Municipal Socialism in the United States, 1900-1940

James Siodla, Colby College
Tate Twinam, College of William and Mary

In the early 20th century, a sizable socialist movement emerged across the United States, drawing support from populists, unions, and European immigrants. While socialist political candidates had little support at the national level, they were considerably more successful at the municipal level. Between 1900 and 1940, over 1,000 socialist officials were elected or appointed across 348 cities and towns, and 146 cities elected socialist mayors. While prominent examples, such as Milwaukee, have been the subject of extensive research by historians, there has been no broad quantitative analysis of the resulting differences in governance and outcomes. We remedy this by examining how socialist officials affected local government spending, taxation, and infrastructure investment using data from municipal financial reports as well as the universe of municipal bond issues documented by Moody's. We also examine their impact on the treatment of unionized workers, government form, and adoption of land use regulations.

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 Presented in Session 80. Government and the Economy