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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Richard Pike Bissell Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1951-1973
Creator: Bissell, Richard Pike (1913-1977)
Extent: 13.50 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0565
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Typescript and holograph drafts, galley proofs, editor's notes, source material, etc., documenting the writings of this Dubuque novelist and author of 7 1/2 Cents (1953), the basis of the musical hit, The Pajama Game (1954, filmed 1957).

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Acquisition: These papers were given to the Univeristy of Iowa Libraries by Richard Pike Bissell and his widow, Marion Bissell, over a period of years. In 2004, Frank J. Anderson donated one linear foot of correspondence and manuscripts. The 2006 addendum, given by Bissell's wife and daughter, Anastasia, tripled the size of the collection.

Preferred Citation: Richard Pike Bissell Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Richard Pike Bissell (1913 -- 1977) was a native of Dubuque, Iowa, which is located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Although he attended an elite prep school in New Hampshire and was a 1936 graduate of Harvard University, he never escaped the river's lure. After receiving his B.A. in anthropology, Bissell took a job as a seaman on the American Export Lines. In 1938, he married and returned to Dubuque, where he went to work in the family business. The couple bought a houseboat and lived on the Mississippi. Unable to enlist in the Navy during Word War II, he instead joined the crew of the Central Barge Company of Chicago. He worked on towboats on the Ohio, Mississippi, Illinois, Monongahela, and Tennessee rivers, rising from a deckhand to a river pilot.

When the war ended he returned to Dubuque and resumed his work for H.B. Glover Company, the garment factory founded by his grandfather a century earlier. Bissell began writing about his river experiences and had his stories published in journals such as Atlantic Monthly, Colliers, and Esquire. Bissell's greatest success came when he wrote a humorous novel based on the activities at the garment factory. 7 Cents changed the Bissell's lives. The family moved to the East coast so he could turn the book into a musical play for Broadway. Now titled The Pajama Game, it was a smash and soon became a motion picture. This experience provided the fodder for his novel Say, Darling, which also became a Broadway musical.

Richard Bissell wrote twelve books and numerous articles over the course of his career. In 1975, the Bissell's moved back to Dubuque - to the house his grandfather built. He died there on May 4, 1977, at the age of sixty-three.

The papers of Richard Pike Bissell, dating from approximately 1952 to 1973, consist of five linear feet of manuscripts. Holograph and typescript drafts, galley proofs, editor's notes, source material and more and combine to document the writing of many of Bissell's novels. Some of the books include: 7 1/2 Cents, The Monogahela, Still Circling Moose Jaw, and High Water.

Frank Anderson was a friend of Bissell's. He was a librarian at Kansas Wesleyan University as well as the proprietor of a bookshop, first in Salina, Kansas and then in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He corresponded with Bissell, collected his books, kept bibliographic citations of reviews of Bissell's books and for biographical sources on Bissell. He published an article about Bissell in The Midwestern Review in 1964. In 2004, Anderson donated these papers to the University of Iowa.
See also Bissell's page on the National Mississippi River Museum's web site

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