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West Allis Sign PictureA Little Bit About Our West Allis Community

A Brief History of West Allis from the West Allis Historical Society

The beginning of West Allis as an incorporated government dates to 1902, although the area was sparsely populated by settlers as early as 1837. Indian tribes still roamed the area when a few courageous families established a hamlet at a location that is now South 81 st Street and West National Avenue. At that time, the area was known as “Honey Creek” and included a few small houses, a blacksmith shop, sawmill, post office, two churches, and a log schoolhouse. The stagecoach passed through this settlement weekly, to and from Wisconsin’s eventual state capitol, Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to carrying passengers, the stage also was used for hauling the mail.

The little Honey Creek settlement saw its first bit of progress in 1880 when the Chicago Northwestern Railway built its line through the hamlet to Madison. M The railway company called its station “North Greenfield”. In 1887 the area was platted and the village officially became “North Greenfield”.

In 1891, the Wisconsin State Agriculture Society established the Wisconsin State Fair at its present location. The establishment of the fair grounds made it necessary to provide public transportation facilities from Milwaukee to this area. Residential, industrial, and commercial progress was stimulated by the decision to locate the state fair in North Greenfield.

Sunday, November 25 th 1900, is a significant date in the history of West Allis. On that day, Stutley I. Henderson, whose family was one of the area’s original settlers, called upon Charles Allis of the Edward P. Allis Company (later named the Allis Chalmers Manufacturing company) for the purpose of selling him property for the location of Allis’ new plant. The original Allis factory had been located in Milwaukee. One hundred acres of land (around present day South 70 th Street and W. Greenfield Avenue) were sold to the Allis Company at a cost of $25,000.00. Construction of the huge plant was then started on the location served by both the Milwaukee Road Railroad and the Chicago Northwestern Railroad with a spur line joining the two railways.

By 1902, the Allis Company has started its factory. Other industrial plants, including the Rosenthal Corn Husker Company and the Fred Prescott Company had also established factories in West Allis. The industrial boom gave impetus to the building of homes for the owners and employees of the factories with the result that hundred of residences sprung up in the area that was still principally meadows and woodlands.

Much residential growth had taken place in the east part of the city, west of the boundary, which now is South 56th Street, and south of the Milwaukee Road tracks. North Greenfield was the focal shopping area at the west limits of the city, and the area lying in both the towns of Greenfield and Wauwatosa had two locations where there was a concentration of residences. Civic leaders felt that it would be well to incorporate the entire area so that it could have a village form of government. The name of “West Allis” was adopted for the village, which was incorporated on May 31, 1902 with a census of 1018. An election of officers for the new village was held on July23, 1902 with Fred W. Henderson elected village president.

On April 2, 1906, Governor J. O. Davidson declared the village of West Allis to be a city of the fourth class with a population of 2, 306. The first mayor of the city was Frank E. Walsh.

With the occurrence of World War I in 1917, the community experienced another tremendous industrial boom. Progressive refinements and improvements resulted in the staffing and equipping of the city’s various governmental services. The 1920s as a whole were kind to West Allis. Prosperity, busy factories, and expansion of public improvements made it a good place in which to live and work. The city’s population soared during the decade. Climbing out of the depression of the 1930s West Allis experienced a new period of growth immediately following World War II and remained a vibrant, manufacturing based community until the early 1970s.

While West Allis expanded its boundaries in a conservative manner during the first half century of its progress, it still had only four square miles of territory in 1953. Most of its industrially zoned property was occupied and building lots for residential purposes were scarce. In light of this situation, the city government annexed several square miles of area in the towns of Greenfield and Wauwatosa during the 1950s. After the annexations, West Allis grew to some 11.5 square miles.

By 1990, West Allis had weathered several long recessions, the worst of which occurred in the early 1980s. Many longtime companies, including the city’s namesake, Allis-Chalmers, were hard hit. Allis-Chalmers ceased all production in the city in the late 1980s.

