Joseph R. McCarthy Career Timeline | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Joseph R. McCarthy Career Timeline

Joseph R. McCarthy Career Timeline | Wisconsin Historical Society
During the first day of the Army-McCarthy Hearings, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy holds both hands over the microphones while speaking with counsel Roy Cohn.

McCarthy Private Talk, 1954.

District of Columbia. During the first day of the Army-McCarthy Hearings, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy holds both hands over the microphones while speaking with counsel Roy Cohn. View the original source document: WHI 48224

Early Life, 1908-1944

EnlargeCaptain Joseph R. McCarthy, a Marine intelligence officer, interviewing pilots who have just returned from raids on Japanese installations in the Solomon Islands.

Captain Joseph McCarthy with Marines, 1943.

Captain Joseph R. McCarthy, a Marine intelligence officer, interviewing pilots who have just returned from raids on Japanese installations in the Solomon Islands. View the original source document: WHI 32010

1908, November 14. McCarthy is born in rural Grand Chute Township, Outagamie County, Wisconsin, the fourth of seven children to Timothy and Bridget Tierney McCarthy.

1922 Drops out of school at age 14; works on a farm; later runs a grocery store in Manawa.

1929 Returns to high school in Manawa, finishing in a year.

1935 Graduates from Marquette University Law School.

1935 Opens a law office in Waupaca.

1936 Joins the law firm of Michael Everlin; runs unsuccessfully — as a Democrat — for district attorney.

1939 Elected judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit in Appleton thanks to energetic campaigning. Quickly earns a reputation for cutting the judicial backlog and awarding quick divorces.

1942, June 4. McCarthy enlists in Marine Corps, although his status as a judge exempts him. He left the service as a captain. As an intelligence officer with a bomber squadron in the Pacific, McCarthy sometimes went along on flights. He was not a tail-gunner as he later claimed.

Early Political Career, 1944-1950

EnlargeJoseph R. McCarthy in his Marine Corps uniform at the time of his first campaign for the United States Senate. He is holding a piece of his campaign literature.

Marine Captain Joseph McCarthy, 1944

Joseph R. McCarthy in his Marine Corps uniform at the time of his first campaign for the United States Senate. He is holding a piece of his campaign literature. View the original source document: WHI 23589

1944, August 16. Still in uniform, McCarthy runs for U.S. Senate and is defeated in the Republican primary by incumbent Alexander Wiley.

1945 McCarthy resigns from the Marine Corps and returns to Appleton judicial post.

1946, March 17. Wisconsin Progressive Party votes to rejoin the Republicans and Senator Robert La Follette, Jr. plans to run for re-election in that party's primary, but he campaigns very little.

1946, August 13. McCarthy, the endorsed Republican candidate, defeats La Follette in the Republican primary by campaigning very hard and attacking La Follette.

1946, November 5. McCarthy defeats Democrat Howard J. McMurray in the general election.

1947 McCarthy establishes a lackluster record in the Senate, with anti-communism apparently only a minor issue for him.

Background to McCarthyism, 1946-1950

EnlargeThe image shows a menacing figure in black armed with a gun and a rope. There is a bright red package with the Communist symbol in the foreground.

"The Red Package" Cover, 1947.

Anti-communist brochure, copyright by Harry T. Everingham, Chicago, Illinois, in 1947. The text asks "Why not try Communism?" and replies "The answer is you can't try Communism any more than you can 'try' cyanide." Literature such as this demonstrates that conspiratorial views of Communists and their "lying sidewinder fellow-travelers" were common well before Senator Joseph R. McCarthy became a national figure by making such allegations. View the original source document: WHI 47757

1946 House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) made a permanent House committee charged to investigate Communist subversion. HUAC is often confused with McCarthy; but because HUAC was a House committee, Senator McCarthy was not involved its investigations.

1946, November 5. Cold War jitters elect numerous candidates on strong anti-Communists platforms such as Charles Kersten and Alvin O'Konski in Wisconsin.

1947, November 24. Ten movie screenwriters and directors, the Hollywood Ten, are cited for failing to testify to HUAC about their Communist associations. Later the careers of many in Hollywood are ruined by blacklisting.

1948, August 3. At a HUAC hearing Whittaker Chambers charges that Alger Hiss, a highly respected former State Department official, is a Communist spy. Congressman Richard Nixon plays a key role in obtaining evidence to convict Hiss while also winning national attention for himself.

1949, August 5. State Department releases a White Paper on China. It concludes that the deteriorating situation in China is beyond American ability to fix. Secretary of State Dean Acheson draws fire from the conservative China Lobby.

1949, September 23. President Truman announces that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb, ending the American monopoly. Klaus Fuchs confesses having passed atomic secrets to the Russians. He implicates others including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

1949, November. McCarthy attacks Cedric Parker of the Madison Capital Times for his left wing associations, a harbinger of McCarthy's later methods.

1949, December. Nationalist China falls to Communists, and Chaing Kai-shek flees to Taiwan.

1950, January 21. Alger Hiss convicted of perjury, the statute of limitations for spying having expired.

1950, June 17. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are arrested for stealing atomic bomb secrets for the Soviets. Their conviction on March 29, 1951 enforces credence to McCarthy's espionage charges. Still maintaining their innocence, the Rosenbergs are executed on June 19.

The Era of McCarthyism, 1950-1954

EnlargeJoseph McCarthy speaks from a podium in front of a large microphone. He is leaning forward and pointing one finger at the audience.

Joseph McCarthy, 1951.

