William Kirsch Papers, 1921-1954


William Kirsch, statistician, agricultural economist, and pioneer in the cooperative movement in Wisconsin, was born in Lodz, Russia. He went to Belgium with his parents at the age of fourteen, studied there and in Germany and France, and came to the United States when he was nineteen. After working in New York factories for two years he returned to Belgium; but stayed only six months before deciding to live permanently in the United States.

After another year of factory work in New York City he moved to Wisconsin with the intention of specializing in agricultural economics. While completing a degree at the University of Wisconsin, Kirsch accumulated four years of practical experience working on farms, chiefly in Sheboygan County. For two years he was an assistant to Charles McCarthy in the Legislative Reference Library, doing research and helping to draft agricultural legislation. For some years he also lectured in a graduate course, Economic Institutions, at the University of Wisconsin.

In 1920, Kirsch became associated with the Wisconsin State Department of Agriculture, at that time called the Department of Markets. As economic advisor to the Department he became a specialist in cooperative marketing and in the investigation of monopolies. He was in great demand as a speaker, and worked and wrote assiduously on any matter concerning the restraint of trade in the milk and cheese industry in Wisconsin, constantly urging improved standards and cooperative marketing.

Kirsch worked with the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department in gathering information on monopolistic practices in the dairy industry, especially in cheese marketing. In 1942 he wrote a series of articles for the Capital Times of Madison concerning Federal indictments involving monopolistic practices of the large cheese companies. After Judge Patrick Stone charged that Kirsch was using the newspapers to argue the state's case and that of the small cheese companies, Kirsch agreed to discontinue the articles. However, he resumed publication several months later.

In 1954, Kirsch retired as chief statistician with the Department of Agriculture, and died two years later. During his thirty-four years with the Department he often translated pertinent articles and letters, as he spoke six languages and could read several others. His reputation as an advocate of cooperative marketing was well known; in fact, he helped to establish the Pure Milk Products Cooperative in Wisconsin. He also wrote the county history sections for the Third County Agricultural Statistics Series, published between 1952 and 1955.

Kirsch strongly believed in business competition, but with the restraining hand of government always present. He argued that business competition without some control by government tends gradually to become monopolistic. To advance his thesis he published a book in 1952, Monopoly and Social Control (Public Affairs Press, Washington, D.C.), under the pseudonym Henry A. Wells.