West Allis became a city in transition with its economy becoming increasingly diverse. Service industries, retail and office parks, and multifamily residences, are springing up in areas where manufacturing concerns once dominated. While manufacturing is no longer the backbone of the community it still plays a very important part in West Allis’ future. New industries are still attracted by West Allis workers’ reputation for skill and quality.

West Allis is now (2002) the eighth largest city in the state with a population around 63,000. The community boasts six parks, a library with over 206, 996 books, the Wisconsin State Fair, 42 churches, 16 public schools, more than 2000 businesses, and numerous recreational opportunities.

West Allis today still measures up to its motto of the past “A city of Homes and Industries”. West Allis remains true to its progressive history and continues to be a leader among Wisconsin’s municipalities.

This brief history of West Allis is from the West Allis Historical Society

Stuart Wilke, September 1992

Devan Gracyalny, August 2005

Downtown MilwaukeeA Little Bit About Our Larger Milwaukee Community

A Brief Timeline of the History of Milwaukee from the Milwaukee Historical Society

Milwaukee is a community where history comes to life. From its obscure beginnings as an Indian settlement and its hopeful days as a booming Great Lakes port, Milwaukee has emerged as a stronghold of industries and immigrants, displaying bold experiments in municipal government, and a gradual immersion in national and global affairs.

By the early 20th century, Milwaukee had developed a national reputation based on three related hallmarks: Germanism, Socialism and beer. Today all three have faded in importance, but, as another century begins, the Milwaukee Idea retains a thoroughly distinctive sense of place. Choice and circumstance have combined to produce a unique community, one whose character reflects influences as diverse as Harley-Davidson and Pabst Blue Ribbon, Golda Meir and Father Groppi, the German revolutionaries of 1848 and the Milwaukee Braves of 1957.

– Historian John Gurda from his book “The Making of Milwaukee”

Before 1800s

Earliest Settlers

There is not much known about the earliest people who lived in the Milwaukee area. It is likely that the Winnebago (Ho Chunk) and Menominee tribes were descended from these early settlers. Most of the tribes that spent some time in Southeastern Wisconsin were refugees who were pushed westward by encroaching white civilization. Some of these tribes were the Iroquois, Chippewa, Sauk and the Potawatomi. The most influential tribe in Southeastern Wisconsin was the Potawatomi. They were the dominant tribe in the area when French explorers first started venturing into the territory.

In the years immediately following the arrival of the Europeans, the native population declined rapidly succumbing to diseases brought here from Europe. The Winnebago were the hardest hit tribe in Wisconsin. Local tribes traded furs with the French who had started to arrive in the area after 1674. The fur trade eventually destroyed the Indians’ traditional way of life.By the 1830s, there were still a few groups of Native Americans in the area although their population had dwindled even further because of a smallpox epidemic in 1831. In 1835, nearly all the land belonging to the Native Americans had been ceded to the United States. The Potawatomi were given permission to remain on the land for three more years. When their time was up, they were rounded up by federal contractors and led west of the Mississippi. The few who remained became the city’s first minority group.

The French

The first white men in the area were French trappers and fur traders. This region of North America was under French control from 1671 to 1760. In 1674, French explorer Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette came through this part of the French claim on an expedition that outlined the route traveled by fur traders for the next one hundred years. The route connected the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. The fur trade was very lucrative for the French but a hundred years later, beaver became scarce. In 1760, the territory was claimed by Great Britain after the fall of Montreal.

A French-Canadian trader and Green Bay resident, Jacques Vieau maintained a fur trading post on the present site of Milwaukee. Though he did not live here year-round, he and his family are considered the first residents of Milwaukee. He traded with the Indians in the area from 1795 until the 1830s. In 1830, Vieau sent for Solomon Juneau, a young clerk and trader from Montreal. Juneau transformed the trading post into a town.


The Founders

Solomon Juneau came to Milwaukee from Montreal in 1818 to work as an assistant to Jacques Vieau who was the local agent for the American Fur Trading Company. A few years later, Juneau married Vieau’s daughter and took over many of the older man’s trading post duties. A wealthy Green Bay lawyer and businessman, Morgan Martin first saw the potential for town development on the site of Juneau’s trading post. Martin convinced Juneau, who held the rights to the land on the east side of the river to join with him in a business partnership. Realizing that the days of the fur trade were nearly over, Juneau took on his new role as a real estate developer with enthusiasm. He reluctantly became the first mayor of Milwaukee in 1846.

