Chudnow exhibits dovetail with 2016 state primary
Waukesha-born Hoan was longest continuous-serving Socialist in U.S. as Milwaukee mayor

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

March 31, 2016


Photo courtesy of Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear

Milwaukee’s Chudnow Museum is marking the centennial of Waukesha native Dan Hoan’s becoming mayor of Milwaukee, as well as recalling Wisconsinite Robert LaFollette's 1924 presidential campaign.

Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays at 839 N. 11th St., Milwaukee, the Chudnow’s admission prices are $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors. Children younger than 6 are admitted free.

MILWAUKEE - Just in time for Wisconsin’s presidential preference primary on Tuesday, an area museum has unveiled a pair of political displays.

The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, 839 N. 11th St., is marking the 100th anniversary of Waukesha-born Daniel Webster Hoan’s election as Milwaukee’s mayor. As a Socialist (the second of three to lead Wisconsin’s largest city during the 20th century), Hoan foreshadowed the politics of current presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Hoan eventually forsook the Socialists in favor of the Democratic Party, while self-described democratic socialist Sanders is running for the White House as a Democrat.

“We were kind of unique in America,” Chudnow Museum executive director Steve Daily said in a telephone interview with regard to Milwaukee. “We were a big city that adopted Socialism on a large scale.” Former city attorney Hoan’s six-term, 24-year tenure atop Milwaukee’s government represents the longest continuous Socialist administration in United States annals. The 1916-40 Hoan administration has been lengthier than any other in city history, except for the 1960-88 mayoralty of Henry Maier.

Hoan’s Socialist predecessor and follower in the mayor’s office were, respectively, Emil Seidel (1910-12) and Frank Zeidler (1948-60). Ironically, it was Zeidler’s older brother Carl - a Democrat - who defeated Hoan at the polls and thus denied him a seventh term.

Items on exhibit to commemorate the centennial of Hoan’s accession to city hall, noted Daily, are a number of “vintage election posters,” plus “photographs (from) different points in his career.” The photos include one of Hoan riding in a parade with honored guest Charles Lindbergh, the aviator.

The 38th of Milwaukee’s 44 mayors “was kind of a celebrity in his own right,” according to Daily. The museum director explained that Hoan, for whom the bridge that connects Interstate 794 to the Lake Freeway is named, managed to keep his city “in the black” during the Great Depression. He then traveled the country telling how he’d done so, touting the merits of Socialism in the process. Accomplishments of the Hoan administration include the nation’s first public bus system and first public housing project (Garden Homes, several miles northwest of Milwaukee’s downtown). Daily mentioned the “clean water system he helped to spur”; Hoan also has been credited with purifying city politics, among other reforms.

While Hoan was starting his third term as mayor, fellow Badger Robert M. La Follette Sr. was running for president on the ticket of his own Progressive Party, which Daily identified as a liberal branch of Republicanism. In the first presidential election that utilized radio, that of 1924, “Fighting Bob” garnered 17 percent of the popular vote. La Follette also carried Wisconsin, the state he served as governor and U.S. senator, although Republican incumbent Calvin Coolidge was returned to the White House.

The Chudnow Museum’s La Follette mannequin is temporarily joining the museum’s train station exhibit in a nod to the whistle stop practice of campaigns past. Visitors can listen to an excerpt from a speech by the candidate Daily labeled “just a little bit ahead of his time” as an advocate of such ideas as workers’ compensation. 

The Chudnow website adds that La Follette’s  ‘24 running mate was Sen. Burton Wheeler of Montana and that “their platform included curbing military spending, ending monopolies, nationalizing several key industries, forming a national retirement pension for the working class and regulating banking practices.”

Contents of the 140-year-old Chudnow building rather recall the Milwaukee Public Museum’s “Streets of Old Milwaukee.” Among the Chudnow’s permanent exhibits are a movie theater, a barber shop, stores and a doctor’s clinic. There are also a relatively new fashion exhibit concentrating on the flapper phenomenon of the 1920s and hallway display featuring early Kodak cameras.

“We always try to relate to our time period” (the period between the World Wars, encompassing the 1920s and ‘30s), Daily said, and Hoan “was a big part of those two decades in Milwaukee” - just  as La Follette was a big part of the earlier decade in the Badger State and beyond.