Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Milwaukee is the name of the largest city and largest county in the state of Wisconsin and 22nd-largest city in the United States. The city is the county seat of Milwaukee County and is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. As of the 2006 the city's population was 602,782, putting it in 22nd place among America's largest cities, just ahead of Washington, Seattle and Boston. Milwaukee County had an estimated population of 915,097 in 2006. The city is the main cultural and economic center of the Milwaukee–Racine-Waukesha metropolitan area with a population of 1,753,355.

Milwaukeeans often boast their metropolis is a highly "livable" city where they enjoy competent government, little traffic, many parks, affordable homes, and numerous cultural events. It is largely independent of the huge Chicago metropolitan area 75 miles to the south, which induces "if not an inferiority complex, then at least a dearth of illusions and a bare minimum of self-importance."[1]

Settled first by Yankees who still dominate the economy, Milwaukee became predominantly German by 1850, with a small Irish Catholic element. After 1900 Poles and African Americans arrived in large numbers. After 1970 most whites moved to the suburbs as the city lost much of its industry and became a postmodern service center strongest in education and medicine.

"The City of Festivals" features many ethnic and musical festivals, the largest of which is Summerfest. "Brew City" recalls its long-time role as major brewing center.

In the past decade, new additions to downtown have included a Riverwalk, the Midwest Airlines Center, an internationally renowned addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, as well as the major renovations to the Milwaukee Auditorium and U.S. Cellular Arena.

CC Image
Milwaukee Art Museum, new wing (2001) designed by Santiago Calatrava.



The Milwaukee area was originally inhabited by the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Winnebago Indian tribes. French missionaries and traders first passed through the area in the late 1600s and 1700s.

The first white fur trader to settle in Milwaukee was French Canadian Jacques Vieau, who established a fur trading post near the Menomonee River in 1795. The post was on the Chicago-Green Bay trail, located where Mitchell Park is today.

Three "founding fathers" settled the area. Frenchman Solomon Juneau arrived in 1818. By the 1830s the Yankees arrived and they dominated until the Germans came. In 1833 Juneau and lawyer Morgan Martin went into partnership to sell land and develop Juneau's Side, or Juneau Town, which became the eastern part of the city. Until the Panic of 1837, the two made money in their venture. Juneau's land claims and labor, coupled with Martin's legal expertise and cash made the union workable and led to the development of the city's east side. During the peak of the land rush in the mid-1830s, Juneau was selling land he had bought for $1.25 per acre for $2,000 per acre. After the Panic of 1837 Martin left the city, while Juneau, his fortune lost, remained. He never regained the prosperity he had lost, though he was elected the first mayor in 1846.[2]

Byron Kilbourn founded a settlement on the west side of the Milwaukee River. George H. Walker claimed land to the south of the Milwaukee River, that became known as Walker's Point.

In 1846 the three settlements combined and incorporated as the City of Milwaukee. Byron Kilbourn (b. 1801) came to Wisconsin via Ohio in 1834 as district surveyor for the Michigan Territory west of the lake. He quickly procured title to 281 acres of prime Milwaukee real estate at the government price and turned the investment into a profit of nearly $100,000. Recognizing that transportation was key to Milwaukee's success, he pushed for building a canal linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi. After that failed, he turned to railroads and soon had the state's first track, one between Milwaukee and Waukesha. Kilbourn used lobbying, bribery, and speculation to obtain transportation, money, and power. Although never fined or jailed, his public reputation was ruined, but his contributions to the city's development were significant.[3]

German immigrants poured in from the 1840s to the 1880s. Half moved on to rural farming arweas across the state, half remained in the city. Milwaukee became the "Deutsches Athen" (German Athens), soon German speakers outnumbered English speakers in the city.

1850 to 1900

The city was heavily Democratic and was reluctant to support the draft laws during the American Civil War. George Wilbur Peck, a Yankee, moved to Wisconsin at an early age. After serving in the Civil War, he began publishing a newspaper. His personality and skilled use of humor led to his becoming the mayor of Milwaukee in 1890 and following the Democratic upset in 1890 became the governor of Wisconsin. His "bad boy" stories were featured in his newspaper, the Sun, and later published as a novel. By focusing on real people and events in his stories, he shed light on politics, ethnicity, religion, and life in late-19th-century Milwaukee.[4]

May 5, 1886 was the day of the Bay View Tragedy in which striking Polish workers attacking a steel mill in the Bay View section were intercepted by a squad of National Guardsmen who fired when the marchers refused to halt, killing seven.

From horse-drawn omnibuses in the late 1840s through the advent of electric-powered vehicles in the 1890's, Milwaukee made serious efforts to upgrade its transportation system. The Milwaukee Journal, launched in 1882, by the Lute Nieman, soon became the leading daily newspaper in the state.


see German Americans The German influx started in the late 1840s, and by the 1850s more than half of the city was part of "Germania". From the beginning, Germans concentrated on the west side, and by 1900 they dominated the entire northwest side; some also moved to the newly developed south side. The occupational patterns in Germania mirrored the social diversity of the group, which soon after its arrival became well-establsihed in city life. Religiously it was divided about equally into Protestants (mostly Old Lutherans of the Wisconsin synod or Missouri synod), Freethinkers (many of them refugees from the failed 1848 Revolution), and Catholics. Germans divided politically between the Democrats, and Republicans; after 1900 many joined the ocialist Party. Germans organized the labor movement in the city, with stregth especially in brewing and cosntruction. Germania developed a wide range of ethnic organizations and institutions. There were German Catholic and Lutheran parishes and parochial schools, secret lodges, insurance and mutal-aid societies, labor unions, political and cultural clubs, theaters, bands, singing societies, fire brigades, and militia units. Germans also developed an ethnic press that represented different political orientations.


