Muscatine began as a trading post founded by representatives of Colonel George Davenport in 1833. Muscatine was incorporated as Bloomington in 1839; the name was changed to reduce mail delivery confusion, as there were several Bloomingtons in the Midwest. Before that, Muscatine had also been known as “Newburg” and “Casey’s Landing”. The origin of the name Muscatine is debated. It may have been derived from the Mascouten Native American tribe. The Mascoutin lived along the Mississippi in the 1700s. In 1819 Muscatine Island was known as Mascoutin Island.
From the 1840s to the Civil War, Muscatine had Iowa’s largest black community, consisting of fugitive slaves who had traveled the Mississippi from the South and free blacks who had migrated from the eastern states. One of the most prominent community leaders was Alexander G. Clark Sr., born free in Pennsylvania
The writer Sam Clemens (better known by his pen-name Mark Twain) lived in the city briefly during the summer of 1855 while working at the local newspaper, the Muscatine Journal, which was partly owned by his brother, Orion Clemens.
He noted some recollections of Muscatine in his book Life on the Mississippi:
And I remember Muscatine—still more pleasantly—for its summer sunsets. I have never seen any, on either side of the ocean, that equaled them. They used the broad smooth river as a canvas, and painted on it every imaginable dream of color, from the mottled daintinesses and delicacies of the opal, all the way up, through cumulative intensities, to blinding purple and crimson conflagrations which were enchanting to the eye, but sharply tried it at the same time. All the Upper Mississippi region has these extraordinary sunsets as a familiar spectacle. It is the true Sunset Land: I am sure no other country can show so good a right to the name. The sunrises are also said to be exceedingly fine. I do not know.
— Mark Twain
In 1884 J.F. Boepple, a German immigrant, founded a pearl button company. He produced buttons that looked like pearls by machine-punching them from freshwater mussel shells harvested from the Mississippi River. Muscatine’s slogan, “Pearl of the Mississippi,” refers to the days when pearl button manufacturing by the McKee Button Company was a significant economic contributor. In 1915, Weber & Sons Button Co., Inc. was the world’s largest producer of fancy freshwater pearl buttons. From that time forward, Muscatine was known as “The Pearl Button Capital of the World”. Weber is still manufacturing today and celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2004.
Muscatine is nearly as well known as the “Watermelon Capital of the World”, a title that reflects the agricultural rural nature of the county.
Muscatine was the home town and operating location of the notorious broadcaster Norman G. Baker, inventor of the calliaphone. In 1925-31, Baker operated the powerful radio station KTNT, published a newspaper, and operated the Baker Institute, a clinic. He also owned numerous businesses in the town.
Muscatine was formerly a stop on the shared Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and Milwaukee Road line. Restructuring of the railroads followed declines in passenger traffic and the Rock Island station was eventually demolished
On February 15, 2012, Xi Jinping, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, visited Muscatine. He had previously visited in 1985 as part of a Chinese delegation to learn about American agriculture. He returned to Muscatine when he toured the USA in 2012 before becoming president.
Companies in Muscatine include Bridgestone Bandag, H. J. Heinz Company, Carver Pump, Monsanto, the Kent Corporation with its subsidiaries: Kent Nutrition Group, Grain Processing Corporation and Kent Pet Group, Musco Lighting and Stanley Consultants. The Musser Lumber Company was one of Iowa’s pioneer lumber concerns.
Headquartered in Muscatine, The HNI Corporation designs and manufactures office furniture including chairs, filing cabinets, workstations, tables, desks and educational furniture under various brand names