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Paul Dresser

Paul Dresser (April 22 1857January 31 1906) was an important American songwriter of the late 19th century and early 20th century.


He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and baptized as Johann Paul Dreiser Jr. on May 24 1857 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Terre Haute. Paul Dresser is best-known for composing what would become the state song of Indiana, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away". His younger brother was novelist Theodore Dreiser.

Dresser worked as an actor, playwright, songwriter, producer, and music publisher. He composed more than 100 songs on Tin Pan Alley, in New York City. At the peak of his fame, in the 1890s, he was the most popular songwriter in America. He created his own publishing house in 1901 to produce his works.

Despite his fame, he was financially unwise. He gave much of his money away to friends and family, and when his publishing house failed, he was left destitute. He died, aged 49, in New York City.

Paul Dresser was portrayed in the biopic My Gal Sal (1942) by actor Victor Mature. Dresser was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.


Many landmarks in Vigo County, Indiana, including the Dresser Memorial Bridge, Dresser Drive and the unplatted community of Dresser, situated on the west bank of the Wabash River, were named after Paul Dresser.

His birthplace is maintained at Henry Fairbanks Park in Terre Haute by the Vigo County Historical Society. Dresser Drive, a street in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Anderson, Indiana, is named for him, as is the Dresser Bridge, which crosses the Wabash River, near Attica, Indiana.

Theodore Dreiser wrote an account of his brother's life in his book Twelve Men, published in 1919. A recent academic study of Dresser's life, On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away: The Life and Music of Paul Dresser by Clayton W. Henderson, was published by the Indiana Historical Society Press in 2003.


  • Sadie, S. (ed.) (1980) The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, [vol. # 5].

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