William Jennings Bryan

Date in History: 1905

Just over 100 years ago, Fort Atkinson was visited by the great populist William Jennings Bryan. Following failed presidential bids on the Democratic ticket in 1896 and 1900, Bryan decided to hit the lecture circuit to promote his ideas. Over the next two decades, he would be one of the most popular Chautauqua speakers, delivering thousands of speeches across the country.

He came to Fort Atkinson in August of 1905 and delivered a famous lecture entitled, “The Value of an Ideal,” at the old city hall building on East Milwaukee Avenue. As Fort Atkinson lawyer Charlie Rogers tells the story, “Joe Schreiner and I got Ed Hager to take us to Milton Junction in his automobile to meet Mr. Bryan. His train was late, but we came back over horrible roads in 50 minutes. As we neared Fort Atkinson, we met a farmer sitting high up on a hog rack and he leaned over as we passed and said, “How are you Billy?” Bryan laughed and said, “I must be pretty well known in these parts when a man can recognize me like that in the dark.”

This historic document aired on the radio as an Historic Minute on 08/21/2006.

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