By Kris Leonhardt
In the late 1800s, thousands of immigrants packed European ports, destined for America.
The promise of a better life prompted these dauntless families and individuals to sell what little they had to purchase one-way tickets on a steamship that would traverse the Atlantic Ocean to deliver them to the “New World” and the vast opportunities it held.
The trip took two weeks in substandard conditions. Thousands of individuals packed themselves into the bottom levels of the ship with sickness, filthy accommodations, and meager food available.
During this time the state of Wisconsin created the Commission of Emigration to encourage settling of the Europeans and others in the state. The Commission worked to draw settlers by distributing promotional pamphlets in Europe and publishing newspaper advertisements within the United States.
After the dissolving of the commission, letters home to the “Old Country” and private companies continued to encourage new settlers to America.
Among those arriving in the “New Country,” Germans came in large numbers, prompted by the virtues the Commission promoted. Milwaukee became an area favored by Germans for the factory jobs available as did places like Marshfield with its ample lumber and railroad work.
In the late 1800s, approximately two-thirds of the Marshfield area’s population had come from German states. In direct correlation with the population, the early 1880s ushered in two German newspapers, the Herald and the Wochenblatt, and one English publication, the Marshfield Times.
By 1882, the peak of German immigration, the Herald would discontinue production, but the Times, Wochenblatt, and the newly created English publication, the Marshfield Gazette, would provide the community with local, state, national, and world news.
On Nov. 30, 1882, a Wisconsin Rapids newspaper called the Centralia Enterprise documented the trio, “Marshfield now supports three papers, of which one, the Wochenblatt, is published in German. The Gazette, as well as the Wochenblatt, are a credit to the village and to the proprietors,” in a brazen slight of the Times.
The Times editor C.A. Coon would respond to the Enterprise statement by likening the situation to climbing a tree and finding a live “Coon” in the branches above and throwing stones in an effort to dislodge it.
A year later, the Times and Gazette merged to form the Times & Gazette, and the Wochenblatt would meet its demise.
Marshfield, however, would not be without a German newspaper for long. In 1884 the Die Demokrat came onto the scene. Started by H.J. Pankow, the Marshfield publication would connect the German community once again.
In the early 1920s, the Demokrat changed its name to the familiar Wochenblatt, which means “weekly issue.” These German language newspapers, however, were more of a transitional publication, and as German immigration slowly wound down, so did the need for the weekly publication.
The Wochenblatt later became the Marshfield Journal, which ran until 1951.