Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Peck, George Wilbur (1840-1916)

Peck, George Wilbur 1840 - 1916 | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeDetail of the Assembly Chamber photograph focusing on the journalists seated near the front of the room.

Wisconsin State Capitol Interior — Assembly Detail

Detail of the Assembly Chamber photograph focusing on the journalists seated near the front of the room. During the 19th century, coverage of Capitol news received more attention from the state's newspapers than today. Peck was unique in that he had worked as both part of the press at one time, and became governor. View the original source document: WHI 23448

b. Henderson, New York, September 28, 1840
d. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 16, 1916

George Wilbur Peck was newspaperman, humorist, author, politician, and governor of Wisconsin from 1891 to 1895. He became well-known for his humorous "Peck's Bad Boy" stories in his newspaper, Peck's Son, in the 1880s.

Early Life and Newspaper Career

Born in Henderson, New York, in 1840, Peck moved with his parents to Wisconsin in 1843. They settled first in Cold Spring in Jefferson County, and later in Whitewater.

In Whitewater, Peck learned the printer's trade working on the Whitewater Register. From 1855 to 1860, he worked for various Wisconsin newspapers. In 1860, he purchased a half interest in the Jefferson County Republican, and remained with this newspaper until 1863.

During the Civil War, he served with the 4th Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry (1863-1866). He rose to the rank of 2nd lieutenant.

After the war, in 1866, he established a newspaper called the Ripon Representative, but soon sold the paper. He moved to New York City in 1868. There he became for a time one of the editors of Marcus M. Pomeroy's Democrat.

Peck's Son and Humor Writing

Returning to Wisconsin in 1871, Peck was co-editor (1871-1874) of Pomeroy's former newspaper, the La Crosse Democrat, which was restyled as the La Crosse Liberal Democrat in 1872. In 1874, Peck established his own paper at La Crosse, Peck's Sun. Four years later, in 1878, he moved it to Milwaukee.

The paper soon became known for its humorous sketches, particularly those written by Peck in the "Peck's Bad Boy" series. Peck's best-known book, Peck's Bad Boy and His Pa, was published in 1882. He served as editor of the paper until 1890.

Political Career

With the exception of a term as chief clerk of the Democratic assembly (1874-1875), Peck participated very little in politics, until he was elected mayor of Milwaukee in 1890 on the Democratic ticket. That same year, he was also nominated for governor by the Democrats. Peck's campaign fouces on the issue surrounding the Bennett Law, which required the use of English in all schools. Peck opposed the law, and was voted into office. 

Peckl was re-elected in 1892, and he served as governor from January 1891 to January 1895. In 1894 he was  defeated by Republican William H. Upham. Peck ran again for the gubernatorial seat in 1904, but was unsuccessful. He continued to live in Milwaukee until his death in 1916. 

Dict. Amer. Biog.; E. B. Usher, Wis. (8 vols., Chicago, 1914); Milwaukee Evening Wis., Apr. 17, 1916.

 

[Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]