Religious and ethnic tensions abounded in the late 19th century. There was conflict between German Catholics and English-speaking Irish Catholics over temperance, the need for parish schools, and the "discouraging" of American seminarians. Archbishop John Martin Henni, who was Swiss, played a central role from 1844. Conflicts erupted between Catholic laity and clergy over parish governance, between German and Irish priests over the nature of ethnic parishes and German hegemony in Wisconsin, between Catholics and Protestants over Bible reading in public schools (the Edgerton Bible Case), between the state legislature and the Catholic bishops over whether parents or the state had the right to educate children (Bennett Law of 1889), and between Germans and Polish immigrants over efforts to "Germanize" them. [5]

Women leaders

Like their male relatives, German American women in the 1840s-1880s were fond of organizing. At a time when the city's German community reached its greatest extension and complexity these women were involved in a wide variety of activities, appropriating for themselves all types of organizational forms. By building their own organizations, German American women proved their ability to create their own spaces in which they could come together outside the home and invest their energies in projects beyond the immediate concerns of the family. By organizing and becoming involved, German American women were able to realize their potential as social agents and to make crucial contributions to community-building processes. At the same time, they were able to move beyond the gender roles of wife and mother, which had restricted them for so long.[6]

Mary Blanchard Lynde (1820-1897), a Yankee was a tireless and gifted reformer throughout her years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from 1841 until her death in 1897. She used her social position as the wife of William Pitt Lynde, a prominent attorney and political figure, to lead numerous charitable efforts. Her work culminated in an appointment to the Wisconsin State Board of Charities and Reform in April 1871, making her the first woman in Wisconsin to serve on a state board.[7]

Lizzie Black Kander (1858-1940) sought to Americanize the Yiddish-speaking Jewish community by teaching the immigrant women how to cook more scientifically and more like mainstream Americans. Kander's Settlement Cook Book, first issued in 1901, was published as a way to raise money for the Settlement House, a place where Milwaukee's Jewish immigrants were encouraged to abandon their old cooking practices and to embrace American middle-class customs and values.[8]

1900 to 1955

Between 1886 and 1919, Milwaukee became a major, modern industrial city. At the turn of the century, Milwaukee was home to 3,342 factories producing goods valued at $124 million. With electricity and the internal combustion engine, steel became a major industry and provided the basics for emerging companies like Allis-Chalmers and J. I. Case. By 1914, the city was the nation's tenth leading manufacturing center. The electric trolley helped many of the industrial workers move further away from their work places and spread the city over a larger area. By 1914, one in five workers worked for the seven largest companies. Working conditions improved, as industries sought greater efficiency and installed programs of welfare capitalism to tie workers psychologically to the company. Low skilled workers were in demand and their numbers increased, especially with the large Polish immigration. Unmarried women increased their numbers in the work force. Long days and weeks were normal, but pay levels were very uneven. Working conditions were often unsanitary and unsafe. Affordable housing was poor and in short supply, and city services were often inadequate to meet the new demands of an increasing population and industrial base.[9]

By 1920 the first bus line was started, in 1936 the trolley was added, and since World War II there have been many developments, though most of the effort has involved diesel-powered buses.

Home ownership was important to immigrants, and the Polish population led the way. With creative methods of finance and builders who recognized the low level of wages of the average Pole, housing was made affordable to most of those in the working class. From cottages to duplexes and flats, the Poles quickly became one of the highest ranking ethnic groups in terms of home ownership. Zoning rules by the 1920's ended some of the building practices used to provide affordable housing, but by that time the majority of Milwaukee's Polish families had acquired their own homes.[10] Polish wards in waited for residential water for over thirty years after other wards began receiving water in the 1870s and 1880s. In part, this was because Poles consistently voted Democratic. Democrats dominated city offices and saw no need to court the solidly Democratic Poles, while Republicans sought support from wealthier wards. Further, city officials spent surplus funds on pork barrel projects where political support was tenuous, rather than on retrofitting water lines in the poorer Polish area. By 1910, the devoutly Catholic Poles pragmatically set aside concerns about the Socialists' "irreligious" platform and voted Socialist. With the Socialist victory, Polish neighborhoods received not only residential water, but other city services they had long been denied.[11]


During the first half of the twentieth century, Milwaukee was a center of the socialist movement in the United States. From their base in the German community, especially among brewry workers, socialists elected three socialist mayors during this time: Emil Seidel (1910-1912), Daniel Hoan (1916-1940), and Frank Zeidler (1948-1960), and was the only major city in the country to have done so. Often referred to as "sewer socialists," the Milwaukee socialists were characterized by their practical approach to government and labor. These practices emphasized cleaning up neighborhoods and factories with new sanitation systems, city owned water and power systems as well as an improved public education system.

Socialists championed social centers as places to encourage play, entertainment, and civic activity for Milwaukeeans from all economic classes and political persuasions. The Socialists hoped the social centers would allow open political debate, but this part of the centers' activities was closely regulated by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, which oversaw the social programs. First opened in 1908, the social centers remained active well into the 1940s. Many of their functions were eventually taken over by the Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Culture.[12]

Heinrich Bartel, an Austrian immigrant, served as editor of the party's German-language newspaper, Vorwärts, and composed poetry and music influenced by socialist thought. During World War I, Bartel defended German culture while attacking the capitalist motivations that had caused both Germany and America to go to war. Although Vorwärts, under his leadership, remained true to the socialist cause during the war, its second-class mailing rights were revoked as a result of the Espionage Act in 1918, and it survived only until 1932.[13]

In the 1920s, planning and zoning were used by Socialist mayor Daniel Hoan, and city planner Charles Whitnall, to improve the poor housing and congested slums by redistributing resources to the people by reconnecting them with nature in garden-city lots. Decentralization was the overall goal, and to that end the city passed stringent land-use zoning ordinances, began a municipally driven cooperative housing project, developed a system of parks and parkways, and undertook an ambitious annexation program to unify the city. However, decentralization in Milwaukee, as in most cities, was never fully realized.[14]

Much that made Milwaukee so strongly German in flavor was suppressed during World War I and never revived after the war. In 1919 prohibition destroyed the beer industry with its annual revenue of $22 million. Yet in the decade before 1929 Milwaukee increased the value of its manufactures from $576 million to $912 million. .

