Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Badger, Joseph Stillman (1851–1934)

by Garry R. Ford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Joseph Stillman Badger (1851-1934), electrical engineer and administrator, was born on 28 November 1851 at De Ruyter, New York, United States of America, son of Joseph A. Badger and his wife Almyra, née Coon. He is said to have been educated at Whitewater, Wisconsin, and in Illinois at Woodstock and Hedding College, Abingdon.

Badger began work in the 'telephone business' in 1882, joined the Edison Company's railroad department in 1890 and in 1894 was transferred to the factory at Schenectady, New York. He came to Queensland during May 1896 on behalf of the General Electric Co. to electrify the Brisbane Tramway Co.'s system. He joined the latter, became its chief electrical engineer in 1897 and by 1899 was general manager. As managing director from about 1914, he visited the United States frequently, including 1914, 1919 and 1922.

Able, courageous and ruthless, Badger would stretch the law to its uttermost limits when the interests of his firm were at stake. When the new electric cars were delayed he converted worn-out horse-cars; in the first seven years he added over thirty-three miles (53 km) of suburban track to the system. He refused to accept trade unionism, decreed that union badges could not be worn on duty, and suspended the many employees who refused to submit. Over-confident leaders of the militant Australian Labour Federation saw an issue of principle and called a general strike which paralysed Brisbane from 18 January to 5 February 1912, then collapsed. None of the tramway strikers was ever re-employed by the company.

In 1917 the Ryan Labor government launched a bill to buy out the tramway company when its concession expired. Clauses in the bill forbidding payment for lines laid without authority and a concurrent attempt to force fare-reductions brought threats of a boycott on Queensland by English financiers. A select committee reported on both bills in July 1919. Both government and company appointed valuation boards in 1920, and the issues of payment for goodwill, lines illegally laid, and non-tramway business undertakings such as power-supply almost reached the Privy Council. Badger retired in February 1922 to a 'fruit ranch' in California and on 1 January 1923 the tramways were handed to a trust. Badger, who had gained a local and international reputation as a standard-bearer of capitalism, died at Monrovia, California, on 22 November 1934 and was buried in Live Oak mausoleum.

A pious Presbyterian and political Republican, described as 'humorless and self-conscious' and arrogant and philanthropic, Badger is said to have used the Bible he kept prominently on his desk as his business guide. He believed in staff welfare, engaged nurses for sick employees and their families, and sometimes paid personally for extended hospitalization. His accomplished photography records much of Brisbane tramway history. He was an early motorist and a member of the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland and of other professional, cultural and social bodies. He supported the Queensland University Extension Committee and much of his book-collection is now in the university's library.

Badger had married Carrie Mabel Hewitt in Elgin, Illinois, in 1882; she died in Brisbane on 7 July 1909, leaving two sons. On 24 June 1914 in the United States he married Marion Stirling of Toowoomba; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. M. Woodrow, The Queensland Government and the Brisbane Tramways (Lond, 1918)
  • G. R. Steer, ‘Brisbane tramways: their history and development’, JRHSQ, 3 (1937-47), no 3
  • Brisbane Courier, May-June 1896, 15 Jan–29 Feb 1912, 30 Nov 1917, 22 Aug 1922
  • Age (Melbourne), Jan-Feb 1912
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 22 Nov, 4, 30 Dec 1917, 24 Mar 1918
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 1 Dec 1917
  • 'Queensland Government and Brisbane Trams', Times (London), 8 Jan 1918, p 12
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 20 Aug 1922
  • G. Strachan, The Brisbane General Strike of 1912 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1972)
  • CRS/203, 205 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Garry R. Ford, 'Badger, Joseph Stillman (1851–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/badger-joseph-stillman-5088/text8493, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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