Byron Kilbourn was a ruthless businessman from Ohio who saw promise for Milwaukee as a port city but was forced to focus his sights on the west side of the river outside of Juneau’s claim. This land technically belonged to the Potawatomi. In collusion with a crooked surveyor, Kilbourn had this land included on an 1835 federal survey. He was then able to take control of this area. He developed the west side (Kilbourntown) as a separate community from that on the east (Juneautown). Kilbourn became mayor of the incorporated Milwaukee in 1848.

George Walker is known as the father of Milwaukee’s south side (Walker’s Point). Unlike the other founding fathers, Walker didn’t have access to eastern capital. Early on, Walker had a series of financial and legal troubles which resulted in his losing his claim in 1835. There is speculation that Juneau and Martin may have been behind some of Walker’s troubles. The south side of Milwaukee remained undeveloped for years as ownership was tied up in legal wrangling. Walker became mayor in 1853.

The Bridge War

By the 1840s, the rivalry between the east side (Juneautown) and the west side (Kilbourntown) had grown intense. Much of this was due to Byron Kilbourn who was trying to isolate the east making it more or less a satellite of Kilbourntown. In 1840, the Wisconsin Legislature required Milwaukee to build a drawbridge to replace an inadequate ferry system. Kilbourn and the west siders saw the bridge as a blow to their independence. It all came to a head in May of 1845 when Kilbourn decided to drop the west end of the bridge into the river. An east side mob gathered at the river. Violence was averted for at least two more weeks when an east side vigilante group destroyed two smaller bridges in an attempt to cut the west side off from the south and the east. A skirmish broke out between the west and east. Several people were seriously injured but there were no deaths. After the smoke cleared, Milwaukeeans on both sides realized that they would have to learn how to cooperate and live as one community. The following year, west and east joined to become the City of Milwaukee.

A City Joined

In the first ten years of its existence, there were really two Milwaukees — Juneautown on the east side of the Milwaukee River and Kilbourntown on the west. In the aftermath of the Bridge War in 1845, nearly everyone, including Byron Kilbourn, agreed that the two communities needed to collaborate in order to survive. A committee was appointed in December of that year to draft a charter and by January, 1846, the charter was approved. This took place two years before Wisconsin became a state. Juneautown, Kilbourntown and Walker’s Point were now one city. Milwaukee’s population was about 10,000 at the time of the charter.

The Germans

Beginning in the 1840s, Milwaukee began to take on a definite German flavor. A wave of immigration from Germany headed to the new state of Wisconsin and especially to Milwaukee which had a reputation out east as a “boom-town”. Religion was another reason why Germans migrated to Milwaukee. The city had become a national center for German Catholicism. Another group fleeing Germany were the “forty-eighters”, German intellectuals and revolutionaries who were forced to leave Germany for political reasons.

By 1860, German immigrants and their American-born children constituted a considerable majority in Milwaukee. By 1880, native Germans made up 27% of the city’s population, the highest concentration of a single immigrant group in any American city. Most Germans could easily feel at home in the city with its beer gardens, fish fries, German newspapers, music and recreational societies. German immigrants undeniably had a tremendous influence on the culture and character of Milwaukee, which was called the “German Athens”.


Miller Brewing Company 1850Milwaukee became synonymous with Germans and beer. The Germans had long perfected the art of brewing beer. They didn’t waste any time setting up breweries when they arrived in Milwaukee. By 1856, there were more than two dozen breweries in Milwaukee, most of them German owned and operated. Among these were Pabst, Miller, Schlitz and Blatz breweries. It wasn’t long before Milwaukee had a national reputation for beer. By the turn of the century, led by Pabst, the big breweries of Milwaukee were the country’s leaders in beer production.

