Wisconsin Economic History


A variety of topics in Wisconsin economic history are included below, such as commerce, industry, transportation or farming. See the right column for more info about this website.


Catalogue of the First Annual Exhibition by the Milwaukee Industrial Exposition Association

Milwaukee: Cramer, Aikens & Cramer 1881
Go to Book

(title continued) ” … of American Manufactures, Inventions, Arts, and Industrial Products. September 6th to October 15th, 1881″

“In 1881, Milwaukee, reflecting its importance to Midwest manufacturing, hosted its first Industrial Exposition, drawing exhibitors from around the country as well as the state. Milwaukee’s most prominent businessmen, including Fredrick Pabst and John Plankinton, served as officers of the Industrial Association. The exposition featured work from a variety of areas, including the decorative arts, and this catalogue lists the names of participants as well as the articles they exhibited.”
– Wisconsin Historical Society

Transactions of the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society; Vol 1, 1851

Madison: the Society 1851
Go to Book

The Wisconsin State Agricultural Society was established in Madison in March 1851, on instructions from the State Legislature. A main function of the Society was to organize an annual State Fair, the first of which was held in Janesville in October 1851. The first part of this volume is mostly devoted to the State Fair, including a description of it and a list of premiums (prizes) for best-in-class of a variety of farm animals, farm implements, crops, flowers, domestic manufactures, ornamental needlework, paintings, etc., Entries, owners and prize-winners are listed. Some top implements and devices are illustrated and described.

A second function of the Society was to collect ‘best practices’. The Secretary of the Society requested of prize-winners and other farmers with specialized expertise that they provide written accounts of their methods, which are reproduced here. Topics include:
Sheep raising, horse breeding, cattle raising, butter making, cheese making and hominy preparation. There are also more detailed reports from farmers with specialist skills in breaking prairie, manures, flax culture, tobacco culture, fruit growing, and gardening.

There are also reports from over 20 county correspondents of the society on the state of agriculture in their counties, and a section on meteorological observations around the state.

Wisconsin agricultural history

The Port of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Washington: U.S. Printing Office 1940
Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors, War Department, preparedGo to Book

Describes port and harbor facilities and services, including equipment, transportation to the port, and prices. Also usage statistics, maps and aerial views.

“Up and Down the Chippewa River”

The Wisconsin Magazine of History Volume 14, number 3, March 1931 pp 243-261

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Boyd, R.K.Go to Article

The author spent years piloting boats and log rafts on the Chippewa. The article contains descriptions of various boats and rafts used there, and the techniques that were developed for river navigation. There are a number of helpful drawings.

For works on boats and shipping, see: Navigation on the Great Lakes & the Region’s Rivers

See also: Newbert, Millard, “History of Steam Boats of Fox River Valley” in Navigation on the Great Lakes & the Region’s Rivers

Wisconsin Central Railroad Lands

Milwaukee: 1885?
Colby, CharlesGo to Book

Many railroads were granted vast tracts of public lands from Federal and State governments that they were expected to sell to settlers and speculators to fund construction of tracks and facilities. This promotional pamphlet from the Wisconsin Central Railroad was part of its effort to sell its lands in northern Wisconsin.

“The Fur Trade and Factory System at Green Bay 1816-21”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Volume VII, 1876 pp 269-288

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Draper, Lyman, ed.Go to Article

The term ‘factory’ had a very different meaning in the pre-industrial era than today. In the fur trade, a ‘Factor’ was a merchant engaged in trading goods for furs, and the ‘Factory’ was his trading post. This article is about the establishment of a U.S. Government trading post in Green Bay to trade with the Indians. It consists of an exchange of letters between the Factor, Major Irwin, and his distant supervisor, Col. McKenney. They discuss the many challenges that Irwin faces in making the business a success, especially the Green Bay factory’s competition from well-established British traders. It also contains an unusual amount of detail of business operations.

