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Wisconsin from 1914 to 1918


Robert La Follette in Wisconsin
Robert La Follette in Wisconsin

During the years of World War I (1914-1918), the Progressives were turned out of office by the conservative faction of the Republican Party known as the Stalwarts. Wisconsin’s new leaders, however, kept most of the Progressive reforms. During the war, high farm prices and the demand for farm goods at home and abroad encouraged farmers to cultivate many additional acres, even marginal land in cleared northern areas. Dairy production increased greatly, and Wisconsin soon surpassed New York as the nation’s leading dairy state. The war spurred the growth of the machinery, heavy equipment, and transportation industries. Shipbuilding, which had first developed with the growth of commerce on the Great Lakes, flourished in Manitowoc and Superior. Wisconsin’s industrial expansion continued unabated after the war, although the state’s large brewing industry was badly hurt by Prohibition, the national ban on alcohol that took effect in 1920.

The state’s farmers began to suffer from falling farm prices in the 1920s. Their distress became acute during the Great Depression, the national economic disaster of the 1930s. It became clear that most of the cleared northern land was better suited to trees than crops, and reforestation and rural zoning programs were adopted. Constitutional amendments passed in the 1920s permitted the state and county governments to buy land to convert to forests and parks. Nicolet and Chequamegon National Forests also were established. Industry as well as agriculture suffered severely during the Great Depression. The state’s important machine tool and machinery industries were badly hurt, and only the paper industry continued to prosper. In 1931, when the full effects of the depression struck Wisconsin, Philip F. La Follette, a son of Robert La Follette, became governor.

Under his administration, thousands of jobless Wisconsin residents were given work on road-building projects. In 1932 the legislature passed the nation’s first unemployment compensation law, which served as a model for laws later passed by other states and the federal government. La Follette’s efforts anticipated some of the programs of the New Deal, the economic strategy used by President Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945) to combat the depression.

When the depression worsened in 1932, Wisconsin voters elected their first Democratic governor in almost 40 years, Albert G. Schmedeman, and voted overwhelmingly for Roosevelt for president. Two years later, Philip La Follette was elected governor for his second term, this time as the candidate of the newly organized Progressive Party, a coalition with farmer, labor, and Socialist groups.

His brother Robert La Follette, Jr., filled their father’s seat in the U.S. Senate from 1925 until 1946, when he was defeated in a Republican primary by Joseph R. McCarthy. At that time the Progressive Party rejoined the Republican Party, ending a long era of La Follette leadership. In the early 1950s McCarthy became the leader of a campaign against Communist influence, but he made unsubstantiated allegations and used abusive investigating tactics. He was censured by the Senate in 1954, and McCarthyism became a synonym for wild, unfounded accusations of disloyalty. "Wisconsin" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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