Peter Staub, a prominent figure in late nineteenth-century Knoxville business, culture, and politics, was born in Switzerland on February 22, 1827. Orphaned at eight years old, Staub immigrated to the United States when he was twenty-seven. He finally settled in Knoxville in 1856, where he became a leading figure in the city’s postwar development. The first of Staub’s many Knoxville business enterprises was a tailor shop. In October 1872 the city’s first opera house, Staub’s Theater, opened on the corner of Gay Street and Cumberland Avenue. Under his management, the theater became the centerpiece of Knoxville’s cultural development, bringing prominent actors and theatrical companies to East Tennessee.
Staub also played a crucial role in Knoxville city government from 1874 until his death in 1904. He was twice elected mayor, in 1874 and 1881. Under Staub’s leadership, Knoxville founded a city fire department and established the city’s public school district. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Staub to represent the United States and Tennessee as a commissioner to the Paris exposition. In 1885 President Grover Cleveland named him U.S. consul to Switzerland.
He married Rosina Blum in 1847, and they had nine children, including Fritz, who followed his father in the management of Staub’s Theater. On May 8, 1904, a runaway horse accident claimed Staub’s life.