For works on the “Indian trade”, or fur trade, see:
– Adams, J. A., “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History
;
Stevens, Wayne E., “The Organization of the British Fur Trade 1760-1800″ in “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History;
Johnson, Ida Amanda, The Michigan Fur Trade in Michigan Economic History;
Turner, Frederick Jackson, The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin; a study of the Trading Post as an Institution in Wisconsin Economic History;
Way, Royal B., “The United States Factory System for Trading with the Indians, 1796-1822″ in Economic History in the Great Lakes Region

Fur trade

Wisconsin Economic History

“Hauling Grain from Baraboo to Milwaukee”

Baraboo Daily News May 8, 1914

Wisconsin Historical Society
Flynt, H.H.Go to Article

In this short reminiscence, Sauk County farmer H.H. Flynt recalls how wheat was grown, milled, and taken to market in the 1850s. He comments on the prices paid, money earned, and difficulties encountered when the chinch bug epidemic decimated wheat crops at the end of the decade. One enterprising neighbor had pulled himself out of debt by dairying, and Flynt describes how all the region’s farms were gradually won over to dairying.
– Summary from Wisconsin Historical Society site.

Wisconsin agriculture

The Medical History of Milwaukee: 1834-1914; illustrated with portraits, photographs and original charts

Milwaukee: Germania 1915
Frank, Louis Frederick (Dr.)Go to Book

The author, Dr. Louis F. Frank (1857-1918), was a General Practitioner in Milwaukee. The first half of the volume consists of biographies of physicians, organized according to the year in which they arrived in Milwaukee. A surprisingly large number of them were German. The second half of the book has these chapter headings, among others:

-Medical Societies
-Medical Journalism
-Hospitals
-Epidemics of Smallpox, Cholera and Typhus Fever
-Mortality Statistics
-Wisconsin Training School for Nurses
-Medical Colleges
-Directory of Milwaukee Physicians 1834 to 1914

Also see:
– Dittrick, Howard, “The Equipment, Instruments and Drugs of Pioneer Physicians of Ohio” in Ohio Economic History
;
Juettner, Otto, Daniel Drake and his Followers: Historical and Biographical Sketches, 1785-1909 in Biographies & Memoirs in Ohio History;
Kemper, G. W. H., A Medical History of the State of Indiana in Indiana Economic History;
Zeuch, Lucius H., M.D., compiled, History of Medical Practice in Illinois in Illinois Economic History;
Michigan State Medical Society, Medical History of Michigan (Volume 1) in Michigan Economic History

History of Medicine, Wisconsin Medical history, Milwaukee medical history

“Frontier Land Business in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 52, No. 4, Summer 1969, 306-327

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Gates, Paul W.Go to Article

“The author offers a very thorough account of early land speculation as a business in Wisconsin from the 1830s to the 1870s, and the efforts to limit land speculation in the 1850s. Prominent businessmen involved in the purchase and sale of land, including Moses Strong, Cyrus Woodman, and Charles Augustus Murray, as well as those involved with stopping the practice, like Wisconsin Senator Isaac P. Walker, are described in detail.”
– Wisconsin Magazine of History

Industrial Resources of Wisconsin

Milwaukee: Starr 1855
Gregory, JohnGo to Book

In the Preface, the author wrote that, “One of the chief objects of this book… is to point out all the natural advantages and industrial resources of this state, and show how to convert them to the best purposes for the general advancement of its people, in all those departments of industry best calculated to make them independent, and elevate their condition in the scale of society socially, morally, mentally and physically.” “Besides a wide range of statistical information on all matters connected with the state, the work contains numerous discussions of the geology, meteorology, climate…” “… of its soil, natural products, botany, and natural history; of its agriculture, trade and commerce, harbors, and navigation”. “… of its water power, fuel, machinery and handy-craft trades; of its rail, plank and common roads; of its colleges, schools, churches…” “All the towns and villages, with the surrounding districts, are described. The work concludes with instructions to immigrants.” “…the work is intended to be circulated, through England, Ireland, and Scotland, as well as through the German States…”

A detailed Table of Contents is at the end of the book, containing nearly a page-by-page list of topics covered. This book is somewhat different from those collected at the ‘Great Lakes Settlers Guides‘ page of this website. Industrial Resources of Wisconsin was not just promotional; the author tried to give an accurate report on economic conditions and the state of society at that time.

