Irish in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Irish in Wisconsin

Irish in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


Nearly 4.5 million Irish settled in the United States between 1830 and 1920, second only to the Germans. Most came to Wisconsin between 1840 and 1860. 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 United States. 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 average Irish immigrant had spent seven years in the United States before moving to Wisconsin.

In 1860, Wisconsin's Irish population numbered 49,961; in 1880, 41,907; and in 1900, 23,544. The Irish began to leave Wisconsin in 1860 as German immigrants poured into the state. German immigrants were more willing to endure the hardships of clearing land for farming than many Irish who chose to move on.

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. They worked as laborers, domestics, and artisans. Most of the Irish left the Third War after a great fire in 1892.

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