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Celebrating Our 175th: A Partnership That Became a Legacy

05 September 2017

As we celebrate our 175th anniversary, we are proud to honor the generations of talented legal minds whose hard work and leadership have powered our success over the last 175 years – beginning with our founders Asahel Finch and William Pitt Lynde.

Asahel Finch

Born on February 14, 1809 in Genoa, New York, Finch came from a merchant’s family. He began his career in the business world in nearby Buffalo, and in 1830, he and his wife boarded a steamer and headed for Detroit in the prosperous territory of Michigan. Finch became a legal apprentice there and in 1838, he was admitted to the Michigan state bar.

However, the economic collapse of 1838 forced Finch and his family to look further west, and they moved to the frontier settlement of Milwaukee in the territory of Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, Finch joined a law firm and in 1839 tried his first case in district court: Blanchard v. Lelands. He won a judgment for the face value of the disputed promissory note: $149.15, plus the cost of legal representation: $14.06.

It was in Milwaukee where Finch met William Pitt Lynde.

William Pitt Lynde

Lynde was born in 1817 and his lineage dates back to colonial Massachusetts: Several of his family members attended Yale University and two of his ancestors served as chief justices of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Lynde also attended Yale University and graduated in 1838 with highest honors. He then entered Harvard Law School and, following graduation, was admitted to the New York state bar.

Opportunities in the Midwest propelled Lynde westward, and in May 1841, he and his wife moved to Milwaukee where he joined his brothers in the practice of law. The dream of a Lynde family law firm was short-lived, however, as Lynde’s brothers returned to New York in the summer of 1841. Lynde stayed and found a position as legal assistant at Wells & Finch, where Asahel Finch was employed. After a falling out with Wells, Finch and Lynde formed their partnership on September 8, 1842, four years before Milwaukee became a city and six years before Wisconsin became a state.

Finch and Lynde were also politically active. Finch was a member of the new Whig/Republican party, and Lynde was a staunch Democrat. While they both had strong political goals, Lynde’s political career was more successful. He was one of Wisconsin’s first two congressmen when the state was admitted to the Union. In his 1848 re-election campaign, Finch challenged Lynde, but both men were defeated by a third candidate. Lynde later served as Milwaukee’s mayor in 1860 and also served terms in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate. He was a member of Congress from 1865 to 1879.

For over 40 years, these two men changed the face of Milwaukee. After 1878, Finch became troubled by rheumatism and visited the office less frequently. On April 4, 1883, at 74 years of age, he died at home. Lynde continued to handle most of the firm’s major appeals until 1885. On December 18, 1885, he died of a heart ailment at the age of 68.

Finch and Lynde had chosen burial sites on the opposite sides of the same rising ground in Forest Home Cemetery. Lynde was buried on the north slope; Finch on the south. In death, similar to their personal and professional lives, the partners chose the same hill, but faced in opposite directions. Although Finch and Lynde had differing views, their partnership survived over 40 years and remains the foundation of Foley & Lardner LLP.