Wisconsin industrial history

Wisconsin Economic History

A New and Vastly Improved Edition of the Industrial Resources of Wisconsin …

Milwaukee: Milwaukee See-Bote 1870
Gregory, John Go to Book

(title continued) “… containing numerous new subjects not in the first edition, such as the natural history of the state”

This version appears very different than the 1855 edition (above, on this web page). Statistical information has been updated, and numerous biographies were added. Unfortunately, no Table of Contents or Index were included in this edition.

Wisconsin industries

“The Financial History of Wisconsin Territory”

Proceedings of the State Historical Society Dec. 14, 1893 vol. 39-44 1894, 131-167

Madison: State Historical Society
Hammond, Matthew BrownGo to Article

This article briefly discusses the system of taxation in Wisconsin that was established in 1822, when it was part of Michigan territory, and Wisconsin’s complaints in the early 1830s of not receiving any benefits of territorial government. With the creation of a Wisconsin territorial government in 1836, a new system of taxation was adopted, which is discussed at length. One other subject is covered in detail here; the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal, which was an effort to connect Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. This began in 1834 and continued for a number of years before failing. There is also some discussion of other attempts to fund and carry out internal improvements, including harbor development and road construction.

Wisconsin financial history

Cooperation in Wisconsin

Madison: Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Wisconsin 1917
Hibbard, B. H. and Hobson, AsherGo to Book

Wisconsin was a leader in cooperatives, with more than 2,000. This bulletin provides some concise information and statistics.

The History of Agriculture in Dane County, Wisconsin

Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1904
Hibbard, Benjamin HoraceGo to Book

A PhD dissertation.

The Jeffery Four

Kenosha 1915
Thomas B. Jeffery CompanyGo to Book

“Thomas B. Jeffery, an inventor and bicycle manufacturer in Chicago, first began building automobiles in the late 1890s. Moving to Kenosha in 1900, Jeffery produced 1500 Rambler automobiles (the same name he had used for his bicycles) in 1902. By 1907 he was producing a wide variety of body styles and sizes, including a five-passenger Rambler that weighed 2600 pounds and cost $2500. This brochure, for the seven-passenger Jeffery Four model, describes its features, quality, and dependability, all for the bargain price of $1000.”
– Wisconsin Historical Society

The Railroads of Wisconsin 1827-1937

Boston: Railway and Locomotive Historical Society 1937
Kaysen, James P.Go to Book

“Wisconsin’s first railroad was chartered in 1847 and the state’s rail lines had grown to nearly 7,000 total miles by the 1930s. James Kaysen, a civil engineer, compiled these chronological records of the construction, mileage, and ownership of the rail lines in Wisconsin over a 100 year period.”
– Wisconsin Historical Society

The Rise of the Dairy Industry in Wisconsin; a Study in Agricultural Change, 1820-1920

Madison: State Historical Society 1963
Lampard, Eric E.Go to Book

The first 90 pages of this 460+ page history cover the development of the dairy industry in the state prior to the Civil War.

For information about American and Canadian agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century, see: Bailey, Liberty Hyde. ed. , Cyclopedia of American Agriculture in Section 630 of Agriculture, Forestry, Gardening & Animals

Eckles, Clarence Henry, Dairy Cattle and Milk Production in Section 637 Processing dairy & related products in Agriculture, Forestry, Gardening & Animals

Wisconsin Dairy farming, agricultural history

Wisconsin Economic History

Paper-making in Wisconsin

Madison: Proceedings of the State Historical Society 1909
Lawson, Publius V.Go to Paper

Reprint of an article.

