William Dempster Hoard
Inducted into the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2005
Out of adversity came triumph for William Dempster Hoard, the former Wisconsin governor who launched The Jefferson County Union newspaper in 1870. He did not set out to be a journalist, agricultural reformer or politician. But that’s precisely what he did.
After a childhood in upstate New York, Hoard moved to Wisconsin just before the Civil war. After the war ended, he made his living selling pumps during the summer, music lessons in the winter, and supplemented his income by writing articles for several local papers and farm magazines. From there began a long and distinguished career in publishing.
He moved his family to Lake Mills after a failed stint in hop farming. Lake Mills didn’t have a newspaper and, needing a livelihood, Hoard started The Jefferson County Union. To fill his pages and appeal to rural readers, Hoard turned to writers in nearby villages and townships, resulting in the first local correspondent system in American newspapering.
In the 1870s, more than 80 percent of the population was dependent on farming and, conversely, Hoard’s Union was dependent on those very farmers to survive. At the time, Wisconsin’s agriculture was dependent on wheat and, to a lesser extent, small fruits. Hoard’s commitment to “making the paper a popular necessity” shined through when the harsh winters started killing fruit trees, and wheat crops were wearing out glaciated soils. Farmers were abandoning their farms to move west. From his childhood in New York, Hoard knew that manure from dairying had kept similar soils robust, and its steady income was a good way to avoid the roller-coaster world of grain prices.
Hoard used the Union’s columns to educate farmers about converting to dairying, how to implement better farming practices, and to thunder against those who stood in the way of dairying. He was soon in demand as a speaker throughout the state, and Wisconsin’s economics start to swing back. By the 1880s, his campaign and the Union had spread beyond Wisconsin, resulting in Hoard producing a new weekly publication, Hoard’s Dairyman.
In 1888, the Milwaukee Sentinel started a campaign to draft Hoard for the Republican nomination for Governor. He easily won as the “Cow Candidate” and served as governor from 1889-1891. Hoard’s election is generally considered the start of Wisconsin’s progressive tradition.
Through the columns of the small weekly he founded, Hoard changed Wisconsin’s economic underpinnings, pushed forward a movement that opened up government for the average citizen and spun off an international magazine. The company he founded is still independent. The Jefferson County Union is now the Daily Jefferson County Union, and Hoard’s Dairyman goes to 95 percent of America’s milk producers as well as subscribers in 85 foreign countries.