Great Depression

In the early years of the Great Depression, the Milwaukee County Board set up work relief projects for road building and park improvement, a program which served as a stop-gap until the federal government established the Civil Works Administration in 1933. Local make-work projects were funded by the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations until 1935, when they were nationalized into the New Deal's WPA (Work Projects Administration). The Milwaukee Handicraft Project (MHP), sponsored by the WPA, employed more than five thousand workers between 1935 and 1943. The mostly female MHP workers, more than half of whom were African Americans, learned work skills that helped them eventually find jobs in the private sector. Elsa Ulbricht, an art teacher at the Milwaukee State Teachers College, organized and directed the project, which produced handicrafts made from wood, paper, yarn, and cloth. The handicraft products could only be sold to public institutions. Examples of MHP work are included in the collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin's Museum Division.[15]

Workers joined unions in ever-increasing numbers following passage of the Wagner Act in 1935. While both the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) organized workers by industry, the AFL was unable to provide the leadership and services these new industrial unions required. Thus, the CIO's most dramatic membership gains in in 1937-38 came from entire AFL unions moving over to the CIO.[16]

Ethnicity and religion

Milwaukee attracted postwar immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Poland and other central European nations. Milwaukee became one of the 15 largest cities in the nation, and by the mid-1960s, its population reached nearly 750,000.


After 1900 accelerated industrialization brought the immigration of Poles and other new Catholic groups with a resulting growth in sisterhoods and the creation of institutions to provide education, health, and social services. The era 1900-1941 was a period of maturation, centralization, consolidation, Romanization, Americanization, and professionalization of the archdiocese influenced both by the increasing professionalism in American life and the codification of canon law. "Other Catholicisms" emerged, including vibrant cultures for Slovaks, African Americans, and Mexicans, as did a "cookie cutter Priesthood" which standardized clerical culture. New parishes began to focus on educating children in graded classes taught by sisters who were becoming professional educators. High schools, academies, and institutions of higher education for sisters and lay women followed. Popular devotional life deepened as Catholicism dominated the lives of over a third of the people in southeastern Wisconsin.[17]


The Church began to establish Catholic parochial schools in 1866, eventually creating 19 of them in Polish neighborhoods. Polish parochial schools have undergone four stages of cultural change: a Polish stage from 1866 to 1917; a Polish-American stage of 1917-39; an American-Polish stage of 1940-60; and an American stage from 1960 to the present. The schools once served to preserve and maintain Polish language and culture; today the schools serve many minority groups and have no particularly Polish identity, which had been maintained primarily by the nuns who taught at the schools until the 1960s.[18]

In the early 1950s, the Polish community was going through an identity crisis that was accompanied by a crisis of ethnic organizations. In this atmosphere arose the idea of creating a new Polonia organization. A group of well-known activists, Harriet Gostomska, Maria Laskowska, and Felicja Kwasieborska, created the Polonia Polish Women's Cultural Club of Milwaukee in February 1953. (The club continues to operate.) They agreed on a number of goals, including: 1) the awakening of interest in Polish culture among non-Poles unfamiliar with Polish art, customs, and traditions; 2) the stimulation of renewed interest among the older generation of Polish Americans long settled in Milwaukee but deprived of continuing contacts with their heritage; and 3) the maintenance of pride in their rich culture and art among the new Polish immigrants. The club's activities have included: sponsoring Polish cultural events, inviting to Milwaukee important people in the life of the American Polonia, as well as outstanding artists from Poland; organizing celebrations of national anniversaries and holidays; organizing fine arts competitions and history of Poland quizzes; propagating Polish history and the history of the Polonia abroad in the local press, in cultural institutions (concerts of Polish music in the philharmonic, exhibitions of Polish art in the museum, Polish performances in the theater), and in educational institutions (purchase of Polish books for school libraries); sponsoring scholarships for students interested in Polish history and culture; and organizing aid for the Polish society at a time of acute economic difficulties. The club's funds are obtained from the sale of objects of art and revenues brought by the booth run during ethnic festivals. The activity of the club encourages the support of organizations, companies, and individuals.[19]


Italian women continued their traditional contributions to family economies in Milwaukee by taking boarders and setting up such businesses as grocery stores, drugstores, and confectionery shops that catered to a thriving Italian ethnic enclave. Most important, Milwaukee's large community of Italian immigrants attracted a significant number of professional midwives who migrated on their own, were highly trained and well-educated, and often used their own names in their professional practices, whether or not they were married.[20]

African American

A small, but burgeoning community of African-Americans emigrated from the south formed a community that would come to be known as Bronzeville.[21] This area (near Old World Third Street and Martin Luther King Drive) soon became known as a "Harlem of the Midwest" for its jazz clubs and juke joints which attracted both local and nationally renowned musicians. The first two black teachers were hired in 1932. Bronzeville's significance began to fall off as the heart of Milwaukee's Black community shifted north following World War II; and urban renewal, plus the building of a major expressway through its heart destroyed the geographic continuity of the district. However, the area has been experiencing something of a revival within the past few years as it has seen the arrival of several new businesses, condos, coffee shops and small night clubs which seek to recapture the prominence the area once had.

Blacks who arrived between 1940 and 1970 adjusted to urban life, enjoyed economic success, and built powerful institutions. In contrast to earlier periods, industrial job growth opened up new opportunities at the same time that the federal government began to oppose discrimination. The Urban League and labor unions also proved to be powerful tools in opening doors to black workers and securing advancement and training. By 1970, a black middle class of homeowners and skilled workers had emerged. Migrant women, however, faced greater obstacles than men and most worked in low-wage service positions. But the experience of black migrants overall shows that at least during these decades the promise of a better life proved true for thousands of hopeful families.[22]

Labor and politics

Milwaukee rapidly recovered from the Depression after 1940, and became a central cog in the "Arsenal of Democracy." The Falk Corporation was the nation's leading supplier of gear drives for military and cargo ships, while Allen-Bradley produced motor controls and electronic components for the war effort. Unlike other local defense companies, Falk and Allen-Bradley concentrated during the war on their prewar specialties and did not enter new areas of manufacturing. War production at least doubled Milwaukee's industrial capacity, strengthening manufacturing's grip on the local economy.[23]

