The Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, Des Moines
1903 - 1985

Under Gardner “Mike” Cowles tutelage, the Des Moines Register and Tribune became one of the great newspapers in the nation. Ironically, his life spanned the same years as his family’s ownership of the paper.

Cowles was born in Algona, IA in 1903. Later that same year his parents moved to Des Moines to purchase the Des Moines Register and Leader. Gardner acquired the nickname Mike, not because it was derived from his middle name but because his father thought his son looked like an Irishman. He attended the public schools in Des Moines before going on to Phillip Exeter Academy and then to Harvard University.

After graduating in 1925, Mike Cowles returned to Des Moines to become a reporter for the Register and Tribune. He worked his way up through the organization over the next eighteen years, reaching the presidency in 1943. He would hold that position for another eighteen years. After stepping down in 1971 he served two more years as chairman of the board.
During his years of leadership he demonstrated both his business acumen and tremendous talent as an editor. He was curious, about everything. He would not only preach public service journalism, he would lead by example.

Cowles credited his parents with teaching him not to let the fear of failure temper his drive to succeed. He learned the lesson well. Over the course of his career Cowles saw four of his publications fail to achieve success, while others would succeed beyond anyone’s expectations. He and his brother John founded Look, a glossy picture magazine that made him a national figure in 1937. It would reach peak circulation of 7,750,000 in 1959 before ceasing publication fifteen years later.

Cowles died in 1985, one week after the Des Moines Register was sold to Gannett Co. Inc.