This is the first in a five-part occasional series on the 20th century’s most influential movers and shakers in Tucson, according to author and historian Bob Ring. This week features people in business. Later parts will cover politics, arts and entertainment, science and medicine, and sports.
Movers and shakers in business were critical to Tucson’s growth and development. Beginning in the late 19th century, Fred Ronstadt helped Tucson through its transition from a territorial agricultural village to an awakening Arizona industrial town by developing his business from carriage making to hardware and farm equipment to providing automobiles.
Son of Jewish territorial pioneer Jacob A. Mansfeld, Monte Mansfield, a Ford dealer for 44 years, was pivotal in bringing Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Tucson, establishing our civilian municipal airport and persuading Howard Hughes to establish Hughes Aircraft in our city. All of these events built the backbone of Tucson’s aerospace industry.
Great-nephew of territorial pioneer Philip Drachman, corporate real estate developer Roy Drachman, regarded by many as “the most influential person who ever lived here,” was key in building Tucson’s first shopping centers, arranged the land deals that brought Hughes to Tucson, and was instrumental in bringing Major League Baseball to Tucson.
Finally, “Renaissance man” John P. Schaefer — academic, astronomer, photographer and conservationist — led the University of Arizona as president for a dozen years, accelerating the development of Lunar & Planetary Sciences and Astronomy, technology efforts that enabled the UA to grow into one of Tucson’s largest employers.
Fred Ronstadt (1868-1954), son of a German immigrant to Mexico, was born in Sonora, Mexico, and came to Tucson in 1882 to learn the blacksmithing and wheelwright trades. He formed the F. Ronstadt Wagon and Carriage Co. to manufacture wagons, buggies, harnesses and saddles for just about everybody in town.
When the automobile came to Tucson in the early 1900s, Ronstadt added an Oldsmobile dealership to his operation. After World War I Ronstadt dropped the automobile business, and under the F. Ronstadt Hardware and Machinery Co., concentrated on farm tools, tractors, leather goods and water pumps, and added general hardware, becoming the largest business of its kind in Southern Arizona, lasting into the 1980s.
Ronstadt also was a community leader. He served a two-year term on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, was active in Chamber of Commerce work for almost 50 years, and supported several political campaigns and causes.
Ronstadt’s cultural legacy is music. A guitarist and vocalist, he taught many Tucsonans to play instruments, founded Tucson’s first professional orchestra, the Club Filarmonico Tucsonense in 1896, and helped organize the Tucson Symphony Orchestra in the 1920s. Ronstadt’s granddaughter is the internationally acclaimed singer Linda Ronstadt.
Monte Mansfield (1884-1959) was the son of Jewish German immigrant Jacob Mansfeld, who opened Tucson’s first bookstore and library and was instrumental in getting the UA started. Monte Mansfield was born in Tucson, attended the UA (without graduating), started a Ford dealership in 1917, and added an “i” to his last name in 1923.
The first of Mansfield’s contributions to his generally acknowledged reputation as “the man who played the greatest role in Tucson’s growth” occurred in 1935, after more than 10 years of strenuous effort, with the opening of the Stone Avenue underpass.
As chairman of the state highway commission, Mansfield was able to replace many of Tucson’s rutted dirt roads with paved streets. Just before the start of World War II, acting for the Chamber of Commerce, Mansfield persuaded officials in Washington, D.C., to locate Davis-Monthan field in Tucson. In 1948, when it became apparent that the city didn’t have the resources to operate the new civilian airport, Mansfield led 15 municipal leaders to form the Tucson Airport Authority, raising money and paving the way for commercial aviation growth in Tucson.
In 1951 as president of the Tucson Airport Authority, Mansfield worked with four other local businessmen to bring Hughes Aircraft Co. to Tucson. Finally, in 1958, after more than four decades of operations, Mansfield sold his Ford dealership to Holmes Tuttle.
Over the years Mansfield also served a term on the Tucson City Council and was president of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society and the Arizona Automobile Dealers’ Association.
Roy Drachman (1907-2002) was born, raised and educated in Tucson. His great uncle Philip Drachman was among the earliest Jews to settle in Tucson and became a successful businessman. When his father, Emanuel Drachman, became seriously ill, Roy Drachman left the University of Arizona to manage his father’s theater business.
In 1939 the younger Drachman became manager of the Tucson Sunshine Club to promote tourism and Tucson’s healthy climate. Thereafter, he raised the funds that established Tucson Medical Center. Before being drafted into World War II, Drachman helped sell $6 million in war bonds.
After World War II, in 1946 Drachman established his own real estate brokerage business. He partnered with developer Del Webb and sold houses for Webb in Tucson’s first large housing development. Also with Webb, he co-developed the first shopping centers in Arizona. He put together the land deals that attracted Hughes Aircraft to Tucson and helped found the Ramada Inn hotel chain.
Drachman, who played semi-pro baseball, was key in bringing Major League Baseball spring training to Tucson. He also helped launch the Tucson Conquistadores, hosts of the Tucson Open and other golf tournaments.
Drachman’s devotion to civic duty included being a staunch supporter of the UA, helping raise funds for the medical school, and over his lifetime donating $3 million to the university.
Drachman wrote two books, “This is Not A Book: Just Memories” and “From Cowtown to Desert Metropolis: Ninety Years of Arizona Memories,” chronicling nearly 100 years of growth in Tucson.
John P. Schaefer
John P. Schaefer (1934-) was born in New York City to German immigrants. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Illinois, did postdoctoral work at the University of California-Berkeley, began teaching there in 1959, and came to the lesser-known UA in 1960, attracted by the challenge of making the university a regional and national presence.
Schaefer had a meteoric career at the UA — first in research and then teaching, later leading the Chemistry Department and the College of Liberal Arts, and finally serving as university president from 1971 to 1982.
While Schaefer was president, he started the Department of Lunar and Planetary Sciences and supported the development of the Mirror Lab. These efforts helped spawn numerous U.S. space probes, and mirrors and associated telescope programs that enabled the UA to grow dramatically. Schaefer also guided the UA and Arizona State University into the Pac-10 Conference.
Following his 21 years at the UA, Schaefer continued his passion for astronomy by joining Research Corp. for Science Advancement as president and was a key player in developing one of the world’s most advanced optical telescopes, the Large Binocular Telescope, now operational atop Mount Graham, near Safford. Next, Schaefer became the chairman of the nonprofit corporation overseeing the development of the “most significant” Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, scheduled to be mapping the universe twice a week in 2022 from a mountaintop in Chile.
Schaefer has also published six books on photography and was the founder, with friend Ansel Adams, of UA’s renowned Center for Creative Photography. As a conservationist he helped organize the Tucson Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. His tireless community support includes the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Tucson Museum of Art, and many other arts and social service groups.