After enormous growth in the late 1930s and war years, organized labor faced numerous challenges in the late 1940s: strikes, bitter political battles, and a constant struggle to set labor's place in society. These challenges prevented labor from consolidating many of the gains made during the war. The decline of the Socialists, the expulsion of the Communists from the CIO and the movement of labor toward a close alliance with the Democratic Party produced new leadership that tended to be younger, less political, and more conservative. Internal politics (AFL versus CIO unions) were more pronounced than external politics, and organized labor in Wisconsin moved toward a more centrist position, reaching the peak of its influence in the 1960s, followed by years of steady decline. The only growth areas came in public sector unions, including teachers, firefighters and police.[24]

Traditionally Democrats, Polish Americans of all classes in the 1930s voted at the 90% level for Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. After the war, however, middle-class Poles in Chicago and Milwaukee, outraged with Roosevelt's acceptance of Stalin's unilateral decision-making in Poland, shifted their vote in the 1946 congressional elections to conservative Republicans who opposed the Yalta agreement and foreign policy in Eastern Europe. However, working-class Polish Americans remained loyal to the Democratic party and elected Democratic candidates in 1946.[25]

The failure of the 329-day strike against Allis-Chalmers in West Allis by local 248 of the United Automobile Workers in 1946-47 weakened the Communist-dominated local leadership of the CIO unions. In the 1946 congressional primary, incumbent Democrat Thaddeus Wasielewski, a conservative, was defeated by Edmund Bobrowicz, a leftist who emphasized his pro-Soviet posittions on foreign policy. Wasielewski, convinced that Bobrowicz was a front man for the Communist Party, ran in the general election as an independent and split the Democratic vote. Republican John Brophy was able to win the normally Democratic congressional seat. Democrat Clement Zablocki captured the seat two years later and held it for many years, campaigning both as a friend of labor and as an anti-Communist.[26]

After 1945 the city pursued a successful annexation program by breaking with powerful organized interests with whom city officials had previously partnered in annexation policy. For a time, annexation policy was driven largely by local government officials acting independently of societal actors. While this period of local government autonomy was temporary, it produced several noteworthy developments in annexation policy that would not have occurred had the city failed to distance itself from organized interests.[27] From 1846 until 1955, the city had nearly 500 boundary changes and grew from 7.4 to 96.5 square miles. A powerful coalition dominated by city bureaucrats and the construction industry promoted expansion. Officials used their control of public services, especially water, to pressure suburbanites to accept annexation. A statute passed by the state legislature in 1955 made it possible for suburban townships to incorporate as cities, and thus fend off Milwaukee's overtures.[28]

1955 to the present

Before the 1950s, socialism dominated politics and political discourse in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By the 1956 mayoral election, however, a shifting pattern from class-based politics to race-based politics emerged as racial tensions came to the surface in the city. The election campaign involving Socialist Party candidate and incumbent Frank P. Zeidler and Milton J. McGuire, a conservative Democrat, was seemingly waged over urban renewal and whether redevelopment should be in the hands of private or public interests. Democrats, however, linked publicly run urban redevelopment to socialism and un-Americanism and then blamed social democrats for the deteriorating conditions and increased racial tensions in the inner city.[29]

Starting in the late 1960s, like many cities in the "rust belt," Milwaukee saw its population start to decline due to various factors, including the loss of high paying unionized blue collar jobs and the move to better housing in the suburbs. However, in recent years the city began to make strides in improving its economy, neighborhoods, and image, resulting in the revitalization of neighborhoods such as the Third Ward, the East Side, and more recently, Bay View, along with attracting new businesses to its downtown area. The city continues to make plans for increasing its future revitalization through various projects. Largely due to its efforts to preserve its history, in 2006 Milwaukee was named one of the "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.[30]

Milwaukee still faces a shrinking population,[31] and other problems, such as crime, racial tension, poverty, and a precarious school system, presenting a serious challenge to the city. Although the crime rate is down since the early 1990s, the issues of urban crime and police corruption are still at the forefront, frequently appearing on the front page of local newspapers. Minortity leaders denounce the city as one of the most segregated cities in the United States, and accusations of police brutality and racial profiling are common.

Race, police and welfare issues

Harold Breier served as Milwaukee's Chief of Police from 1964 until 1984. His tenure occurred during a time of cultural upheaval in the United States, marked by the turmoil of the civil rights movement, the peace movement, and a youth rebellion against traditional societal values and norms. Many people perceived Breier as an opponent of cultural or political change. He was accused of tolerating excessive police force, especially when minority citizens or counterculture youth were involved, and presiding over a racially segregated police department. Others credited him with making Milwaukee one of the safest cities in the country and protecting the core values of American society.[32]

Arthur Jones, the city's first permanent African-American police chief, filed a racial discrimination complaint against the city in 2002. That grew into two unsuccessful lawsuits filed in 2004, after Jones lost a bid for mayor. Critics accused Jones of ineffectiveness. In 2008 Nannette Hegerty, the city's first woman police chief, sued contending that she was discriminated against when her successor received a higher salary than she received.

Race is a contentious issue, and the city is frequently cited as hypersegregated or even as "the most segregated city in America",[33] although the latter is a very controversial contention. It is certainly more nearly accurate at present to say that the metropolitan area, rather than the city itself, is hypersegregated.

In 1998 the state's W-2 welfare program placed added burdens on women in its aim to push poor mothers toward "economic self-sufficiency." Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, established under the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, no longer guaranteed assistance. Sanctions and a labor market deficit in Milwaukee created further problems for poor women. Unemployed mothers adopted a range of survival mechanisms, including borrowing and receiving money from friends and relatives and reliance on food pantries and homeless shelters. Family needs often conflicted with work requirements for women in poor communities, a difficulty unacknowledged by a policy that failed to recognize and compensate caregivers.[34] Sherman (2000), on the toher hand, recounts both the successes and shortcomings of the 1997 W-2 welfare reform program, which encouraged recipients to enter the workforce rather than depend on welfare benefits indefinitely.[35]

Milwaukee's name

Milwaukee received its name from the Indian word Millioke which means "The Good Land", or "Gathering place by the water." Another interpretation is "beautiful or pleasant lands".Early explorers called the Milwaukee River and surrounding lands various names: Melleorki, Milwacky, Mahn-a-waukie, Milwarck, and Milwaucki. [36]

Geography and climate

Milwaukee lies along the shores and bluffs of Lake Michigan at the confluence of three rivers: the Menomonee, the Kinnickinnic and the Milwaukee. Smaller rivers, such as the Root River and Lincoln Creek also run throughout the city. Milwaukee's terrain is relatively flat, except for steep bluffs that begin about one half mile north and four miles south of the downtown. These bluffs give it a topographic quality distinct from that of Chicago.

