Gertie the Duck

Click the image to learn more. In 1945, Gertie the Duck became a national sensation after laying eggs in an old piling near the Wisconsin Avenue bridge. Gertie and four of her eggs are pictured here.

In the spring of 1945, as World War II slowly ground toward Allied victory, a duck laid a clutch of nine[1] eggs on a piling near the Wisconsin Avenue bridge.[2] The eggs’ precarious perch alarmed watchful bridgetenders and attracted the attention of Milwaukee Journal outdoor reporter Gordon MacQuarrie.[3] Over the next two months, his lively series of articles about the duck family’s adventures—complemented by reports in the Milwaukee Sentinel and local radio—drew flocks of human viewers to the bridge to await the hatching of the ducklings. MacQuarrie dubbed the mother duck “Gertie,” although the rival Sentinel sometimes called her “Elizabeth.”[4] As national media, including Life and Newsweek, picked up Gertie’s story,[5] enthralled Americans sent her cards and telegrams.[6]

Gertie’s first duckling, whose misadventures MacQuarrie spun into a tale of the renegade “Black Bill,” hatched on May 30.[7] Most of the other eggs soon followed, but a stormy night and the loss of one in the Milwaukee River prompted the removal of the whole family to firmer ground.[8] The family temporarily relocated to the window of the nearby Gimbels department store[9] before they were paraded east to the Juneau Park lagoon.[10]

The story of Gertie and her five surviving ducklings struck a pleasantly distracting chord among Milwaukeeans exhausted by the war. The Journal and the Sentinel both repackaged their popular articles as books.[11] The City Council ordered the top of Gertie’s piling given to the Milwaukee Public Museum.[12] In following years, writers and artists preserved Gertie’s story in Milwaukee’s collective memory. In addition to later newspaper articles,[13] writers produced a children’s book about her story.[14] In 1997, Gertie and her brood landed on the bridge in the form of a bronze sculpture by artist Gwendolyn Gillen so that new generations of Milwaukeeans can meet the bird who charmed the city.[15]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^Distinguished Visitors See Mrs. Drake,” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 11, 1945. The clutch was later reduced to six eggs when she removed three from the nest. “City to Supply Ramp for Baby Ducks—if Any; Only Six Names Needed Now in Duck Contest,” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 15, 1945.
  2. ^Mallard Sets an Eggs-Ample in a ‘Penthouse’ 10 Feet Up,” Milwaukee Journal, April 28, 1945.
  3. ^Mallard Sets an Eggs-Ample in a ‘Penthouse’ 10 Feet Up.”
  4. ^City to Supply Ramp for Baby Ducks.”
  5. ^Gertie the Great,” Life, June 18, 1945, pp. 37-38; Newsweek, June 4, 1945, 34-35.
  6. ^ For an example, see Milwaukee Sentinel, May 12, 1945, p. 2, and “Dear Public: Don’t Count My Eggs before They’re Hatched,” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 13, 1945.
  7. ^ “They’re Here! 3 Junior Gerties Unshelled; One Seems Likely to Come to No Good End,” Milwaukee Journal, May 31, 1945.
  8. ^Gertie, Brood Rescued; Egg Is Hatched for Her,” Milwaukee Journal, June 1, 1945.
  9. ^Gertie, Brood Rescued; Egg Is Hatched for Her,” Milwaukee Journal, June 1, 1945.
  10. ^Gertie and Her Quinducklets Are Launched in the Lagoon,” Milwaukee Journal, June 4, 1945.
  11. ^ Harris Nowell and Gordon MacQuarrie, The Story of “Gertie” (Milwaukee: The Journal Company, 1945; republished New York: Rinehart, 1946); Hugh Brady Murphy, Betty: “The Duck Who Dared to be Different” (Milwaukee: n.p., 1945).
  12. ^ However, the Milwaukee Public Museum has no record of ever receiving Gertie’s piling. Email correspondence, Al Muchka, and Jessica Robers, July 18, 2018.
  13. ^Gertie Still Quacks of Milwaukee,” Milwaukee Sentinel, June 2, 1952; Chris Foran, “Our Back Pages: When Milwaukee Met Gertie the Duck,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, last accessed January 23, 2019; Lainey Seyler, “Someone Gave Gertie the Duck and One of Her Ducklings Winter Sweaters,” December 17, 2018, last accessed January 23, 2019.
  14. ^ Nicholas Peter Georgiady and Louis G. Romano, Gertie, the Duck (Chicago, IL: Follett Pub. Co. [1959]). A video version of the book, narrated by Jean Beasley, was released in 1976. Gertie, the Duck (Lincoln, NE: Great Plains National Instructional Television Library, 1976). Georgiady and Romano appeared on episode #313 of I Remember Milwaukee, which aired on April 2, 2001, last accessed October 1, 2018.
  15. ^ Sarah Hauer, “Obituary: Gwen Gillen Created Mary Tyler Moore Bronze,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 31, 2017, last accessed January 23, 2019.

For Further Reading

Georgiady, Nicholas Peter and Louis G. Romano, Gertie, the Duck. Chicago, IL: Follett Pub. Co. [1959].

Murphy, Hugh Brady. Betty: “The Duck Who Dared to be Different.” Milwaukee: n.p., 1945.

Neckar, Elisa. Forward: Living Wisconsin History, Legends, and Culture. PhD diss., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2011.

Nowell, Harris, and Gordon MacQuarrie. The Story of “Gertie.” Milwaukee: The Journal Company, 1945; republished New York: Rinehart, 1946.

Quinducklets. 1945.

Explore More [+]




News Coverage of Gertie and Her Ducklings

Are you as entranced by the story of Gertie and her quinducklets as much as the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee staff is? Would you like to read about her adventures as they unfolded at the end of World War II? Follow the citations and links below to read more about Milwaukee’s most beloved family of ducks. If you find contemporary news coverage not on this list, please let us know!

Amanda I. Seligman and Jessica Anne Robers