Jeremiah McLain Rusk | Inducted by 1920
Governor of Wisconsin and the nation’s first full-term Secretary of Agriculture appointed by President Harrison.
1830-1893 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
Jeremiah McLain Rusk was the nation’s first full-term Secretary of Agriculture. (Norman J. Colman had been elevated from commissioner to secretary when the USDA attained Cabinet status, but Colman only served a few weeks.)
Born on an Ohio farm, Rusk tested many trades early in life, as stagecoach driver, railroad foreman, and cooper. In 1853, he settled on a farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin, to operate a hotel and stagecoach. In the 1850s, he was elected sheriff, coroner, and state assemblyman.
During the Civil War, Rusk commanded the 25th Wisconsin Infantry for the Union. In honor of his bravery and leadership, Rusk was brevetted a brigadier general at the war’s end. In 1865, he was elected state bank controller, and then in 1870, a U. S. Representative.
From 1882 to 1888, Jeremiah Rusk was governor of Wisconsin. Governor Rusk founded farmer’s institutes, promoted the dairy industry, and negotiated labor disputes. His decision to order the militia to open fire on labor protestors in Milwaukee, one day after Chicago’s infamous Haymarket incident, boosted his political clout at the time, but has been reexamined with mixed results more recently.
In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Rusk as Secretary of Agriculture. Secretary Rusk encouraged domestic products over imports, supported programs to control infectious disease in cattle, and promoted irrigation in the West. His term of service ended in 1893, and he died a few months later.