The city has a total area of 251.0 km² (96.9 square miles). 248.8 km² (96.1 square miles) of it is land and 2.2 km² (0.9 mi²) of it is water.


The city runs largely on the grid system, although in the far northwest and southwest corners of the city, the grid pattern gives way to a more suburban-style streetscape. North-south streets are numbered, and east-west streets are named. The city is crossed by Interstates 43 and 94, which come together downtown at the Marquette Interchange, which is currently under an extensive construction project set to be completed in 2008. The cost of the reconstruction will be around $810 million.


Milwaukee's location in the Midwest means that it often has rapidly changing weather, and the city experiences the full range of the seasons throughout the year. The warmest month of the year is July, when the average high temperature is 79°F (26°C), with overnight low temperatures averaging 62°F (17°C). January is the coldest month, with high temperatures averaging 26°F (-4°C), with the overnight low temperatures around 11°F (-12°C).

Proximity to Lake Michigan causes a convection current to form mid-afternoon, resulting in the lake effect, which makes it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than areas further inland.

The all-time record high temperature is 105°F (41°C) set on July 17, 1995. The coldest temperature ever experienced by the city was -26°F (-32°C) on both January 17, 1982 and February 4, 1996. The 1982 event, also known as "Cold Sunday", featured temperatures as low as -40°F (-40°C) in some of the suburbs as little as 10 miles (16km) to the north of Milwaukee, although the city itself did not approach such cold temperatures.

The wettest month is August, with frequent thunderstorms that at times bring damaging hail and high winds. In rare instances, it can bring a tornado to the more inland parts of the city. However, almost all summer rainfall in the city is brought by these storms. In spring and fall, longer events of prolonged, lighter rain bring most of the precipitation. Snow commonly falls in the city from early November until the middle of March. The city receives an average of 47.0 inches (1.19m) of snow in winter, but the total is highly variable.

Environmental organization SustainLane ranked Milwaukee along with Mesa, Arizona, the least likely to suffer natural disasters, in a study of 50 U.S. cities measuring the risk of a natural disaster striking the city.[37]


City of Milwaukee [38]
1850 20,061
1860 45,246
1870 71,440
1880 115,587
1890 204,468
1900 285,315
1910 373,857
1920 457,147
1930 578,249
1940 587,472
1950 637,392
1960 741,324
1970 717,099
1980 636,212
1990 628,088
2000 596,974
2005 578,887


Recalculations by the Census Bureau in 2007 corrected an undercount and estimated the city's 2006 population at 602,782. The population declined from 717,000 in 1970 to 636,000 in 1980 and 628,000 in 1990, but the metropolitan area increased from 1,397,000 in 1980 to 1,432,000 in 1990 and 1,501,000 in 2000, with a small gain to 1,510,000 in 2006.[39]

As of 2000, there were 232,188 households, and 135,133 families residing in the city. The population density is 2,399.5/km² (6,214.3 per square mile). There are 249,225 housing units at an average density of 1,001.7/km² (2,594.4 per square mile). There are 232,188 households out of which 30.5% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 32.2% are married couples living together, 21.1% have a female householder with no husband present, and 41.8% are non-families. 33.5% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.5% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.50 and the average family size is 3.25.

In the city the population is spread out with 28.6% under the age of 18, 12.2% from 18 to 24, 30.2% from 25 to 44, 18.1% from 45 to 64, and 10.9% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 31 years. For every 100 females there are 91.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 87.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $32,216, and the median income for a family is $37,879. Males have a median income of $32,244 versus $26,013 for females. The per capita income for the city is $16,181. 21.3% of the population and 17.4% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 31.6% of those under the age of 18 and 11.0% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Race, ethnicity, religion

Milwaukee's traditional German-Polish-Black composition has altered in the last two decades, with the establishment of Hispanic, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Arab communities. By by 1985 Milwaukee was the nation's most segregated city, with 90 percent of its African-American population residing in the downtown core.

In the 21st century a majority of the white population is of German descent, the highest ratio of any large city. In the 2000 census, 38% of Milwaukeeans reported that they were of German descent. Other large population groups include Polish (12.7%), Irish (10%), English (5.1%), Italian (4.4%), French (3.9%), and Hispanic origin totaled 6.3%. According to the 2004 Census Estimate, the racial makeup of the city is 46.7% White, 39.5% African American, 0.8% Native American, 3.6% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 7.3% from other races, and 2.1% from two or more races. 13.3% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

In 2000, the American Religion Data Archive reported Milwaukee's religious composition as 58% Catholic, 23% Lutheran, 3% Methodist and 2.5% Jewish. The remaining 13.5% are largely members of protestant denominations or members of various Eastern Orthodox churches. Milwaukee is home to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA and the headquarters of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The School Sisters of the Third Order of St Francis have their mother house in Milwaukee and several other religious orders have a significant presence in the area, including the Jesuits and Franciscans.



Most people associate Milwaukee with beer, since it was once the home to four of the world's largest breweries (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Miller), and was also the number one beer producing city in the world for many years. In 1933 Pabst, which made nonalcoholic beverages in the 1920s, reopened its brewery as prohibition ended; it was one of the largest breweries in the country, with a plant spread over five city blocks. The older buildings embodied many of the characteristics of medieval German architecture with their battlements and small windows; the newer buildings, much plainer, were strictly utilitarian. Founded by Jacob Best as the Empire Brewery in 1842, the firm absorbed several smaller companies and was renamed in 1889 for Captain Frederick Pabst, an owner since 1864.[40]

Despite the decline in its position as the world's leading beer producer after the closure of three of those breweries, its one remaining major brewery, Miller Brewing Company, remains a key employer by employing over 1,700 of the city's workers. It is owned by an international conglomerate based in London.[41] Due to Miller's solid position as the second-largest beer-maker in the U.S., as well as a flourishing microbrewing scene, the city remains known as a beer town even though brewing only represents a fraction of its economy.

