CORRECTING MSNBC'S RACHEL MADDOW: Does Wisconsin really have seven towns named after labor unions?

Does Wisconsin really have seven towns named “Union,” all named after labor unions? Rachel Maddow mentioned this twice on MSNBC, so it surely must be true.

From Wikipedia:

Union is the name of some places in the U.S. state of Wisconsin:

Union, Burnett County, Wisconsin, a town
Union, Door County, Wisconsin, a town
Union, Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, a town
Union, Pierce County, Wisconsin, a town
Union, Rock County, Wisconsin, a town
Union, Vernon County, Wisconsin, a town
Union, Waupaca County, Wisconsin, a town

Rachel Maddow first mentioned this on February 19, 2011, in a long piece about Wisconsin’s labor heritage:

Watch This Episode Now
Season 211 Episode 0218 Date: Feb 19, 2011
Rachel Maddow reviews the deep, rich history of union activism in
Wisconsin and how it has served workers across America and how the
descruction of unions serves a broader Republican strategy of
undercutting Democratic electoral strength.

The point was so important that Maddow mentioned it again on July 12, 2011, in another segment about Wisconsin’s union history. Maddow didn’t specifically say it, but it’s implied that Wisconsinites loved unions so much that they named seven towns after them.

I checked the Maddow Blog and found this:

John Beiswenger
In tonight’s program, Rachel pointed out that there are several towns
in Wisconsin named “Union,” implying that they adopted the name to show
support for labor unions. I always thought that towns in the United
States named Union had changed their name sometime during or shortly
after the Civil War to show support for the Union, meaning the United
States, including all states that had succeeded from the Union.

A little research shows that all of the Towns names Union in Wisconsin
are small, rural towns. It’s hard to imagine that labor unions were all
that important to these communities.

A little more research shows that at least one town in the U.S. named
Union, adopted this name shortly after the Civil War. See the Union,
Maine entry in Wikipedia.

#7 – Tue Jul 12, 2011 9:42 PM EDT

I’ve been a member of the American Name Society. We help people for free. Why didn’t MSNBC consult a scholar before putting this on the air twice? The post above made a lot of sense. Many American towns have been named “Union.”

I wrote to the Wisconsin Historical Society and just recently received this reply:

Dear Barry Popik,

According to the book, Civil towns of Wisconsin : a guide and index to
Wisconsin’s civil towns from 1821 to the present, compiled by Patricia
G. Harrsch, Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Library, 1998, there were a number of towns named “Union” in Wisconsin,
with their date of establishment:

Union (Burnett Co. ) 8 Jan. 1918
Union (Crawford Co.) 18 Nov. 1862. Vacated 19 Nov. 1874
Union (Door Co.) 15 Nov. 1865
Union (Eau Claire Co.) 5 Mar. 1872
Union (Jefferson Co.) 12 Feb. 1841. Vacated 21 Jan. 1846
Union (Pierce Co.) 15 Nov. 1861
Union (Rock Co.) 17 Feb. 1842
Union (Vernon Co.( 14 Nov. 1855
Union (Waupaca Co.) 19 Nov. 1857

In addition, according to the book, Wisconsin, its territorial and
statehood post offices, compiled by Frank Moertl ; edited by James B.
Hale, James Maher and Greg Schmidt. Hartland, WI: Wisconsin Postal
History Society, 1995, there are several additional related Wisconsin

Union Center (Juneau Co.)
Union Centre (Jefferson Co.)
Union Centre (Juneau Co.)
Union Church (Racine Co.)
Union Farm (Pepin Co.)
Union Grove (Racine Co.)
Union Mills (Iowa Co.)
Uniontown (Onieida Co.)
Unionville (Waupaca Co.)
Unity (Marathon Co.)

Unfortunately, neither of the above books lists the origin of the
town’s name.
Thank you,

Irene Hansen
Reference Librarian
Library-Archives Division
Wisconsin Historical Society
816 State Street
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 264-6535
[email protected]

The American labor union movement really began in the 1880s. Towns named “Union” incorporated in 1841, 1842, 1855, 1857, 1861, 1862, 1865, and 1872 most likely have nothing at all to do with labor unions. The 1861, 1862, 1865 and 1872 dates probably indicate a Civil War “Union” influence. (Union CIty, New Jersey, for example, also was named during this period.)

The Rachel Maddow Show has very lazy researchers, or likes to be dishonest with the viewer, or both. Either way, a correction is needed. There’s not any evidence that Wisconsin named its towns “Union” after labor unions.