Appleton is a city in Calumet, Outagamie, and Winnebago Counties in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, on the Fox River, 100 miles (161 km) north of Milwaukee. The population was 70,087 at the 2000 census. Appleton is the principal city of the Appleton, Wisconsin Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is included in the Appleton-Oshkosh-Neenah, Wisconsin Combined Statistical Area with a combined population of around 350,000. It is the county seat of Outagamie County.
Fur traders seeking to do business with Fox River Valley Indians were the first European settlers in Appleton. Hippolyte Grignon built the White Heron in 1835 to house his family and serve as an inn and trading post.
Appleton was settled in 1847 and incorporated as a village in 1853 (John F. Johnston, the first resident, village president) and as a city in 1857 (Amos Storey, Mayor). Early in the 20th century, it adopted the commission form of government. In 1890, 11,869 people lived in Appleton; in 1900, there were 15,085; in 1910, 16,773; in 1920, 19,571; and in 1940, 28,436.
Home to Lawrence University, the city of Appleton grew along with the school. With the financial backing of Amos A. Lawrence, the Lawrence Institute was chartered in 1847. Samuel Appleton donated $10,000 to the newly founded college library, and in appreciation, his name was given to the community. Appleton is also the present headquarters of the John Birch Society.
Appleton has long been home to economic prosperity. The paper industry, beginning with the building of the first paper mill in the city in 1853, has been at the forefront of the development of Appleton. In order to provide electricity to the paper industry, the nation’s first hydro-electric central station, the Vulcan Street Plant on the Fox River began operation in Appleton on September 30, 1882. The power plant also powered the Hearthstone House, the first residence in the world powered by a centrally located hydroelectric station using the Edison system.
Shortly thereafter, in August 1886, Appleton was the site for another national first, the operation of a commercially successful electric streetcar company. Electric lights replaced gas lamps on College Avenue in 1912. Appleton also had the first telephone in all Wisconsin, and the first incandescent light in any city outside of the East Coast.
Appleton’s Valley Fair Shopping Center, built in 1954, laid claim to being the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States, though this claim is disputed today by others such as Rhode Island’s Westminster Arcade, Seattle’s Northgate Mall, and Minnesota’s Southdale Center. In 2007 most of the structure was demolished, leaving only the east wing and the movie theater.
Appleton was also the childhood home of Harry Houdini, who claimed in interviews to have been born in Appleton on April 6, 1874 even though records show he was actually born in Hungary on March 24 of the same year.