Besides making beer for the rest of the nation, Milwaukeeans enjoyed consuming the various beers produced in the city’s breweries. As early as 1843, pioneer historian James Buck recorded 138 taverns in Milwaukee, an average of one per forty residents! Beer halls and taverns are abundant in the city to this day although only one of the major breweries –Miller– remains in Milwaukee.


Milwaukee’s founding fathers had a vision for the city. They knew it was perfectly situated as a port city, a center for collecting and distributing produce. Many of the new immigrants who were pouring into the new state of Wisconsin during the middle of the 19th century were wheat farmers. By 1860, Wisconsin was the second ranked wheat-growing state in the country and Milwaukee shipped more wheat than any place in the world. Railroads were needed to transport all this grain from the wheat fields of Wisconsin to Milwaukee’s harbor. Improvements in railways at the time made this possible.

There was intense competition for markets with Chicago, and to a lesser degree, with Racine and Kenosha . Eventually Chicago won out. Due to its superior position on major railroad lines connecting east and west, Chicago had the definite advantage over Milwaukee. The wheat market though, guaranteed Milwaukee’s place as the commercial capital of Wisconsin.


Milwaukee’s progress in its first several decades can be measured by its dramatic population growth. At the time of its incorporation in 1846, the population stood at 9,508. Just four years later, the population more than doubled to 20,000. By 1860, Milwaukee’s population increased to 45,246, making it one of the top twenty cities in the U.S.

As the city became increasingly industrialized after the Civil War, there was more demand for all kinds of workers. Immigrants flooded into Milwaukee. The Germans continued to come as well as Poles, British, Irish, Scandinavians, Serbs, Russian Jews and African-Americans.

By the end of the 19th century, Milwaukee was a very diverse city. Most ethnic groups were concentrated in particular neighborhoods. For instance, the Bay View area became predominantly British. Russian Jews settled on the northeast side. The Third Ward district went from being an Irish community to an Italian neighborhood.

Tensions between all these groups existed in the latter part of the century, but, for the most part, Milwaukee residents tolerated, if not respected, each other’s differences.

Steel and Iron

By the middle of the 1870s, Milwaukee was beginning to lose its wheat trade market to Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. By 1880, the amount of grain passing through the Port of Milwaukee had greatly declined. Fortunately for the city, manufacturing had increased over the previous decades. The manufacture of steel and iron became the dominant industry in the city and remains an essential part of Milwaukee’s economy today.

The steel industry in the city was mostly the result of iron-ore deposits that had been discovered in nearby Dodge County in the 1840s. The largest steel mill in Wisconsin opened in 1868. It was an enormous mill that employed over 1,000 workers and produced rails for the railroad. Iron foundries and manufacturing facilities were built at a tremendous pace. A 1889 census counted 2,879 manufacturing establishments in the city, up from 558 for the whole county in 1859.

Manufacturing companies weren’t the only business in town. Meat-packing, tanning, brewing and flour milling were all very viable industries in Milwaukee during the last part of the 19th century.

Workers versus Owners

Milwaukee’s rapid industrialization following the Civil War had positive as well as negative consequences for the city. People worked harder and for longer hours but received little pay. The disparities between rich and poor became more noticeable.

Working conditions were unsatisfactory and wages were very low in the iron mills, meatpacking plants and most other industries. The lowest paid workers in the 1880s worked ten-hour days, six days a week for $1.25 per day. There was a small labor movement in Milwaukee before 1865, but it wasn’t until the Knights of Labor union began heavily organizing in the area after the war that the labor movement really took off. In 1886, half the city’s blue collar workers were union members.

The union’s big issue at the time was the eight-hour work day. Most of Milwaukee’s employers resisted the demand for a shorter day at the same wage. Strikes and lockouts led up to a general strike that closed down the city in May. On May 4, a group of 1,000 Polish strikers marched on the Milwaukee Iron Company to shut it down. Governor Jeremiah Rusk called out the local militia to protect the mill. The mill closed, but the following day an even larger group descended on the mill. The strikers were fired on. There were from five to nine casualties including two bystanders. Another incident occurred the same day in the north part of the city involving German strikers and the Milwaukee police. Shots were fired but nobody was killed.

