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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Noonan, Josiah A. 1813 - 1882


newspaperman, politician, b. Amsterdam, N.Y. He learned the printer's trade and worked on various papers in New York. In 1836 he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he engaged in a brief newspaper venture and became interested in a speculating company that was promoting a town on the northwest shore of Lake Mendota as the site of the new capital of Wisconsin Territory. In 1836 he moved to Milwaukee where he worked briefly as a contributor to the Milwaukee Advertiser. After engaging in an unsuccessful wildcat bank venture in Niles, Mich., in the winter of 1837-1838, he returned to Wisconsin and settled in Madison where he founded the Wisconsin Enquirer, the first newspaper at the new capital. At first attempting impartiality, the paper soon became staunchly Democratic. In 1839 Noonan took C. C. Sholes (q.v.) as a partner, and in 1840 sold the Enquirer to Sholes and moved to Milwaukee. In 1841 he purchased the Milwaukee Advertiser, changed the name to Courier, and during the time that he was publisher (1841-1845) made the paper into one of the most outspoken Democratic organs in the state. He was postmaster of Milwaukee (1843-1849, 1853-1857), and was responsible for making this office a powerful political force. In 1851 Noonan successfully managed the senatorial campaign of Henry Dodge (q.v.), and was for several years recognized as perhaps the principal Democratic "boss" in Wisconsin. Despite the waning influence of the aging Dodge, Noonan continued to support him in the 1850's. In 1857 Dodge was unable to secure Noonan's reappointment as postmaster, and Noonan's major political importance came to an end. He then engaged in a paper business and type foundry in Milwaukee and in 1872 or 1873 moved to Chicago, where he was one of the editors of Industrial Age (1873-1879). In 1880 his health failed and he returned to Wisconsin. One of the most colorful figures in Wisconsin politics, Noonan was for many years in the center of nearly every political controversy in the state, and was the target for most of the political attacks on the Democratic party. His own approach to politics was personal and vituperative, and he was known for the hatred and vigor with which he attacked his enemies. During his career he was involved in numerous law suits. The litigation over water-power rights between Noonan and John J. Orton lasted over 28 years and was one of the longest legal struggles in the state's history. Milwaukee Evening Wis., Dec. 11, 1882; J. G. Gregory, ed., S.E. Wis. (4 vols., Chicago, 1932); P. F. Legler, "Josiah A. Noonan" [Unpub. M.A. thesis, Univ. of Wis., 1953]; WPA field notes; Colls. State Hist. Soc. Wis., 7 (1876).

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Josiah A. Noonan Papers for details.

View Noonan's recollections of Wisconsin in 1837 at Wisconsin Historical Collections.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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