William Albert McGonagle

William McGonagle. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

The work of William Albert McGonagle as a railroad builder and engineer and operating official has constituted a real and vital service to the upbuilding of one of the chief resources of Duluth, its transportation system. It is doubtful if any man now living has a broader or more authoritative technical knowledge of the problems of railroad transportation in the Duluth district.

Mr. McGonagle, who for the past ten years has been president of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway Company, was born at Conshohocken, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, March 28, 1861, a son of Joseph and Agnes (McKeeman) McGonagle. His father was born at Pottsville, and his mother at Norristown, Pennsylvania. His father was for many years a merchant at Conshohocken, where he died.

William A. McGonagle was one of a family of two sons and four daughters. Three of the daughters are now deceased. He was educated in the public schools of Conshohocken, graduating from high school in 1876. The following year he entered the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1881 with the degree Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. For a few months he was a draftsman in private engineering work at Atlantic City, New Jersey, but in July, 1881, he arrived in Minnesota, the state destined to be his permanent field and the scene of his best achievements not only as an engineer but as a citizen. His first employment in this state was as draftsman at Brainerd with the Northern Pacific Railway Company, and shortly afterward as a transit man with the party engaged in locating the Little Falls and Dakota branch of that railway. In the fall of 1882 Mr. McGonagle entered the service of the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad Company as assistant engineer. He was successively promoted to resident engineer, superintendent of bridges and buildings, and assistant chief engineer, an office he held until 1902. In the latter year he became assistant to the president of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway Company, was made vice president in 1903, and since March, 1909, has been president. While with the Duluth & Iron Range road he had charge of the maintenance of way and especially of ore dock construction and the construction of the terminals at Two Harbors. Minnesota, and the relocation of the line between Two Harbors and Cloquet River.

While his best years have been devoted to the problems of railroading and transportation, Mr. McGonagle was also a factor in the organization of the Duluth Crushed Stone Company, one of the important local industries of Duluth. He has given his influence, study and time to many public movements. He is a former president of the Duluth Commercial Club, a former chairman of its Public Affairs Committee, and was chairman of the Relief Committee in the forest fires at Beaudette and Spooner.

Minnesota, in October, 1910. while by appointment of the Governor he again became chairman of the Minnesota Forest Fires Relief Commission and took active charge of the relief work during the forest fires of October, 1918. In the late war he was first chairman of the Duluth Chapter of the American Red Cross, and held that office until the close of the war, when he resigned on account of ill health. He is a Republican, but has never sought nor held political offices. Mr. McGonagle is also a former president of the Kitchi Gammi Club, is a life member of the Duluth Boat Club, a member of the Northland Country Club, the Minnesota Club of St. Paul, the New York Railroad Club of New York, and the Gitchi Nadii Club of Superior, Wisconsin. His favorite recreation is golf, and he is also a great traveler, having lived in practically every section of the United States.

Mr. McGonagle is one of the most prominent Masons of northern Minnesota, having attained the supreme thirty-third decree in the Scottish Rite. He is a past master of Palestine Lodge No. 79, A. F. and A. M., past high priest of Keystone Chapter No. 20, R. A. M., past commander of Duluth Commandery No. 18, K. T., is a past grand master of the Grand Lodge, A. F. and A. M. of Minnesota, a past sovereign of St. George’s Conclave, Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine, and a member of all the Scottish Rite bodies in Duluth and the Aad Temple of the Mystic Shrine.

October 5, 1887, Mr. McGonagle married Miss Sarah L. Sargent, daughter of Samuel G. and Sarah E. Sargent, of Methuen, Massachusetts.

Mr. and Mrs. McGonagle have had three sons and one daughter: Joseph Sargent, Robert Emerson, Mary and William Albert, Jr. Their oldest son attended the Duluth High School, Dartmouth College, took the short course in agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, and is now managing a large farm at Hamilton, Montana, and is president of the Chamber of Commerce of that town. The son, Robert, also attended the Duluth High School and the University of Pennsylvania, and during the World War volunteered with the forces of Canada and served two years in France and Belgium, where he was wounded and gassed. He is now in business in Duluth, president of the Duluth Double Wall Construction Company. The daughter, Mary, is a graduate of the Duluth High School and graduated with the class of 1919 from Mount Holyoke College at South Hadley, Massachusetts. The youngest son graduated from High School, class of 1920, attended Dartmouth College and died September 13, 1920.


William A. McGonagle

William A. McGonagle, a prominent and influential railroad man of Duluth, Minn., is a native of Pennsylvania, and was born at Conshohocken, March 28, 1861, to Joseph and Agnes (McKeeman) McGonagle. Following his preparatory studies, he entered the scientific department of the University of Pennsylvania and was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science with the class of 1881.

Mr. McGonagle began his active career as transit man, locating the Little Falls and Dakota branch of the Northern Pacific Railway, and later has filled consecutively the following positions, viz: Assistant engineer of that road, 1881-83; assistant engineer of Duluth and Iron Range Railroad, 1883-90; resident engineer and superintendent of bridges and buildings, same road, 1890-1901; assistant chief engineer of that road, 1901-02; assistant to the president of the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway, 1902-03, 1903 to March, 1909, first vice-president and general manager, and since March, 1909, to the present time, 1910, president and general manager of the last named road.

Mr. McGonagle stands high in-the Masonic Order, being a member of all the Masonic bodies in Duluth. He is past master of Palestine Lodge, No. 79, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; past high priest of Keystone Chapter, No. 20, Royal Arch Masons; past commander of Duluth Commandery, No. 18, Knights Templar; past grand master of Masons of Minnesota, and has attained the thirty-third degree in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. He is also an officer of St. George’s Conclave, Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine.

In 1887 Mr. McGonagle married Miss Sarah L. Sargent, of Methuen, Mass.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
  • 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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