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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Irish in Wisconsin


Second only to Germans, close to 4.5 million Irish settled in the U.S. between 1830 and 1920. The main Irish influx in Wisconsin occurred between 1840 and 1860 and they were the largest English-speaking group to settle in the state. Unlike other immigrant groups, the Irish did not move immediately westward after arriving in the U.S.: the average Irish immigrant had spent seven years in the U.S. before moving to Wisconsin. In 1860, the Wisconsin's Irish population numbered 49,961; 41,907 in 1880; and 23, 544 in 1900. Irish immigrants were more likely than other groups to move from county to county and from state to state in search of available land for farming. The great immigration of Germans after 1860 also led the Irish to leave Wisconsin as German immigrants were more willing to endure the hardships of clearing land for farming. Many Irish worked in the lead region both in the mines and in support industries such as lumbering, smelting, and rail construction.  Others settled in the southeastern counties and in the city of Milwaukee. In 1850, 4,350 Irish lived in Milwaukee, primarily in the Third Ward, working as laborers, domestics, and artisans. The Third Ward lost most of its Irish inhabitants after a fire in 1892.  

View related articles at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]
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