Milwaukee has a multitude of exciting attractions await each visitor. From a world-renowned zoo, to the many museums, mansions, breweries, gardens and parks, there is something for every age and interest to experience.
The first Europeans to pass through the area were French missionaries and fur traders. In 1818, the French-Canadian explorer Solomon Juneau settled in the area, and in 1846 Juneau’s town combined with two neighboring towns to incorporate as the City of Milwaukee. Large numbers of German and other immigrants helped increase the city’s population during the 1840s and the following decades.
Once known almost exclusively as a brewing and manufacturing powerhouse, Milwaukee has taken steps in recent years to reshape its image. In the past decade, major new additions to the city have included the Milwaukee Riverwalk, the Midwest Airlines Center, Miller Park, an internationally renowned addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, and Pier Wisconsin, as well as major renovations to the Milwaukee Auditorium. In addition, many new skyscrapers, condos, lofts, and apartments have been constructed in neighborhoods on and near the lakefront and riverbanks.
Milwaukee History: The Milwaukee area was originally inhabited by the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Native American tribes. French missionaries and traders first passed through the area in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The word “Milwaukee” comes from an Algonquian word Millioke which means “Good/Beautiful/Pleasant Land”, Potawatomi language minwaking, or Ojibwe language ominowakiing, “Gathering place [by the water]”. Early explorers called the Milwaukee River and surrounding lands various names: Melleorki, Milwacky, Mahn-a-waukie, Milwarck, and Milwaucki. For many years, printed records gave the name as “Milwaukie”. One story of Milwaukee’s name says,
“One day during the thirties of the last century a newspaper calmly changed the name to Milwaukee, and Milwaukee it has remained until this day.”
The spelling “Milwaukie” lives on in Milwaukie, Oregon, named after the Wisconsin city in 1847, before the current spelling was universally accepted.
Milwaukee has three “founding fathers”, of whom French Canadian Solomon Juneau was first to come to the area, in 1818. The Juneaus founded the town called Juneau’s Side, or Juneautown, that began attracting more settlers. However, Byron Kilbourn was Juneau’s equivalent on the west side of the Milwaukee River. In competition with Juneau, he established Kilbourntown west of the Milwaukee River, and made sure the streets running toward the river did not join with those on the east side. This accounts for the large number of angled bridges that still exist in Milwaukee today. Further, Kilbourn distributed maps of the area which only showed Kilbourntown, implying Juneautown did not exist or that the east side of the river was uninhabited and thus undesirable. The third prominent builder was George H. Walker. He claimed land to the south of the Milwaukee River, along with Juneautown, where he built a log house in 1834. This area grew and became known as Walker’s Point.
During the middle and late 19th century, Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area became the final destination of many German immigrants fleeing the Revolution of 1848 in the various small German states and Austria. In Wisconsin, they found the inexpensive land and the freedoms they sought. The German heritage and influence in the Milwaukee area is widespread. In addition to Germans, Milwaukee received large influxes of immigrants from Poland, Italy and Ireland, as well as many Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. By 1910, Milwaukee (along with New York City) shared the distinction of having the largest percentage of foreign-born residents in the United States.
In March 1889, the independent village of Bay View had four days of protest and one day of rioting against its Chinese laundrymen. Sparking this city-wide disturbance were allegations of sexual misconduct between two Chinese and several underaged white females. The unease and tension in the wake of the riot was assuaged by the direct disciplining of the city’s Chinese. In 1892, Whitefish Bay, South Milwaukee, and Wauwatosa each were incorporated. They were followed by Cudahy (1895), North Milwaukee (1897) and East Milwaukee, later known as Shorewood, in 1900. In the early 20th century West Allis (1902) and West Milwaukee (1906) were added, which completed the first generation of “inner-ring” suburbs.
During the first half of the twentieth century, Milwaukee was the hub of the socialist movement in the United States. Milwaukee elected three socialist mayors during this time: Emil Seidel (1910-1912), Daniel Hoan (1916-1940), and Frank Zeidler (1948-1960). It remains 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. Also during this time, a small but burgeoning community of African Americans who emigrated from the south formed a community that would come to be known as Bronzeville. Industry was booming, and the African American influence grew in Milwaukee. In the 1920s Chicago gangster activity came north to Milwaukee during the prohibition era. Al Capone, noted Chicago mobster, owned a home in the Milwaukee suburb Brookfield, where moonshine was made. The house still stands on a street named after Capone.