In the days and months following these violent confrontations, workers slowly went back to work at their old wages and hours. The working people of Milwaukee had to wait a few more years for an eight-hour working day and to earn a good wage under decent working conditions.

The Poles

Although the German presence in Milwaukee after the Civil War remained strong, other groups made their way to the city. Foremost among these were Polish immigrants. The Poles had many reasons for leaving their homeland, mainly due to poverty and political oppression by Germany (most immigrants came from the German part of Poland). Milwaukee offered the Polish immigrants an abundance of low-paying entry level jobs. Soon Milwaukee became one of the largest Polish settlements in the U.S.

St. Stanislaus Catholic Church and the surrounding neighborhood was the center of Polish life in Milwaukee. It was the first Polish church in urban America. The Polish community surrounding St. Stanislaus continued to grow. Mitchell Street was known as the “Polish Grand Avenue”. Other Polish communities started in the east side of Milwaukee and Jones Island. Jones Island was a major commercial fishing center mostly settled by Poles from the Baltic Coast.

There were about 30, 000 Poles in Milwaukee by the late 1880s compared with over 50, 000 Germans — a considerable number, placing the group in second place among the ethnic immigrant communities.

Socialist Era Begins

In May of 1886, striking workers in Milwaukee were fired on and killed by the state-sponsored local militia. Workers throughout the city, most of whom joined a movement organized by a national labor union, the Knights of Labor, condemned the action. The People’s Party of Wisconsin emerged from this movement. The city’s Socialists reluctantly joined forces with the People’s Party. The Party experienced great success in the elections of 1886, winning many seats, including one in Congress. The next year the Socialists left the Party and the Democrats and Republicans joined forces against the People’s Party. The Party disintegrated over the next few years.

Although Socialists and other populists were active in Milwaukee’s municipal government over the next twenty years, it wasn’t until 1910 that they made some real electoral progress, including the election of the city’s (and the nation’s) first Socialist mayor, Emil Seidel.

Many factors contributed to the electoral success of the Socialists in 1910:* Milwaukee was an industrial city ripe for change, as evidenced by the bloody strikes of 1886.
* Milwaukee was a very German city and in this country Germans were generally supporters of liberal causes.
* Victor Berger, a Socialist with a national reputation, led the Socialist movement in the city.
* The administration of Mayor Emil Seidel’s predecessor, David Rose, was tainted with numerous scandals. Milwaukee was ready to try something different. The Socialist experiment in municipal government lasted, almost uninterrupted, for the next thirty years.


Socialist Era Begins

In May of 1886, striking workers in Milwaukee were fired on and killed by the state-sponsored local militia. Workers throughout the city, most of whom joined a movement organized by a national labor union, the Knights of Labor, condemned the action. The People’s Party of Wisconsin emerged from this movement. The city’s Socialists reluctantly joined forces with the People’s Party. The Party experienced great success in the elections of 1886, winning many seats, including one in Congress. The next year the Socialists left the Party and the Democrats and Republicans joined forces against the People’s Party. The Party disintegrated over the next few years.

Although Socialists and other populists were active in Milwaukee’s municipal government over the next twenty years, it wasn’t until 1910 that they made some real electoral progress, including the election of the city’s (and the nation’s) first Socialist mayor, Emil Seidel.

Many factors contributed to the electoral success of the Socialists in 1910:

* Milwaukee was an industrial city ripe for change, as evidenced by the bloody strikes of 1886.
* Milwaukee was a very German city and in this country Germans were generally supporters of liberal causes.
* Victor Berger, a Socialist with a national reputation, led the Socialist movement in the city.
* The administration of Mayor Emil Seidel’s predecessor, David Rose, was tainted with numerous scandals. Milwaukee was ready to try something different. The Socialist experiment in municipal government lasted, almost uninterrupted, for the next thirty years.

