Daniel Hoan

Daniel Hoan

Daniel Webster Hoan was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1881. He left school early but he studied at evening classes and in 1908 qualified as a lawyer.

A member of the Socialist Party, Hoan moved to Milwaukee where he worked closely with Victor Berger, the editor of the radical newspaper, Milwaukee Leader, in trying to persuade the city to adopt radical reforms. This included municipal ownership of utilities, urban renewal programs and free legal, medical and educational services.

In 1910 Emil Seidel was elected mayor of Milwaukee and became the first socialist leader of a major city in the United States. The following year Hoan became Milwaukee's city attorney and over the next six years he clamped down on the corruption of public officials. In 1917 Hoan was elected as mayor of Milwaukee. Unlike many members of the Socialist Party, Hoan supported United States entry into the First World War.

Hoan remained mayor for twenty-four years, the longest continuous Socialist administration in United States history. He brought in a large number of progressive reforms including the country's first public housing project, Garden Homes, started in 1923. Hoan also led the successful drive towards municipal ownership of the stone quarry, street lighting, sewage disposal and water purification.

Hoan developed a reputation for honest and efficient government. In 1999, Melvin Holli, the author of The American Mayor, and a group of experts on local government, voted Hoan as the eighth best mayor in United States history. Holli wrote: "Although this self-identified socialist had difficulty pushing progressive legislation through a nonpartisan city council, he experimented with the municipal marketing of food, backed city-built housing, and in providing public markets, city harbor improvements, and purging graft from Milwaukee politics. Perhaps Hoan's most important legacy was cleaning up the free-and-easy corruption that prevailed before he took office."

Hoan was defeated in 1941 and three years later left the Socialist Party and joined the Democratic Party. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1944 and 1946. In 1948 he was unsuccessful in his attempt to once again become mayor of Milwaukee when he was defeated by the socialist candidate, Frank Zeidler.

Daniel Webster Hoan died in 1961.

Primary Sources

(1) Daniel Hoan, while the mayor of Milwaukee, had an article published in the radical journal, The Unemployed (Spring, 1931)

Our large industrial cities have been the greatest beneficiaries and the worst sufferers from this transition to a complex mechanization of our economic life.

The machine has not only transformed our social environment but has solved the age-old struggle to produce enough to properly feed, house and clothe the human family. In the past families periodically visited the peoples of the world, taking a toll of millions of lives. The machine has multiplied production on the farm and in the factory ten-fold. The problem is no longer one of famine due to under-production. The machine has changed all of this to one of danger of starvation because we can produce too much.

The cause of this period of depression is deep-seated, not superficial. It lies in the fact that the machine has been made an instrument of exploitation of the workers for private gain, and not the means of relieving their burden, shortening hours of work, and allowing more leisure for recreation and the enjoyment of the fruits of their toil. The machine has enslaved the workers, instead of the workers becoming the masters of the machine.

The country cannot be restored to its status of artificial prosperity which followed the world war by superficial remedies. A temporary cure can be effected, and Milwaukee and other cities have taken the initial step toward such a cure. But full rehabilitation will not come until the core of the situation is touched.

Mother: "I hear Papa walking slow up the stairs. Don't ask him if he found a job."Denys Wortman, The Unemployed (February, 1931)
Mother: "I hear Papa walking slow up the stairs. Don't ask him if he found a job."
Denys Wortman, The Unemployed (February, 1931)