Wisconsin. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy speaking. Although unidentified, the photograph probably documents an appearance in Fort Atkinson as the image was donated by the Hoard Museum located in that city. At Fort Atkinson, McCarthy charged that a "close relative" of an editor of the Milwaukee Journal and two members of the paper's staff had contributed funds to the Alger Hiss defense fund. View the original source document: WHI 8006

1950, February 9. McCarthy delivers speech in Wheeling, West Virginia and displays a list of 205 Communists in the State Department apparently harbored by Communist sympathizers in high places. Because his charges seem specific, McCarthy wins national headlines.

1950, March 8. Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee headed by Democrat Millard Tydings begins hearings on McCarthy's charges. McCarthy skillfully uses the committee to win further public attention. He later campaigns for Tydings' defeat.

1950, March 21. McCarthy charges that Owen Lattimore, former State Department adviser on the Far East, is a top Russian agent. On April 20 testimony of Louis Budenz, former editor of the "Daily Worker," convinces many that McCarthy is correct.

1950, March 29. "Washington Post" editorial cartoonist Herbert Block (Herblock) coins the phrase "McCarthyism."

1950, June 25. Communist North Korea invades South Korea. President Truman sends in the Army and appoints Douglas MacArthur the supreme commander.

1950, November. McCarthy campaigns in 15 states in behalf of anti-Communist candidates. Conservatives' victories further increase his power and influence.

1951, April 11. President Truman relieves General MacArthur as supreme commander in Korea after the general repeatedly calls for an escalation of the war and invasion of mainland China. McCarthy and Republicans support MacArthur who returns home to great adulation.

1951, June 14. McCarthy criticizes former Secretary of State George C. Marshall in a Senate speech, declaring him an instrument of the Soviet conspiracy.

1951, September 28. Senator William Benton, a Democrat, testifies before the Gillette Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections calling for McCarthy's expulsion for many instances of deceit and misconduct. McCarthy fails to cooperate with the committee.

1952 October 3. Antipathy of Dwight Eisenhower toward McCarthy becomes apparent during Presidential campaign stops in Wisconsin.

1952, November 4. McCarthy is reelected, having defeating Len Schmitt in the Republican primary and Thomas Fairchild in the general election. McCarthy claims that the voters of Wisconsin have endorsed his drive against Communist subversion.

1953, January 20. As a member of the new Republican majority, McCarthy becomes chair of Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, previously an innocuous post. He skillfully uses the committee to further his campaign to expose Communists in government and draw personal attention.

Army-McCarthy Hearings, 1953-1954

EnlargeJoseph McCarthy speaking in front of multiple microphones about the clash between himself and President Eisenhower.

McCarthy and Eisenhower, 1954.

District of Columbia. During the first months of his administration, President Dwight Eisenhower handled Joseph R. McCarthy by publicly ignoring him. However, after the abuse that General Zwicker received from Senator McCarthy's committee in January, 1954, Eisenhower felt compelled to comment. At a press conference on March 3, 1954, he was mildly critical of McCarthy's lack of fair play, but he emphatically stated that dealing with employees of t View the original source document: WHI 49052

1953, August 31. McCarthy shifts anti-Communist focus from the State Department to the Army and begins looking for espionage in the Signal Corps Radar Lab at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Closed-door hearings in New York City allow McCarthy to control release of information.

1953, November 24. McCarthy criticizes the government for not halting trade with Red China.

1953, November 3. G. David Schine, a McCarthy aide and an Army draftee, is inducted at Fort Dix.

1953, November 13. Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens announces that Army's own investigation found no espionage at Fort Monmouth.

1953, December 3. McCarthy begins investigation of Army dentist Irving Peress at Camp Kilmer who had been promoted despite refusal to answer loyalty questions.

1954, February 14. McCarthy questions General Ralph Zwicker, commandant at Camp Kilmer to learn who promoted Peress. He charges that Zwicker is unfit to wear a uniform.

1954, March 9. Republican Senator Ralph Flanders of Vermont begins public campaign against McCarthy. CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow broadcasts the first of two episodes of "See It Now" devoted to McCarthy

1954, March 11. Army report about McCarthy's attempts to win favors for Private Schine is leaked to the press. McCarthy counters with charges that Army is trying to blackmail him in order to halt his investigations.

1954, March 16. McCarthy's committee votes to investigate entire issue. Senator Mundt replaces McCarthy as chair for the proceedings.

1954, April 22. Televised Army-McCarthy Hearings begin, many Americans mesmerized by the spectacle see McCarthy in action for the first time.

1954, June 9. McCarthy attacks an associate of Army counsel Joseph Welch who responds with his much quoted rebuke.

1954, June 17. Army-McCarthy Hearings end after 36 days of testimony

1954, July 18. Flander urges the Senate to back his censure motion.

1954, August 2. Senate sends censure issue to the special bi-partisan committee headed by Arthur Watkins.

1954, August 31. Army-McCarthy committee report faults McCarthy. Only Republican Everett Dirksen says the Army charges against McCarthy were not proved.

1954, September 27. Watkins Committee recommends censure on narrowly-defined internal charges (abuse of committee witness Zwicker and contempt of Gillette Committee), not "McCarthyism" or the anti-Communist crusade.

1954, December 2. Senate votes to condemn McCarthy, with the word "censure" removed from final resolution. Charges concerning Zwicker are dropped. Vote brings no formal action against McCarthy, but Democratic majority in the November, 1954 elections ends his power as committee chair.

1957, May 2. McCarthy dies at Bethesda Naval Hospital and is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Appleton.

1957, August 27. Democrat William Proxmire wins the special election to replace McCarthy in the Senate.

1975 HISC (formerly HUAC) is abolished and its functions transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.

View the Gallery

Suggestions for Further Reading

"Joe Must Go: The Movement to Recall Senator Joseph R. McCarthy"

"The Anti-McCarthy Campaign in Wisconsin, 1951-1952"