Mayor Dan Hoan

After the election of 1910, the Socialists — Mayor Emil Seidel and the Common Council — raised the minimum wage and made the eight-hour day standard for city workers. The administration was praised for its compassion and efficiency, but Republicans and Democrats who were humiliated by their defeat, put all their effort into defeating the Socialists in 1912. Seidel lost the election and the Common Council lost its Socialist majority. Victor Berger lost the seat in Congress he had won in 1910. Seidel also lost in a rematch in 1914. In 1916 the Socialists nominated Dan Hoan for mayor. Hoan, who had entered Seidel’s administration as city attorney in the 1910 landslide, beat the incumbent candidate, Gerhard Bading. Unlike Seidel’s term, the Common Council that came in after the election wasn’t overwhelmingly Socialist. Hoan’s popularity had its ups and downs but he was repeatedly elected until 1940.

Dan Hoan’s tenure as mayor was a golden age in the city’s government. His administrations were marked by honesty and efficiency. Under Dan Hoan, between 1925 and 1940, Milwaukee won a number of awards as the healthiest, safest and best policed big city in the United States.

World War I Anti-Germanism

The World War I years were difficult ones for Milwaukee. Besides the fact that many Milwaukeeans had relatives and friends fighting in Europe, a large number of those left at home suffered from an anti-Germanism sentiment that was a by-product of the war.

When the war began in 1914, many recently-arrived Germans were supportive of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. This support was seen by many non-Germans as acceptable before the U.S. took sides in the war. By 1916, the country was firmly aligned against Germany. When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, tensions reached a peak. Anti-German sentiment was stoked further by the Milwaukee Journal which attacked the local German language newspaper, the Germania-Herold for “disloyalty” and “hatred for this government”. As the war continued, nearly anything that smacked of Germanism was held up for derision by many Milwaukeeans. Some Germans themselves tried to hide their Germanism by changing their names and avoiding anything that made them appear too German.

World War I was not easy for the Socialists either. The official position of the Party was pacifism. Mayor Dan Hoan knew he had obligations to the city that went beyond his role in the Party and was instrumental in war preparations. Hoan easily won re-election in 1918 and Victor Berger won the congressional election although he had come out against the war. He was indicted a few weeks after the election for some anti-war editorials he had written and the House refused to seat him.

By the end of the war, most Milwaukeeans had grown tired of the German-bashing that had engulfed the city. But the war years definitely chipped away at Germanism in Milwaukee.


Carrie Nation, a temperance movement leader, once said, “If there is any place that is hell on earth, it is Milwaukee.” After World War I, the prohibitionists convinced many people, including U.S. government officials, that alcohol was the cause of most of society’s ills. With its German connotations, beer was singled out for being especially unpatriotic. On July 1st, 1919, Prohibition became national policy.

Although beer production was never central to the overall economy of the city, Prohibition had negative effects on the economy and character of Milwaukee. The larger breweries were able to stay open by producing near beer or other products such as flavored soda, cheese, candy bars and even snow plows. Many other businesses related to beer production were also affected.

Nearly all of Milwaukee’s saloons were closed down by Prohibition. In 1918, there were 1,980 saloons in Milwaukee, one per 230 residents. Prohibition was detrimental to the cultural character of the city. Not surprisingly, the end of Prohibition was marked by a number of celebrations including one on the lakefront known as the Mid-Summer Festival. It became a regular event for eight years and foreshadowed Summerfest.

The Depression Hits Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s economy remained strong for several years after the stock market crashed in 1929. However, what was known as the “Milwaukee Miracle” ended with mass layoffs in 1932. The number of wage earners in the city fell from 177,658 in 1929 to 66,010 in 1933. Poverty became rampant as families lost their homes and went hungry. Predictably, the Socialists, including Mayor Dan Hoan blamed capitalism itself for the Depression but they didn’t waste much time gloating. Socialism in the city and across the nation experienced a tremendous resurgence during the early Depression years. Locally, the 1932 elections brought in a Socialist majority to the Common Council for the only time during Hoan’s administration.

Mayor Hoan and his administration embarked on a variety of creative solutions to extend some relief to the city’s employees. New jobs were created and bonds were issued to city employees that could be used like cash. President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and the various re-employment plans also helped thousands of Milwaukeeans get back on their feet.

The Depression years were undoubtedly difficult for the city, but by the end of the 1930s, the city (along with the rest of the country) was well on its way to an economic recovery.

