WILLIAM E. SMITH was born in Inverness, Scotland. His family moved to the United States in 1835, settling on land near Detroit that they farmed. In 1846, Smith began work for the New York mercantile firm of Lord & Taylor, taking charge of their Midwestern interests. Eventually, he partnered in a mercantile firm in Fox Lake, Wisconsin, where he became active in community affairs. He was elected first to the state legislature as a Whig Assemblyman representing Dodge County. In 1854 he attended the Ripon Convention that spawned the Republican Party, and was later elected to the State Senate as a Republican. In addition to serving in the Senate for two non-consecutive terms, he was a member of the State Board of Normal School Regents from 1858 to 1878. He was elected State Treasurer on the Union-Republican ticket, a position that he held until January 1870. He returned to the legislature as a member of the Assembly, where he served as Speaker for the 1871 session. In 1873, he was appointed by Governor Cadwallader Washburn to a four-year term as director of the State Prison. In 1877, he won the race for governor, a position that he held during a boom in the state’s economy. When sawmill workers in lumber mills struck for a shortened work-day, Smith sent in the state militia at the mill owners’ request, breaking the strike by jailing its leaders. After serving two terms, he returned to Milwaukee, working in the wholesale grocery business.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 12. New York: James T. White & Company.