Senator William Proxmire Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society

William Proxmire in Washington D.C.

William Proxmire walking across U.S. Capitol lawn. Wisconsin Historical Society.

When Senator William Proxmire retired in 1989 after 32 years in the U.S. Senate, he and his staff donated more than 200 boxes of office files to the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Society has now made available online an extensive selection of those materials, including official press releases, newsletters sent home to constituents, campaign strategy notes and more. The digital collection was made possible through the generosity of Sen. Proxmire’s family and friends, who contributed time, materials and financial support to ensure the preservation of his legacy.

Born in Lake Forest, Illinois in 1915, Proxmire studied at Yale and Harvard before moving to Madison in 1948 to work as a reporter for The Capital Times. In 1950, he made his first bid for public office and was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly. In 1957 he won the U.S. Senate seat left vacant following the death of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He would be re-elected to that post five times over the course of his political career. His 2005 obituary in the New York Times described him as “a political maverick . . .  who crusaded against government waste and irritated presidents and lawmakers from both parties because of his contempt for the mutual back-scratching most politicians engage in.”


One highlight of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s digital collection is a compilation of Proxmire’s well-known Golden Fleece Awards, which exposed what he believed to be waste or corruption by federal agencies. Another compelling standout is the transcripts of 40 interviews conducted with the Senator’s friends, family and colleagues, including Ron Kind, Walter Mondale, Ralph Nader and David Obey. Conducted by professional interviewer Anita Hecht of Life History Services between 2008 and 2011, the interviews capture dozens of stories about Proxmire’s personal and professional life.


To explore the Proxmire Collection from the Wisconsin Historical Society, visit


Wisconsin Congressional delegation lunch

The Wisconsin Congressional delegation meets during a meal. Left to right: John Byrnes, William Proxmire, Gaylord Nelson, Melvin Laird, and Clement Zablocki. Wisconsin Historical Society.

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