The meat-packing industry grew from a small community of butchers in the 1840s to an industry controlled by large-scale packers competing in a global market by 1930. The original Milwaukee stockyards, completed in 1869, provided the central market facilities necessary to handle the transfer of livestock from railroad to the packinghouses. Expanded and improved stockyards opened in 1929. After World War II shrinking markets and an end to rail shipments decreased activity at Milwaukee's stockyard.[42]


A representative entrepreneur was Ole Evinrude, an immigrant who arrived from Norway at age 5 in 1882 and relocated in Milwaukee in 1900. He designed, developed, and manufactured one of the first successful outboard motors for small boats starting in 1907. Evinrude continued to manufacture outboard motors under a variety of company names until his death in 1934.[43] Milwaukee was a major port on the Great Lakes, and numerous businesses sprang up to meet the demand. Samuel Neff and Sons Shipping Company operated a small, family-owned shipping fleet based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the turn of the century. The owner-operators were Captain Samuel Neff and his sons. It transported salt and made a healthy profit, but the risk were high. The company's five ships each made about ten trips per month during the 1900 shipping season. At a time when steel hulls were becoming common on the Great Lakes, theirs was an obsolescent fleet comprised of four small wooden steamers and a de-masted schooner that was used as a barge. In 1900 master seamen were paid about $70 monthly and ordinary seamen about $40, so that a barge crew comprising a master seaman, two ordinary seamen, and a cook could be employed and fed on an eight-day voyage for $60.[44]


In 1843 Milwaukee, a city of 6,000, there were 130 places in which beer and liquor were sold. The Germans preferred lager beer, and several breweries opened soon after settlers arrived. By 1880 there were numerous celebrated saloons, most were owned by breweries and served free lunches, usually accompanied by 32-ounce schooners of beer that sold for a nickel.

Milwaukee in the early 20th century was a community of neighborhoods that were often centered around the 1304 family-owned grocery stores in 1917. By 1990 only 600 much larger grocery stores operated, most of them supermarkets or convenience stores owned by faraway chains.[45]

Commission Row, the wholesale produce center, was dominated by German Americans in 1900, but Italian fruit peddlers started making inroads into the area. After 1925, Italians began to replace the Germans. From less than 10% in 1900, by 1990, 80% of the wholesalers were of Italian descent.[46]

Milwaukee's oldest operating movie house, the Princess Theater, was demolished in 1984 after nearly 80 years of continuous operation. Christened the Grand in 1903, it was remodeled and renamed in 1909. As the neighborhood deteriorated, so did the theater, running mostly pornographic films during its later years.[47]


As late as 1970 the city boasted 43 manufacturing companies that employed 900 or more workers each. by 1990 that industrial foundation was under severe stress. As major national conglomerates began buying firms, often just for labels or parts, Milwaukee saw two-thirds of its industrial ownership base changed. Only eight remained with stock for sale, two-thirds of the top management of companies formerly headquartered in the city had moved out by 1990, and wages and employment in manufacturing declined faster in Milwaukee than nationally during the 1980s. The demise of Schlitz and of Allis-Chalmers was particularly devastating. Despite these changes, in 1990 23% of the area's workforce remained engaged in manufacturing, although in a greatly changed situation. By 2005 22% were still in manufacturing, second only to San Jose, California, and well above the national average of 16.5%. Service and managerial jobs are the fastest growing segments of the Milwaukee economy, and healthcare makes up 27% of all service jobs in the city.[48]

Milwaukee is headquarters to six Fortune 1000 manufacturers and six Fortune 1000 service companies. Among these are Briggs & Stratton, Harley-Davidson, Johnson Controls, Manpower Inc., Marshall & Ilsley, Northwestern Mutual, Rockwell Automation, Roundy's Supermarkets, Metavante, Kohl's, and Wisconsin Energy. The Milwaukee area ranked number five in the nation when measuring the number of Fortune 500 companies as a share of the population. Milwaukee hosts numerous financial service firms, particularly those specializing in mutual funds and transaction processing systems, and a disproportionate number of publishing and printing companies, including Quad/Graphics.

Culture and sports

(CC) Photo: Gary Denness
The "brise soleil" open at the Milwaukee Art Museum


Milwaukee's most visually prominent cultural attraction is the Milwaukee Art Museum, especially its new $100 million wing designed by Santiago Calatrava in his first American commission. The museum includes a "brise soleil," a moving sunscreen that quite literally unfolds like the wing of a bird. Milwaukee is also home to the America's Black Holocaust Museum. Founded by lynching survivor James Cameron, the museum features exhibits which chronicle the injustices suffered throughout history by people of African descent in the United States. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory is well known for its three beehive-shaped conservatory's designed by Donald Grieb and affectionately known as the domes. The Milwaukee Public Museum, Discovery World Museum, Betty Brinn Children's Museum and Milwaukee County Zoo are also notable public attractions.

Archaeologist Will C. McKern, was director of the Milwaukee Public Museum, 1943-58. He fervently believed in bringing the public into anthropology, and created the Friends of the Museum support organization, and promoted children's activities including Saturday clubs and the radio series Explorers' Club of the Air. He published popular materials as well as a scientific publication series. He encouraged a brilliant staff to construct huge walk-through dioramas for culture areas of every continent. McKern thus successfully conveyed natural and anthropological science into public knowledge using the largest municipally owned and operated museum in the United States.[49]

Richard Krug served as director of the Milwaukee Public Library from 1941 to 1974. He transformed the entire system, but his most notable accomplishments were a major addition to the central library and an extensive modernization of the city's branch libraries. His achievements and the unusual length of his career make him an important figure in American librarianship.[50] The library operated from a four-story stone structure of Renaissance design, built in 1898 by Ferry and Clas, Milwaukee architects. The symmetrical facade is designed with a rusticated first story and Corinthian colonnades and elaborate Palladian windows at the second story. The interior has a rotunda, open from the first floor to the dome, finished in Italian marble.

