Levitan, Solomon 1862 - 1940 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Levitan, Solomon 1862 - 1940

Levitan, Solomon 1862 - 1940 | Wisconsin Historical Society

merchant, banker, state treasurer, b. Tauroggen, East Prussia. He studied in rabbinical schools, and as a young man went to the Crimea. In 1880 an anti-Semitic pogrom was instituted in the area, and according to his own story, Levitan was rewarded with a ticket to the U.S. for saving the life of his employer. Arriving in this country the same year, he worked as a peddler among the German-language groups in the East. In 1881 he moved to Wisconsin and worked as a peddler in the area around New Glarus. By 1887 he had accumulated enough money to open a store in New Glarus and later opened stores in Belleville and Blanchardville. In 1905 he moved to Madison and opened a dry-goods store. He was one of the organizers of the Commercial National Bank of Madison (1908), was vice-president (1909-1914), president (1914-1927), and chairman of the board (1927-1940). In 1933, the bank was reorganized as the Commercial State Bank. Soon after coming to Wisconsin, Levitan met Robert M. La Follette, Sr. (q.v.), and formed an unswerving attachment for progressivism and for La Follette as its embodiment. Twice an unsuccessful candidate for state treasurer, he was elected to that office in 1922, serving from 1923 to 1933 and from 1937 to 1939. Although his tenure as state treasurer was marked by economy, honesty, and efficiency, Levitan's popularity was based largely on personality. He loved the spotlight of political prominence, was his own best publicity agent, and never bypassed the opportunity to speak to an audience. Successfully blending a warm interest and sympathy for his fellow man with the folksy and humorous aspects of his Jewish accent and heritage, "Uncle Sol" built a personal popularity in the state that was second only to that of La Follette. A. R. Schumann, No Peddlers Allowed (Appleton, 1948); J. T. Salter, ed., Amer. Politician (Chapel Hill, 1938); M. M. Quaife, Wis. (4 vols., Chicago, 1924); N.Y. Times, Jan. 16, 1927; Milwaukee Journal, Jan. 1, 1933; Madison Capital Times, Feb. 27, 1940; Who's Who in Amer., 20 (1938).

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Solomon Levitan Papers for details.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

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[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]