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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Payne, Henry Clay 1843 - 1904


railroad executive, businessman, politician, U.S. postmaster general, b. Ashfield, Mass. He graduated from Shelburne Falls (Mass.) Academy in 1859. In 1863 he moved to Wisconsin, settling in Milwaukee, where for a time he worked as a cashier in a dry goods store. In 1867 he began his career in the insurance business, achieved considerable success, and soon became active in local Republican politics. In 1876 he was appointed postmaster of Milwaukee by President U. S. Grant, serving in this capacity until the Democrats gained control of the national administration in 1885. After being relieved of his duties as postmaster, Payne resumed his business pursuits and became prominent in the development of local public utilities. He was vice-president of the Wisconsin Telephone Co. (1886-1889), president (1889-1899), and in 1890 became vice-president of the Milwaukee Street Railway Co. Payne was president of this organization (1892-1895), and in 1896 was named vice-president of its successor, the reorganized Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. He was also president of the Milwaukee and Northern R.R. (1890-1893), and the Chicago and Calumet Terminal Railway (1894-1896), as well as several other railway and inter-urban lines. In various capacities, but principally through his railroad promotions, Payne was instrumental in developing the towns of North Milwaukee, Tomahawk, Babcock, and Minocqua. In addition to his widespread business activities, Payne maintained his political connections, and for many years was recognized as one of the most important Stalwart Republican leaders in the state. With J. C. Spooner (q.v.) and Philetus Sawyer (q.v.), Payne virtually dominated Republican patronage in Wisconsin, and until his death played a vital role in staving off the revolt of insurgent Republicans under the leadership of Robert M. La Follette, Sr. (q.v.). Although never a candidate for elective office, Payne was a Republican national committeeman from 1880 until his death, and in 1896 managed the Western headquarters in the presidential campaign of William McKinley. In 1900 he was instrumental in securing the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, and in 1902 was appointed postmaster general in President Roosevelt's cabinet. Less than three years later after accepting his cabinet post, Payne died suddenly in Washington, D.C. Dict. Amer. Biog.; Who's Who in Amer., 3 (1903); W. W. Wight, H. C. Payne (Milwaukee, 1907); Wis. Mag. Hist., 35.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Henry Clay Payne Papers for details.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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