(CC) Photo: Luiz Castro
Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory opened in 1967.

Performing arts

Milwaukee is home to the Florentine Opera, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Skylight Opera Theatre, First Stage Children's Theater, Milwaukee Youth Theatre, and a number of other arts organizations including the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps. Additionally, Milwaukee is home to artistic performance venues such as the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Pabst Theater, The Rave/Eagles Ballroom, Riverside Theatre, and Milwaukee Theatre. The Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, a first-of-its-kind Arts-in-education facility, is a national model.


The ethnic festivals in the city highlight the city's distinctive approach to softening the tension between immigrant and American identities. Displays of immigrant culture, begun by German immigrants in the 1840s, evolved into annual festivals supported by public funds, which sought to promote the idea that becoming American did not necessarily conflict with the maintenance of Old World traditions. Although other cities held ethnic celebrations, these were usually more limited in their scope and tended toward the objective of assimilation. In Milwaukee, the attitudes of civic leaders and the political support of the city's socialist-dominated government were important factors in fostering such celebrations of cultural difference.[51]

The "City of Festivals" currently highlights an annual lakefront fair called Summerfest. Listed in the Guinness Book of Records|Guinness Book of World Records as the largest music festival in the world, Summerfest attracts around 900,000 visitors a year to its twelve stages.

Many ethnic and themed festivals are held throughout the summer, usually on the lakefront Summerfest grounds. In a typical season, the 'Fests are kicked off by PrideFest in early June and are concluded with Indian Summer in early September. Polish Fest, Greek, French, Festa Italiana, German Fest, African-American, Arab, Milwaukee Irish Fest, Native American and Mexican heritages are celebrated throughout the summer.


Music has always been central to the city's identity. The first "Milwaukee Beethoven Society" formed in 1843, and later became the Milwaukee Musical Society. The Germans dominated the musical character of the city. Music education was an important aspect of life for their children. In 1872 the Milwaukee public schools introduced music classes into the curriculum. Milwaukeeans believed that music would make their children morally sound and upstanding citizens while protecting them from the negative influences of an industrializing world.[52]

Saengerbund festivals were held regularly. Classical music training is the specialty of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music founded in 1899.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, formed in 1959 is under the baton of its fifth music director, Andreas Delfs, who began in 1997. The MSO has performed on tour in Europe, Japan, and Cuba; as well as Carnegie Hall and other venues around the United States. It is the largest cultural organization in Wisconsin, and performs over 120 Classics, Pops, Family, and Education concerts each season. Additionally, the MSO's 26 years of nationally-syndicated radio broadcasts rank among the nation's largest collections, and are heard on over 240 stations throughout the United States each year. In 2004, the MSO released the first modern English recording of Humperdinck's fairy-tale opera Hansel and Gretel, recorded live at Uihlein Hall. The MSO's education and outreach programs include Youth & Teen Concerts, MSO Stars of Tomorrow, and the nationally-acclaimed Arts in Community Education (ACE) program, the most comprehensive education initiative ever undertaken by an American orchestra, the MSO has become a national leader in arts education programming.

Milwaukee has a vibrant history of rock, blues, punk, ska, industrial music, goth and pop music bands. A range of musicians have called Milwaukee home, including Hildegarde, Woody Herman, Liberace, saxophonist Warren Wiegratz, blues giant Hubert Sumlin, the BoDeans, Violent Femmes, Citizen King, The Gufs, The Promise Ring, Little Blue Crunchy Things, Eric Bénet, Speech (rapper) from the band Arrested Development, Al Jarreau and Oil Tasters, among others. Local hip-hop acts include Black Elephant, Rusty Ps, Taste Emcees and Def Harmonic. Coo Coo Cal gave Milwaukee a national foothold in the hip-hop market with his hit single "My Projects", as did Rico Love with his signing to Usher's US Records as well as writing various R&B songs. Beer City Records, a local punk rock label, is home to Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. Venues such as Pabst Theater, Marcus Amphitheater and The Rave frequently bring internationally-known shows to which attract regional audiences.

The city is home to a thriving club scene booking prominent international DJs. In the early 1990s, the city was home to a vibrant rave scene, especially fostering hardcore techno, thanks to Drop Bass; but the scene moved south to Chicago. Milwaukee is also a center of the breakcore scene with labels such as Addict Records and Zod Records.


Ice hockey has been a part of Milwaukee's sports culture since 1887. Hockey was introduced into the school sports program in 1902, and the first arena was opened in 1923, one year after a Milwaukee team joined the US Amateur Hockey Association. Two years later, the team turned professional. Following the team's demise in 1932, hockey nearly disappeared for about 20 years. Following World War II, several teams came and went in various professional hockey leagues. In 1970, the Admirals, the current professional hockey team, played their first season.[53]

Polish Americans, like other second-generation immigrants, embraced baseball both as a children's game and as fans. On the Polish south side there were many baseball clubs, including the well-known semipro team, the Kosciuszko Reds. The Kosciuszko club owed its support to Louis Fons, a Polish American real estate developer and baseball enthusiast. The team had a loyal fan base, a home field at South Side Park, and a secure place in the Lake Shore League, a semipro league of top teams in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. After many successful years, the Reds began to decline, due in part to the impact of World War I and in part to Fons's election to the Wisconsin legislature and loss of interest in the team. By 1920 the team disappeared off the roster of the Lake Shore League and its baseball park was torn down.[54]

The Milwaukee Brewers played baseball in the minor league American Association from 1901 to 1952, winning eight league pennants. It changed ownership several times and though primarily independent, by the 1930s was the AAA farm team for the Detroit Tigers. Declining fortunes led to purchase of the team in 1941 by baseball entrepreneur Bill Veeck.[55]

