Ads in History: Milwaukee’s Swaffield & Russell 1857

A great way to learn about a community in history is to examine old newspaper and directory advertisements. The ad designs and content provide valuable clues to how people lived and shopped in decades and centuries past.

We’ll take a regular look at old ads here at Treasured Lives. Our first ad in the series is from 1857 in Milwaukee. Swaffield & Russell was a men’s clothier operating on Market Square in downtown Milwaukee. This was the front most ad in the 1857-1858 Milwaukee City Directory published by Erving, Burdick & Co.

At the time this ad was published, Milwaukee had a population under 60,000 people. Market Square, at the corner of East Water Street and Mason Street, was the heart of commerce in the growing city. (The land is how occupied by a large bank.) Were you to judge by this ad and ones run by Swaffield & Russell in the daily newspapers, you might conclude this was a long-established leader in business.

SwaffieldThis clothier opened in December 1855 under the name of R. Swaffield. Within short order the names L.W. Russell and W.C. Swaffield were also associated with the business. By early 1857, it was under the name of Swaffield & Russell. The Swaffield men lived above the store.

“They are young men of first-rate business capacity and are fast building up a large trade,” read a hagiography in The Milwaukee Daily News in January 1857.

It appears two of the men behind the store were Robert Swaffield and his son, William Cole Swaffield. They came to Milwaukee from Newark, New Jersey, where the elder Swaffield ran a clothing store. After several years in business at 265 E. Water Street, father and son moved the business to 196 E. Water Street under the names of Swaffield’s Clothing House and Swaffield’s Clothing Emporium. It’s not clear what became of L.W. Russell.

By 1860, the fledgling clothier disappeared from downtown Milwaukee. William Swaffield moved back to Newark, where he ran a clothier. By the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, Swaffield had moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he again opened a men’s clothing store. He fought for the Confederate Army in the Civil War, then went on to a long business and civic career in Columbia. He died on May 11, 1904.

©2015 Treasured Lives


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