John Rutherford McGiffert

While he came to Duluth in 1892 to practice law, and made a name in that profession, John R. McGiffert is best known in the Northwest as one of the executive officials of the Clyde Iron Works, as an inventor and mechanical engineer and as patentee of a large list of devices, most of them used in the lumber industry and which have in some respects almost revolutionized certain logging and lumbering operations.

Mr. McGiffert was born at Hudson, New York, March 19, 1869, a son of John N. and Sarah (Carnahan) McGiffert, the former, a native of New York and the latter of Pennsylvania. His grandfather, James McGiffert, was born near Belfast, Ireland, in 1800 and came to New York in 1819. In the maternal line Mr. McGiffert represents some distinguished American names. His maternal great-great-grandfather, John Carnahan, was commander of a Pennsylvania company in the Revolutionary war. The Carnahans were Scotch-Irish and settled in Pennsylvania during the eighteenth century. One of the Carnahans, James, was an early president of Princeton College. The grandfather, James McGiffert, was a grandson in the maternal line of Colonel William Dinwiddie, whose brother was the Robert Dinwiddie, known to every American schoolboy as the Colonial Governor of Virginia.

John R. McGiffert was liberally educated, attending public schools and an academy in his native town, taking two years in Hamilton College, graduating in 1890 from Williams College in New York, and in 1892 receiving his law degree from the University of New York. Admitted to the bar the same year, he came to Duluth and opened his office and soon had a comfortable clientele as a lawyer.

While in school and during his law practice Mr. McGiffert found time to encourage his inventive genius and allowed it more or less full scope, though the first invention patented and turned to commercial use was the McGiffert Log Loader, which he first patented in 1901. During subsequent years he obtained more than twenty other patents covering different types of logging machinery.

About the time he obtained his patent on the McGiffert Log Loader, the Clyde Iron Works was established as the reorganization of another iron working plant at Duluth. The Clyde Iron Works has long been the most complete iron working plant in the Northwest, and has specialized in the manufacture of logging and other heavy machinery. The McGiffert Log Loader has been manufactured by the Clyde Iron Works from the beginning, as well as other of Mr. McGiffert’s patents. In 1902 Mr. McGiffert became superintendent of the logging machinery department, and subsequently became treasurer and secretary and later vice president of the corporation in general charge of the design and construction of all the machinery manufactured in the immense plant at Duluth.

Mr. McGiffert is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society for the Advancement of Science, the New York Machinery Club, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, belongs to the Duluth Commercial Club, Kitchi Gammi Club, Duluth Boat Club, Northland Country Club, and has allied himself with every progressive civic, business and patriotic organization since he took up his residence at Duluth. Mr. McGiffert has served as a member of the Board of Education and in other capacities.

In 1896 he married Miss Gertrude Yates Magoun, who was also born in Hudson, New York. Her ancestry involves many prominent names, particularly in the Yates line. Colonel Christopher Yates was an officer in the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars. Another member of this family was Joseph Yates, who helped frame the Constitution of the United States and later was governor of New York.

Mr. and Mrs. McGiffert have five children, Stephen Y., Mary Y., Gertrude R., Ruthersford N. and Andrew C.


  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.
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