did the former time at this location. He carries on both a wholesale and retail business, dealing in all kinds of art goods, wallpaper, paints, and varnishes, and he also employs a number of experienced workmen, who execute the contracts which he takes for interior finishing and decorating. He stands as one of the foremost representatives of this line of business in Iowa, his long experience, thorough training, and naturally artistic taste combining to make him a leader in the business.

His attention, however, has not been confined wholly to his mercantile and industrial interests, for on the first of May, 1900, he bought a park of four acres, which he has since improved, and his inventions have many times been valuable additions to the mechanical world. He has wide knowledge along mechanical lines, and in fact possesses natural genius, in addition to thorough scientific knowledge of mechanics and architectural engineering and drafting. He can make his own plans, and can embody his ideas in tangible form. On the sixteenth of August, 1887, Mr. Renner got out a patent on an ironing board, and in 1903 he secured a patent on his ball-bearing extension window shade, having patents on this in the United States, Canada, and England, securing the same in England, April 9, 1903, and in Canada, June 2, 1903. He has recently commenced the manufacture of this shade, and reserves the countries mentioned for his output. He has also patented, Jan. 7, 1902, a device for locking the axle on shade rollers. It is dust proof, and can be applied to any mechanical contrivance of any size. He also has another lock patent for a window bracket, and is the inventor of a wire bracket for the correct adjustment of the window cord. This is known as a wire pulley, and gives an equal friction to both cords, thus making a perfect adjustment. His patent for a round axle for window shades, carpet sweepers, etc., was secured Sept. 9, 1902, and he has another patent on the table on which window shades can be made very rapidly and of any size.

On the second of April, 1881, Mr. Renner was married to Miss Lena Neff, a daughter of Johannes and Mary (Hellstern) Neff, by whom he has two sons, John and Frank, twins, who are their father's assistants in business. John attended the German and public schools of Burlington, and in seven months completed a course in the Gem City Business College at Quincy, being the first student from the State of Iowa to complete the course in such a short time, or with such honors, for his scholarship gave him an average grade of ninety-six and two-sevenths in seven studies, and a standing of one hundred in bookkeeping. Frank having attended the same schools in Burlington as his brother, continued his education in Elliott's Business College, of this city. Both sons possess an artistic taste and temperament, and have given much time to the study of oil painting and various kinds of decorating. They also possess considerable musical talent and ability, and in business have demonstrated the possession of those traits which insure success. They are able assistants of their father, and the parents have every reason to be proud of their sons. When Mr. Renner came to America he had a capital of six hundred dollars, but through illness this sum dwindled away until there was nothing left. When he arrived in Burlington he had only fifty dollars, but he possessed what is better than money — courage, determination, and good ability, supplementing intellectual force. These qualities have served as the foundation on which he has reared the superstructure of his prosperity and which has enabled him to build up a large business, until he now carries a stock more complete than that found in any establishment of the kind in America. Mr. Renner is a member of the Court of Honor and of the Woodmen of the World, while politically he is independent, voting for the candidates rather than the party. He reserves for himself the right of forming an unbiased opinion and accords to others the same privilege. He displays many of the sterling characteristics of his race, and moreover he has those qualities which in every land and clime command respect and confidence.

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