“A Wisconsin Fur-Trader’s Journal 1804-05”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 19, 1910, 163-215

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Malhiot, Francois VictorGo to Article

“A French Canadian supervising the Fond du Lac Department south of Lake Superior, wrote a spirited journal in French of the repair and rebuilding of the post and of his life and experiences with the Indians.”

The journal is actually not very long. The bulk of this article lies in the footnotes, where the editor has added very extensive historical details about the locations, business entities, individuals etc. mentioned in Malhiot’s journal.

For works on the “Indian trade”, or fur trade, see:
– Adams, J. A., “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History
;
Stevens, Wayne E., “The Organization of the British Fur Trade 1760-1800″ in “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History;
Johnson, Ida Amanda, The Michigan Fur Trade in Michigan Economic History;
Turner, Frederick Jackson, The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin; a study of the Trading Post as an Institution in Wisconsin Economic History;
Way, Royal B., “The United States Factory System for Trading with the Indians, 1796-1822″ in Economic History in the Great Lakes Region

Wisconsin fur trade, Frontier and pioneer life

The Fox River Valley in the Days of the Fur Trade

Madison: State Historical Society 1900
Martin, Deborah BeaumontGo to Book

Brief paper describing the important role of the fur trade in the early history of the region near Green Bay.

Fur trade, Fox River Valley

Economic History of Wisconsin during the Civil War Decade

Madison: Hist. Society of Wisconsin 1916
Merk, FrederickGo to Book

Chapter headings:

1. Agriculture
2. Lumbering
3. Lumbering
4. Mining
5. Manufacturing
6. Labor
7. Banking
8. Trade
9. Railroad Farm Mortgages
10. Railroad Construction
11. Railroad Consolidation
12. The Antimonopoly Revolt
13. The Genesis of Railroad Regulation
14. Commerce of the Upper Mississippi
15. Commerce of the Great Lakes

“The Labor Movement in Wisconsin During the Civil War”

Proceedings of the State Historical Society vol. 62 1914, 168-191

Madison: State Historical Society
Merk, FrederickGo to Article


A History of Early Railroad Legislation in Wisconsin

Madison: State Historical Society
Meyer, Balthasar Henry Go to Book

This paper was originally the first two chapters of a doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin. The Table of Contents provides an outline:

Chapter 1: Wisconsin railroad history from 1836 to 1851.
1. The beginning of the railroad agitation.
2. Roads, canals, or railroads?
3. The school fund, and the Milwaukee & Rock River Canal lands.
4. Internal improvements in the constitutional conventions. State or private enterprise?
5. A proposed system of internal improvements. The Chicago convention.
6. Asa Whitney’s Oregon railroad.
7. The element of rivalry. Summary.

Chapter 2: Early railroad charters, 1836 to 1853.
1. What the charters contain. General provisions.
2. Wherein the charters differ.
3. What the charters do not contain.
4. Sources of the charters.

Appendix.
Analytical digest of early Wisconsin railroad charters.

For more books on railroads in U.S. history, see: Section 385 Railroad transportation in Commerce, Communications & Transportation and Sections 625.1 Railroad engineering & 625.2 Rolling stock, Operations in Engineering – Mechanical, Electric, Civil & more

Wisconsin railroad history, Railroad law

Wisconsin Economic History

Directory of Corporations of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee: Odell & Owen 1904
Odell, R. H., comp.Go to Book

Lists corporations by type of business, with officers and capitalization for each. It also contains a synopsis of corporation laws, a directory of individuals, and information about defunct corporations.

The Financial History of Wisconsin

Madison: 1908
Phelan, Raymond Vincent Go to Book

This was initially a PhD dissertation. The author states that he sought to make this interesting for readers with a general or personal interest in Wisconsin history, as well as for readers with an interest in public finance. For the former group he emphasized the ‘personal element’ as much as possible.

