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The Milwaukee/Milwaukie Controversy

How political affiliation determined the name of Wisconsin's largest city
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Until 1835, when the Milwaukie Post Office was established under Postmaster Solomon Juneau, there was no standard way to spell the name of the city. Juneau preferred "Milwaukie," so that is what he used. Between 1833-1843 the name appeared on maps, in newspapers, and in correspondence with a variety of spellings, including Miliwaki, Milawakee, Milwaki, Milwaukee, Milwalky, and Milwauk, as well as the version favored by Postmaster Juneau, a Democrat.

In 1843, Josiah A. Noonan, a Whig, was elected postmaster. Postmaster Noonan preferred the spelling "Milwaukee," and changed all date stamps to reflect his preference. Noonan lost the office to Juneau in 1849, and with a Democrat back in charge the name reverted to "Milwaukie". Two successive postmasters retained that spelling, but Noonan regained the office in 1853 and once again the name was changed to "Milwaukee" on the date stamps.

1857 saw another change, as Noonan was defeated by Democrat J. R. Sharpstein. Although Sharpstein held office for only one year, he succeeded in changing the date stamps back to "Milwaukie" once again. The change stayed in effect until the end of 1861. Meanwhile, in 1860, the new Republican party, successor to the Whigs, had soundly defeated the Democrats in most areas of the city's political arena. In 1862, the name was changed for the last time. Through use by exclusively Republican postmasters over several decades, Milwaukee has become the accepted, "non-partisan" spelling used today.

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