A brief history about Milwaukee

The name Milwaukee came from Algonquian( a subfamily of Native American languages) meaning “gathering place by the water”. Milwaukee city is the largest city in Wisconsin and is located near Lake Michigan.

During the 18th century, Milwaukee Wisconsin had probably the best natural harbor at the western side of Lake Michigan. This is the ultimate reason behind the growth of this city.

Originally, the area of Milwaukee was inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Fox, Ho-chunk famously known as the Winnebago, Mascouten and Potawatomi. The first explorer who was probably the first white to visit this area was Robert La Salle. The first white man to settle in this land was Solomon Juneau who was an agent of the American fur company.

The founder fathers of Milwaukee

The city of Milwaukee has three founding fathers namely: Byron Kilbourn, George H. Walker and Solomon Juneau , who was the first among the tree to arrive at the area. Solomon Juneau married the daughter of Jacques vieau .

Bryon Kilbourn later came and settled on the western side of Milwaukee River. To offer competition to Juneau, he established the Kilbourn town in this part.

Gorge H. who was the third, came later in 1834 and claimed the area to the southern part of the Milwaukee River. He developed this area which later came to be named Walker’s point.

In the year 1846, these three cities combined to form the city of Milwaukee and Solomon Juneau was elected as the first mayor for this town.

The growth of Milwaukee city

During the 19th and late 18th century, the city had grown rapidly. Below are factors that were associated with this growth:

  1. Increased land speculation by the western countries which attracted more immigrants to the region.
  2. Improved transport through technology advancement.
  3. Development of cash crops especially on the western lands of the city.

The city experienced a rapid population growth during 19th century and hit 200,000 and hit a peak of 740,000 during the late 1960’s.

The political and social trends of Milwaukee

During the 20th century, there rose several social movements in Milwaukee. The people of Milwaukee elected three mayors to represent them. The mayors elected include:

  • Emil Seidel who ruled between 1910 to 1912.
  • Daniel Hoan, ruled between 1916-1940
  • Frank Zeidler ruled between 1948-1960.

The above persons were characterized by a practical approach to government. They ensured that there were clean factories which had working sanitation systems, clean neighborhood, city owned power systems, and improved education systems. Notably to mention, Emi Seidel established first child welfare commission which was responsible for hiring nurses, distribution of vaccines and conducting public education. Due to such programs , the overall life expectancy and increased tremendously.

At the same time, the African- American formed a community called Bronzeville. This place grew to be called the Harlem of the Midwest. This place that was widely known for Jazz clubs and Juke joints which attracted many people, both national and locals. However, later during the World War II, the place was destroyed and the black community was displaced to the northern sides.

Milwaukee in the 18th and 19th century

During the 19th century, many Germans came to Milwaukee to seek refuge due to the 1848 revolution in their country. This is the place where they found freedom and cheap land where they could settle.

During the year 1886, The Bay view massacre which claimed the life of several striking workers occurred. The striking workers were protesting on their way to the Bay view section in Milwaukee when they were intercepted by the National guardsmen who fired at them.

During the year 1889, there was a four day strike against the Chinese laundrymen as a result of allegations of sexual violence to under aged white females.

During the late 19th century, the Milwaukee incorporated various suburbs, for example, Bay view (1886),Whitey fish bay, Wauwatosa and South Milwaukee in 1892,Cudahy in 1985,North Milwaukee in 1897 and east Milwaukee in 1900.

It is worth to note that the suburbs in the southern shore of Lake Michigan belonged to the industrial and working class. On the other hand, the northern suburbs of Lake Michigan belonged to the residential and super –wealthy class.

The Milwaukee city wall was completed in the year 1895.The wall stood 393 feet tall with 15 stories. It is one the tallest structure during this time until later when Philadelphia wall was constructed in 1901.

The economic activities of early Milwaukee

Milwaukee was well known for wheat production. In early 1860’s, it was one of the largest wheat producer in US.

It had a variety of processing industries for instance, meat packing, flour milling leather tanning and beer industries.

Later in 1800’s, many manufacturing industries came up, for example, manufacture of electrical equipment, mining shovels, agricultural equipment and automobile frames.

Population and decentralization in Milwaukee

In the late 1950’s, the city’s population had grown tremendously. This was due to increased immigrations from Germany, Ireland, Poland and Hungary and other European nations.

By 1960, the population had gone to 741,324 according to the US census. It was ranked as the eleventh largest city in America. Due to this population growth, the population of the city began to disperse. By the year 1970,there were some signs of decentralization as the population had fallen to 717,099.It was ranked 12th largest city in America. Later in 2000,the population had greatly fallen up to 596,974.

Some of the factors explaining this decrease include:

  • Unemployment due reduced number of blue collar jobs.
  • Due to white flight-An American term that refers to the movement of whites from older inner suburbs to rural areas. Most of the whites were migrating they from the Northern and Midwest US to south east and south west US.
  • Construction of the interstate highway system in 1964.Many people moved to the Wisconsin suburbs so as to avoid the crowded city.


Today, the city is making great strides to improve its economy and its neighborhoods. There are so many businesses coming up. The city has been known to preserve its history and in 2006,it was considered as one of Dozen Distinctive Destination by the National trust for Historic Preservation.

Additionally, Milwaukee WI is a great industrial center today. It is widely known for commercial printing and manufacture of medical diagnostic equipment, iron and steel forgings, mining machinery ,malt beverages and robotics.