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Class of 1846: Alexander Mitchell

Today is the future from a century ago. During that bygone era, would young leaders of industry, government, health care, and education in Milwaukee been able to imagine the generational impact their lives would have on the city we live in today?

Alexander Mitchell

Age: 29

Mitchel was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland coming to Milwaukee in 1839 to be the secretary to the Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance Co. This company was financed by fellow Scotsman George Smith of Chicago who Mitchell would buy out in 1854. While it was always an Insurance company (boats on the Great Lakes) but soon took on the characteristics of a bank in terms of operations. In the 1840s and 1850s the term bank frequently had a negative connotation due to the lack of both state and federal regulations. By 1853 with changes in state laws the term Bank was added to the title.

Using his resources from his business enterprise Mitchell invested in railroads, served two terms in congress (1871-1875). In 1865 he took over a financially troubled Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Co. He consolidated other small railroads to make his railroad one of the largest, 5000 miles of track, in the upper Midwest. Mitchell, S.D. is named after him because of the railroad affiliation.

Note: just west of Mitchell, S.D. is Plankinton, S.D. named after Milwaukee’s John Plankinton, Milwaukee businessman and contemporary of Mitchell. Between these two men, Mitchell and Plankinton, Milwaukee became a fiscal success story in the Midwest.

The Mitchell building located on the corner of Water and Michigan is considered one of today’s architectural treasures as well as the Commerce Building next door for which both Mitchel and Plankinton played a significant role in design and construction.

Mitchell’s grandson is U.S. Army General Billy Mitchell, who is considered to be the father of military air power starting in the early 1920s.

Martha Mitchell, his wife, was active in Milwaukee social service areas supporting a number of welfare activities as well as founding the Veterans Home in Wood, WI. Mitchell’s son, John Lendrum Mitchell, died in WWI and is buried in France.

October 18, 1817 – April 19, 1887

About The Author

Paul Haubrich

Paul A. Haubrich, PhD is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and author of the book “A Journey through the History of St. Paul’s Church 1838 to 2013.” As chair of the Board of Directors for the Forest Home Historic Preservation Association, he has extensive knowledge of Milwaukee’s history and its founders.

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