Constructed in 1888, Borchert Field was home to the Milwaukee Creams of the Western Association, and with two short exceptions, remained a minor league stadium. The Brewers played there. Originally called Athletic Park, it was renamed in the 1920s for the Brewers' owner, Otto Borchert. In addition to professional baseball, several high schools and Marquette University also used the field, as did a Milwaukee professional football team during 1922-26 and a women's baseball team during World War II. Lights were first used in 1935. With the completion of County Stadium in 1952, the last game at Borchert was played in September 1952, and the park was torn down in 1954.[56]

Milwaukee's first world championship professional sports team, the Chicks, won the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1944, defeating Kenosha in their league's version of the World Series. Owned by Philip K. Wrigley, the team lacked local ties and was poorly supported by the fans and the press. Playing "glorified softball on a baseball diamond," the team was virtually ignored, while the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association dominated their league in wins and attendance. The Chicks were moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the 1945 season with little protest.[57]

The Milwaukee Braves won the National League pennant in 1957 and 1958, and won the World Series in 1957. The Brewers made their first post-season appearance in 1981 and won the American League pennant in 1982.

The Green Bay Packers played a portion of their home schedule in Milwaukee on a regular basis since in the 1930s in Borchert Field, 1933; Wisconsin State Fair Park, 1934-51; Marquette Stadium, 1952; and Milwaukee County Stadium, 1953-1994. The first Milwaukee game was played on December 3, 1922, against the Racine Legion; the last on December 18, 1994, against the Atlanta Falcons. The 1939 Championship between the Packers and the New York Giants was played at State Fair Park. The Packers won, 27-0.

The Milwaukee suburb of West Allis is home to the Milwaukee Mile auto racing facility, the oldest active auto race track in the United States, located on the Wisconsin State Fair Park|Wisconsin State Fair Grounds. Also near the Fair Grounds is the Pettit National Ice Center, a U.S. Olympic Team training facility.


Of residents over 25 in 2000, 84.5% have a high school diploma, and 27% have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Milwaukee Public Schools is the largest school district in Wisconsin and one of the largest in the nation. As of 2006, it has an enrollment of 95,600 students and employs 6,100 full-time and substitute teachers in 223 schools. Milwaukee Public Schools operate as magnet schools, with individualized specialty areas for interests in academics, or the arts. Golda Meir School, Milwaukee School of Languages, Milwaukee High School of the Arts, and Lynde & Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School are just some examples of the magnet schools in Milwaukee. In addition to its public schools, Milwaukee is home to a large number of parochial schools, including over two dozen private high schools and hundreds of private middle and elementary schools.

The district has a reputation for a poorly performing student body and efforts have been underway for years to reform the school system. School District officials note declining funding as a catalyst to problems in the district.[58]


The city was a pioneer in the kindergarten movement, starting in 1872.

School vouchers

Milwaukee's school-voucher plan, offered publicly funded vouchers for one thousand children from low-income families to attend private schools. Tommy Thompson, the popular Republican governor, championed vouchers, while the Democratic party, in control of the legislature prior to 1993, blocked many of Thompson's proposals, much to the satisfaction of the Wisconsin Educational Association Committee (WEAC). The voucher plan approved in 1990 as the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, funded one thousand children from low-income families with a voucher that can be used for private school tuition. It was extremely controversial. Democrats kept religious schools out of the program made sure the voucher amounts were substantially less than public per-pupil spending. It was bitterly opposed by teachers' unions, political action committees, and the Democratic Party. John Witte argued, "This school experiment has not yet led to more effective schools Choice creates enormous enthusiasm among parents... but student achievement fails to rise." Conservative scholars, however, found surprising success during 1990-95. It expanded to 15,000 students by 1996. [59]

Parochial schools

Parochial schools, both Catholic and Lutheran, flourish. In 1948, the Sisters of the Divine Savior founded an all-girls high school with a curriculum designed to educate young women to be good citizens and good Catholics. Heavy in religious courses, the curriculum was strong in homemaking classes as well. Although students were encouraged to train for careers in teaching or other vocations, the desired outcome in all cases was for them to become "proper women."[60]

Higher education

Higher education in Milwaukee is dominated by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the East Side and Marquette University, located near downtown. Private colleges and universities include Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Mount Mary College, and Wisconsin Lutheran College, collectively giving the city a full-time, degree seeking college student population exceeding approximately 70,000. Thus, Milwaukee has the largest student population in the state. Many locals attend university outside the area, especially the University of Wisconsin campuses at Madison, Whitewater and Parkside.

Marquette which developed from Marquette Academy was founded by Jesuits in 1857. All the colleges were small until the G.I. bill expanded opportunity after World War II. In 1938 Marquette University had an enrollment of 3,388; Milwaukee-Downer College had 284; and Mount Mary College had 385. Milwaukee Normal School was a city-operated teacher's college that began in 1885 with a two-year degree. The state took over and it became Milwaukee State Teachers College with four-year degrees in 1927. The University of Wisconsin had an extension program that began work in the city in 1892. The two state programs merged in 1956 to become the Universiuty of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (UWM), which then bought the campus of defunct Milwaukee-Downer College in 1964. UWM now has 28,000 student enrolled and 98,000 living alumni.


Milwaukee's leading newspaper is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The most prominent weekly is Shepherd Express, a free publication. Other local newspapers, city guides and magazines with large distributions include Milwaukee Magazine, MKE, and The Onion. is an online magazine providing news and events.

Milwaukee is well served by local television and radio. Milwaukee's major network television affiliates are WTMJ-TV (NBC), WITI-TV (Fox Broadcasting Company|Fox), WISN-TV (ABC), WVTV (The CW Television Network), WCGV (MyNetworkTV), and WDJT-TV (CBS). WMLW 41 is a popular independent commercial station in Milwaukee largely due to its coverage of local collegiate sports teams. Spanish language programming is on WYTU-LP (Telemundo). Milwaukee's PBS stations are WMVS-TVand WMVT-TV.

There are numerous radio stations throughout Milwaukee and the surrounding area. WHAD began broadcasting from the Marquette University campus in 1922.


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