Born John Paul Dreiser, Jr., Dresser was the fourth of 13 children and the older brother of famous author Theodore Dreiser. He changed his name to Paul Dresser after he left Terre Haute at 16 to pursue a career on the stage. He composed songs and wrote monologues and plays while traveling with various medicine shows and minstrel companies. Eventually, he settled in New York City, where Tin Pan Alley music publishing companies eagerly promoted his compositions. Dresser's works were mainly sentimental ballads, including his first big hit “Just Tell Them That You Saw Me.” His most enduring song, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away” was published in 1899 and became the state song of Indiana in 1913.
During the 1890s, Dresser was one of the country's most celebrated and affluent composers of popular songs. He was, however, a big spender, and he eventually fell on hard times, selling his interest in his music-publishing firm, Howley, Havilland & Dresser, in 1904. In poor health and dispirited, he died at age 47 at his sister's house in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he had been living for several years. His last big hit, “My Gal Sal” (1905), inspired a 1942 movie of the same name, which was based loosely on his life.
Dresser was married briefly to burlesque performer May Howard; the couple had no children.Died: 1/30/1906