Some of the topics from the Table of Contents are:

Finances and the Constitution
Public Credit and State Credit
Sale and Management of State Lands
The General Property Tax in the Territorial Period and in the State of Wisconsin
Local Taxation and Local Extravagance
State Taxes for Education (including free high schools, county training schools, schools for deaf mutes, and the one mill tax for common schools)
Taxes on Railroads and other public service corporations (i.e. telegraph, streetcars, electric companies)
The Milwaukee and Rock River Canal

Wisconsin banking history

“Letters of Joseph V. Quarles”

The Wisconsin Magazine of History Volume 16, number 3, March 1933 pp 297-320

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Quarles, Joseph V.Go to Article

Letters of 1837 from Joseph Quarles, recently arrived on farm land somewhere on the Fox River and preparing to buy more. The letters are concerned mainly with the business of farming, including the characteristics of available land, operating costs, crop prices, etc.

Also see: Taylor, Jefferys, The Farm: or a New and Entertaining Account of Rural Scenes and Pursuits in Section 630 Agriculture in Agriculture, Forestry, Gardening & Animals

Wisconsin agriculture, Frontier and pioneer life

Lumbermen on the Chippewa

Rosholt, WI: Rosholt House 1982
Rosholt, Malcolm Go to Book

A history of logging in the Chippewa River Valley. Numerous photo illustrations. Chapter headings are:

-The River
-The Camp
-The Woods
-The Drive
-End Marks and Bark Marks
-Sawmill Operations
-Mill Sites Remembered
-A Sawdust War
-“Tan Bark” Peelers
-Rafting Lumber to Market
-The Little Falls Dam
-Journal of a Dam;
-Brave on the Bridge
-Tragedy at Little Falls
-Keel Boat to Steamboat
-Weyerhaeuser’s Ditch
-Railroad Logging
-The Melting Pot
-The Chippewa Trail;
-Letter from Irvine to Weyerhaeuser
-First up the Dore Flambeau;
-By the Light of the Fire
-Trade Tokens

Wisconsin logging, Loggers, Chippewa River Valley

Wisconsin Economic History

The Wisconsin Logging Book, 1839-1939

Rosholt, WI: Rosholt House 1980
Rosholt, Malcolm Go to Book

An illustrated history of logging and lumbering in Wisconsin. Chapter headings are:

-Daylight in the swamp
-In the woods and “on the haul”
-Chain loading
-“Ginpole Johnson” and the woods jammer
-The “hoisting machine”
-Birth of the cant hook and peavey
-The crosscut saw
-Of sleds and sleighs
-The icing tankers
-The “Lima Shay” engine
-Railroad logging
-Life in camp
-No talking at table
-Sunday in camp
-Thermometers abolished
-The company town
-The skidding tong
-Rivers for transporation
-The Wolf River drives
-Bay boom
-The “Chippeway” drive
-Beef slough
-The boom companies
-Famous log jams
-A river myth
-The river rafting days
-Making of a raft
-The risks they took
-Pilot fees and charges
-Whipsaw to up-and-down saw
-Circular saw to bandsaw
-The bull slide
-The greening of Wisconsin

See also: Pinchot, Gifford, A Primer of Forestry in Section 634.9 Forestry on Agriculture, Forestry, Gardening & Animals
Hotchkiss, George Woodward, History of the Lumber and Forest Industry of the Northwest in Economic History in the Great Lakes Region

Wisconsin logging

The Wisconsin Lead Region

Madison: State Historical Society 1932
Schafer, JosephGo to Book

Joseph Schafer (1867-1941) received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin and went on to 16 years’ service as the chairman of the History faculty at the University of Oregon. In 1920 he returned to Wisconsin to serve as superintendent of the State Historical Society, where he remained until his death.

The lead region of Wisconsin comprises the counties of Grant, Iowa and Lafayette. This history focuses on the industry of lead mining as well as agriculture in that region. Among the appendixes is an interesting table showing the origin countries for all persons living in every town in the region in 1870.

