Waldemar Ager and the Norwegian-American Eau Claire
Eau Claire is located at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers in Eau Claire County. Once teeming with buffalo and other game, the Eau Claire area was hotly contested among the Sioux and Ojibwe for generations. (postcard pub. by C.R. Allen) English traveler Jonathan Carver (1710-1780) wrote the first description of the area in 1767. By 1784, fur traders LeDuc and Penasha had set up operations there. French fur traders continued to winter in the area into the first half of the 19th century. Large numbers of German and Norwegian immigrants arrived in the 1860s. Not long after his arrival in America, in 1885 Waldemar Ager got his start in the newspaper business by becoming involved with Norden, Chicago's largest-circulation Norwegian-language newspaper. He never held any high position at that newspaper, but it got him his start in the business. When Ager first arrived in America, he encountered a vibrant, thriving Norwegian-American community. Use of the Norwegian language was widespread. Hundreds of small-circulation Norwegian-language newspapers and dozens of large circulation Norwegian-language newspapers were in operation from Michigan to the Dakotas and everywhere Norwegian immigrants were living. At the time, the Norwegian-American community was constantly being reinforced by new immigrants from Norway.Ager's newspaper career began in earnest when, at the age of 23, he moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, after being offered a job at a Norwegian temperance newspaper called Reform. Our speaker, Brian Blakely, grew up in Eau Claire, graduating from Memorial High School in 1958 and Eau Claire State College (now UW-Eau Claire) in 1962. Later, after earning a Ph.D. in Modern British Imperial History, he spent 35 years teaching, most of it at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In retirement, Blakeley and his wife, Mary, moved back to the region – they live on an old family farm near Wheeler, Wisconsin. He became interested in Waldemar Ager when he decided to write a comprehensive history of the city of Eau Claire.