“Best Governed City in the U.S.”

In May of 1936, 20 years after he took office, Mayor Dan Hoan appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. The magazine called Hoan “one of the nation’s ablest public servants, and, under him, Milwaukee has become perhaps the best governed city in the U.S.”

As bleak as the thirties were for Milwaukee, its municipal government shone during the Depression. The city started its own work relief programs as well as made creative use of the money it was getting from the federal government. Milwaukee developed an excellent public park system, built libraries and social centers and started recreational programs. The city won some awards for public health during the 1930’s.
Mayor Hoan made sure he gave plenty of credit to the Socialist Party, which was beginning to experience setbacks by the mid-thirties. For one thing, workers and populists had more choices. Some aligned themselves with the Communist Party, others joined up with the Progressive Party and President Roosevelt’ s Democratic Party. The last four years of Dan Hoan’s tenure as mayor were not easy for him. He was facing aldermen who were not receptive to his ideas. In the election of 1940, he faced Carl Zeidler, a challenger who didn’t appear to have much of an ideology at all. Zeidler was young, out-going and dynamic. Milwaukee was apparently ready for a change and chose Zeidler as its next mayor. But the Hoan era was definitely a high point in Milwaukee’s political history.

World War II

Just as the misery of the Great Depression was finally ending, Pearl Harbor was bombed and America entered World War II. As the “machine shop of the world,” Milwaukee was in a favorable position to aid the war effort. The city’s factories quickly geared up to run at full speed producing materials needed to fight a war. New facilities did not need to be built. Existing manufacturers quickly converted to wartime production. For instance, a highway contractor, Froemming Brothers opened a shipyard. Allis-Chalmers, the largest employer in the state, built, among other armaments, the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan.

There was a major labor shortage in the city and many women were brought in to work in the factories. For the first time, many African-Americans were easily able to find jobs, though for lower wages than whites. There still weren’t enough workers in the city and some were brought in from Jamaica and Barbados to work in the factories.

Nearly two years into his term, Mayor Carl Zeidler thought he could best serve the war effort by enlisting. The merchant vessel he was commandeering disappeared in the South Atlantic and was presumed to have been sunk by the Germans.

The war years were as hard on Milwaukee as for the rest of the country. With loved ones overseas and rationing on the home front, life was difficult for many. Nearly everyone had jobs but there was nothing on which to spend hard-earned wages. But, as with the Depression, Milwaukee residents pulled together, helped out their neighbors and got through the war years with a renewed sense of optimism.

Growing Pains

Through the long Depression and World War II years, there was not much growth in Milwaukee. Few people moved here and the birth rate was down. New home construction was slow. After the war, there were housing shortages as soldiers returned home and others moved into the city. Almost immediately home construction began at a swift pace. During the 1950s alone, nearly a hundred homes a month were built, mostly in the outlying areas of the city. The large numbers of cars bought by residents soon overwhelmed the streets causing traffic congestion.

Milwaukee County became fragmented as communities on the outer edges of the city became incorporated and left the City of Milwaukee. Glendale was the first to be incorporated in 1950, followed by St. Francis in 1951, and Hales Corners in 1952, with the trend continuing until 1964. After all the incorporations, Milwaukee County government took on a more important role, eroding some of the City’s authority.

In 1948, Milwaukee elected Frank Zeidler (Carl’s younger brother) as mayor. Zeidler, a Socialist, did his best to keep Milwaukee intact but was unable to prevent its division into suburbs. But the city didn’t do too badly. The land area of Milwaukee actually doubled from 1946 to 1967 and the population grew from 587, 472 in 1940 to 741,324 in 1960. The city was still a vital urban center although more people were leaving it for the suburbs.

In 1910, there were only about 980 African-Americans in Milwaukee. By 1945, the black population had grown to 13,000. In the late 1920s and early 1930s there was a vibrant black community in the city. Although there was discrimination from the larger white community, tension between the races was minimal.By the 1960s conditions had grown much worse. Milwaukee’s north side, home to the majority of African-Americans, was a neglected ghetto with alarming poverty rates. Mayor Zeidler tried to implement numerous strategies, such as clearing slums and creating new public housing, to remedy the problems facing blacks.

