Socialist Emil Seidel won election as mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 5 1910, the first such victory for a socialist in a major US city. Milwaukee was a significant industrial center and then the 12th largest US city, with a population of about 375,000.
The victory was only the latest mark of the growing influence of socialism in the US. The weekly Appeal to Reason had a circulation of 550,000 in 1910, socialist candidates had won offices in dozens of cities and towns across the US, socialist “foreign language federations” had been founded among many immigrant groups, and Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Party’s best-known figure, was admired by workers across the US. The major reforms of the Progressive movement—for which Wisconsin was a center—were authored in response to the gathering socialist challenge.
Seidel reflected the class heterogeneity of US socialism at the time. An artisan and German immigrant, his victory was based on the votes of workers in Milwaukee. But he and Victor Berger, his influential sponsor, were US followers of the German reformist Eduard Bernstein. They believed socialism could eventually be won through the accumulation of reforms.