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Roundy Coughlin

Roundy Coughlin Presenting Check (1/27/47)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-45700

Joseph "Roundy" Coughlin

Hard Unemployment Times?

Sometimes it’s just as important to be born in the correct time as having a good education when it comes to finding meaningful, gainful employment. Dropping out of school at an early age may hold some “glamour,” but it brings an extra set of rigors as one young lad found out in the last century.

His parents met at Portage and moved to Madison about 1880. His father was superintendent of streets for a time here. As the economy worsened, he successively became a railroad contractor, a grocer, and a pool hall employee.

Joseph was born in 1887 as the youngest child. He apparently wasn’t inspired by his studies and stopped attending school after the fifth grade. Like a typical boy, he spent his spare time developing his skills in sports.

At the age of 13, Joseph began work driving a butcher wagon. He quit when his boss wanted a bucket of beer from a saloon, but he was too timid to enter. He found another job driving a wagon. Someone crossed the horse’s reins while he was inside making a stop. The lad drove his horse right into the front door of a store when he pulled on the wrong rein.

Several of his siblings were working for the telephone company, so he found himself a job there. While at work, he fell from a telephone pole. The fall caused severe head and neck injuries which later cost him his hearing. Another job with the phone company installing phones ended after drilling a hole through a wall to bring in some wires. ”When I went into the room to see if it had come through in the right place I turned white when I saw I had put the drill right through a brand new piano. I never went back for my pay. I just ran home and never came out for a week."

In a bad economy with limited skills, he continued to drift from job to job. His job as a barber ended when "a man came into the shop. I lathered him up and put a hot towel on his face and it was so hot he jumped from the chair yelling murder... I was given the gate." For Northwestern Railroad’s signal department, he drove a speeder, an engine-driven cart used to make inspections. One day a co-worker turned a switch as he approached, causing him to crash into a farmer’s barn. "They found me and they found parts of the barn. But they never did find the speeder,” he said. He also tried making a living from sports, pitching with a semi-professional baseball team. He was not successful in his try out with the Chicago White Sox.

Finally, when he was 34, he found the career that would carry him through for the next 47 years: sports columnist. In a quarter century, he raised more than $120,000 to help needy children and handicapped people. Joseph was better known as Roundy Coughlin.

Tess Mulrooney
Paul Eastwood