The mayor was unable to make much headway during his administrations between 1948 and 1960 and was constantly confronted with the barrier of racism. In fact, Zeidler’s opponents used racism against him in the elections of 1952 and 1956, spreading lies that he had been advertising in southern states to bring blacks to Milwaukee.

The city appeared tolerant of the black community until the black population began to show a dramatic increase after World War II, from 13,000 in 1945 to 21,772 in 1950, rising further to 62,458 in 1960 and almost doubling to 105,088 ten years later.

By 1960, life for the majority of Milwaukee’s African- American population was bleak. The civil rights movement was slow to get started in the city. A sit-in at the Milwaukee County Courthouse was followed by an occupation of the mayor’s office in1963. Later that year, a movement began to desegregate Milwaukee’s public schools. It came up against continuous resistance by school officials. A Catholic priest, Father James Groppi, became involved with the struggle in 1965. He also took a firm stand against housing discrimination for blacks.The racial confrontations that started in Newark and Detroit sparked a race riot in Milwaukee in July 1967. Although it was a relatively minor riot, three people died, a hundred were injured and 1,740 were arrested. Mayor Henry Maier placed the entire city under a 24-hour curfew and several days later unveiled his “39-Point Program” which was an attempt to do something about inner-city problems. A series of marches over 200 consecutive days was led by Father Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council to protest housing discrimination.

A month after the marches ended, Milwaukee and most of its suburbs passed open-housing laws but segregation and discrimination did not end there. The riots of1967 showed a different side of Milwaukee. The city that had prided itself on its progressive past and its diversity would no longer be able to hold its head up in quite the same way.

Urban Renewal

By the 1960s, the inner city of Milwaukee was in a state of decay. Urban blight covered large sections of the city. Urban renewal projects had begun during Mayor Zeidler’s administration, but, as urban problems worsened during the 1960s, a greater effort was made to revitalize the City of Milwaukee. A downside to urban renewal was that thousands of people, especially in the black community, lost their homes as whole blocks were cleared to make room for new housing projects, high rises and freeways. Many rundown yet beautiful buildings were demolished.

By the late 1960s many people thought that urban renewal had gone too far. A movement began to preserve historical buildings. The preservationists were able to save some landmarks such as the Pabst Mansion but others were lost in the move towards redevelopment.

As the decade continued, freeway construction was also perceived differently. Early in the decade, nearly everyone agreed that a freeway system was needed. By the late 1960s, however, many residents weren’t so sure. Freeways uprooted and divided neighborhoods and eliminated millions of dollars of tax base. Even the mayor sided with the anti-freeway movement. Most freeway projects eventually were completed, although with some delays.

Milwaukee still retains some of its “old world” charm. Though much of the city was renovated during the 1960s and 1970s, there are still many reminders of its past.

The Braves and The Brewers

Milwaukee has always been a city that loves baseball, but until 1953, the city did not have its own major league baseball team. Since 1902, one of the most beloved minor league teams in the country had been the Milwaukee Brewers. They played at Borchert Field, a tiny antiquated stadium. Milwaukee County Stadium was built in 1950 as a replacement, but more importantly, to lure a big league team to the city. In 1953, the Boston Braves announced that they would move to the city. Residents were ecstatic. The opening season broke a national league attendance record. It helped that the Braves were a superior team. They won the World Series in 1957 and the National League pennant the following year. But then they lost momentum and Milwaukeeans lost enthusiasm for the team. Even though attendance dropped, Milwaukee residents were upset when the team left for Atlanta in 1965.

Major League baseball returned to Milwaukee in 1970 when the expansion team, the Seattle Pilots, moved to the city and changed their name to the Brewers. The Brewers didn’t repeat the immediate success of the Braves but went to the World Series in 1982. Still, the city loves the Brewers through both its good and bad seasons. Milwaukee County Stadium was razed in 2000 to make room for Miller Park which opened in 2001

This brief history of Milwaukee is from the Milwaukee Historical Society



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