Lead mines and mining

Wisconsin Economic History

“Logging in Northern Wisconsin”

The American Magazine Vol 37, 1894, 496-502

NY: Frank Leslie
Stead, W. H.Go to Article

With photos and drawings.

Recollections of a Long Life, 1829-1915

Chicago: Donnelley 1915
Stephenson, IsaacGo to Book

Isaac Stephenson began lumbering in New Brunswick, Canada logging camps at age 11 and at 14 moved with his family to Maine, where he learned to drive oxen through the forests to the river. At 16 one of the company owners offered him 160 acres, a house and farm equipment if he would accompany him to Wisconsin as a lumberman. Isaac would make a fortune in Wisconsin during the Civil War. He later owned vast tracts of real estate in Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as other places in the Great Lakes. He was also elected a U.S. Senator.

Lumbering, Frontier and pioneer life, Wisconsin politics and government

Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Vol. 19

Madison: The Society 1910
Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed. Go to Book

This volume contains four titles:

-Mackinac Register of Baptisms and Interments; 1695-1821
-A Wisconsin Fur-Trader’s Journal; 1804-1805
-The Fur-Trade on the Upper Lakes; 1778-1815
-The Fur Trade in Wisconsin; 1815-1817

Wisconsin Fur trade

The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin; a study of the Trading Post as an Institution

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 1891
Turner, Frederick Jackson Go to Book

Frederick Jackson Turner (1861-1932) was one of the best known historians in America, based at the University of Wisconsin until 1910, and then at Harvard. In this long paper Turner first discusses Indian trade throughout all regions of America, then focuses on Wisconsin. Included are the eras of French, British and American fur traders in Wisconsin, as he follows the story through about 1820.

For works on the “Indian trade”, or fur trade, see:
– Adams, J. A., “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History
;
Stevens, Wayne E., “The Organization of the British Fur Trade 1760-1800″ in “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History;
Johnson, Ida Amanda, The Michigan Fur Trade in Michigan Economic History;
Way, Royal B., “The United States Factory System for Trading with the Indians, 1796-1822″ in Economic History in the Great Lakes Region

Trading Posts, Wisconsin fur trade, Indian trade

Barns for Wisconsin Dairy Farms

Madison: Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Wisconsin 1916
White, Frank M. and Griffith, Clyde I.Go to Book

A short guide in non-technical language to assist farmers in planning the construction and interior features of cow barns. Illustrated.

Turning Points in Wisconsin History: The Birth of the Labor Movement

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Go to Collection

Online books, articles, manuscripts and images from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Turning Points in Wisconsin History: Lead Mining in Southwestern Wisconsin

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Go to Collection

Online articles from historical journals and newspapers, plus a book, images and manuscripts about lead mining from the 17th through the 19th century.

Lead mines and mining

Turning Points in Wisconsin History: Logging and Forest Products

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Go to Collection

Online articles from historical journals and newspapers, plus books, images and manuscripts about Wisconsin logging and forest products in the 19th and 20th centuries.

See also:Pinchot, Gifford, A Primer of Forestry in Section 634.9 Forestry on Agriculture, Forestry, Gardening & Animals

Logging, Forestry and forest products

Wisconsin Economic History

Turning Points in Wisconsin History: The Rise of Dairy Farming

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Go to Collection

Online articles from historical journals and newspapers, plus books, images and manuscripts about Wisconsin dairy farming and cheese-making in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Also see: Eckles, Clarence Henry, Dairy Cattle and Milk Production in Section 637 Processing dairy & related products in Agriculture, Forestry, Gardening & Animals

Wisconsin Dairy farming, Agricultural history

Turning Points in Wisconsin History: Mining in Northern Wisconsin

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Go to Collection

Online articles from historical journals and newspapers, plus books, images and a manuscript about pre-historic and 19th century mining in northern Wisconsin.

Mines and mining



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