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A. Gettelman Brewing Company

Advertisement featuring the A. Gettelman Brewing Company plant.
The A. Gettelman Brewing Company (1856-1961) was one of Milwaukee’s major industrial brewers. Although remaining a mid-sized brewer among the city’s giants, Gettelman was an important innovator of beer packaging and advertising and a significant acquisition in the expansion of the Miller Brewing Company. The Gettelman Brewing Company originated as George Schweickhart’s Menomonee Brewery, established…
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A.O. Smith Corporation

Photograph of the interior of A.O. Smith assembly facilities taken in 1965.
While it is currently recognized as a leader in the production of water heaters, over its history A.O. Smith Corporation has dabbled in a complex inventory of products. Following in his father’s footsteps, company founder Arthur Smith and his successors constantly adapted to market demand and, for the better part of a century, the company…
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Surplus hay from local farmers is sold at Market Square (now, appropriately, the Haymarket Square area) to in-town users such as the fire department, milk dairies, and vegetable vendors.
Throughout its history, Milwaukee has gone from manufacturing center for a myriad of products to a “post-industrial” city struggling to adapt to the realities of deindustrialization. Often overlooked in such a narrative is the role that agriculture has played in the development of the city and the broader metropolitan region. For more than 150 years,…
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Alexander Mitchell

Portrait of Alexander Mitchell, 1817-1887.
Milwaukee’s leading financier and railroad magnate in the mid-nineteenth century, Alexander Mitchell was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland on October 18, 1817. Twenty-two years later, he immigrated to the U.S., settling in Chicago. That same year, Mitchell moved to Milwaukee to serve as secretary for a marine and fire insurance company owned by a fellow Scotsman,…
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Allen-Bradley (Rockwell Automation)

The Allen-Bradley Company building towers behind a row of residential homes in this 1974 photograph. Today the company is part of Rockwell Automation.
Founded by Lynde Bradley in 1903 with the financial backing of investor Dr. Stanton Allen, what became the Allen-Bradley Company has served the Milwaukee community for over one hundred years, specializing in the design and manufacturing of various electrical products. During the twentieth century Lynde and his brother Harry built the company into one of…
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Allis-Chalmers Corporation

Photograph of an Allis-Chalmers work bay taken in 1930.
Operating from 1847 to 1999, the Allis-Chalmers Corporation was one of Milwaukee’s key manufacturing giants and for a time the city’s largest employer, producing what one historian describes as “the ‘big stuff’ for America’s expanding urban and industrial markets.” Allis-Chalmers originated in James Seville and Charles Decker’s Reliance Works, a pioneer iron foundry and machine…
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Banking Industry

Interior image of the Second Ward Savings Bank, originally constructed between 1911 and 1913.
The story of banking in the City of Milwaukee begins in 1836, the year that the Wisconsin Territory separated from Michigan and the year before the economic depression of 1837 caused a national crisis in banking. Newly-established banks across Wisconsin, such as the Bank of Milwaukee, failed as a result of President Andrew Jackson’s “Bank…
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Blatz Brewing Company

Postcard featuring the general offices and plant of the Blatz Brewing Company.
The Blatz Brewing Company was one of Milwaukee’s industrial brewing giants. Operating from 1851 to 1959, Blatz was an early innovator in bottling and national shipping, the first of the city’s national giants to sell its interests to concerns outside of the city, and the first of these giants to close its plant. The Blatz…
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Postcard Advertising beer and pretzels in Milwaukee, Wis.
Brewing beer has been a central industry in Milwaukee since the mid-nineteenth century and frames the city’s identity—more than any other single industry. According to Thomas Cochran, one of the industry’s major historians, “Milwaukee’s beer became famous throughout the world within the course of the first three decades of its manufacture.” The city and the…
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Briggs & Stratton Corporation

This 1954 advertisement highlights the many convenient uses of the Briggs & Stratton 4-cycle engines.
Headquartered in Milwaukee for over a century, the Briggs and Stratton Corporation began in 1908 as a partnership between inventor Stephen F. Briggs and investor Harold M. Stratton. The company initially focused on manufacturing automobile parts such as locks, igniters, and starter switches, the last of which accounted for most of the company’s business as…
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Bucyrus International Inc.

52 men stand inside a massive dipper for a 950B stripping shovel manufactured at the Bucyrus-Erie plant in South Milwaukee.
No other company built as wide a variety of excavating and lifting machines as Bucyrus International, Inc. and its predecessor companies. Machines have been manufactured at its South Milwaukee plant since 1893 and from 2011 by Caterpillar Inc., which purchased Bucyrus that year. Originally founded in 1880 as the Bucyrus Foundry and Manufacturing Company at…
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Chain Belt Company

Chain Belt Company employees work at metal lathes. Finished parts and gears are stacked behind the men.
Chain Belt Company originated in the late-nineteenth century as a manufacturer of chain links designed to replace leather belts in driving large agricultural implements. Throughout the twentieth century, it diversified, improving the inner workings of machinery in a wide array of industries. The company’s success was largely attributed to the fact that its innovations were…
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Commercial Fishing

Jones Island residents stand in front of large fishing nets stretched out to dry.
Fish have long been an important part of Milwaukee’s diet and culture, perhaps most notably in the “Friday night fish fry.” The city’s commercial fishing industry expanded to meet the needs of local customers but never developed larger markets as did peers in other parts of the Great Lakes. Native American communities subsisted on fish…
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Communist Party

A large group of demonstrators gathered in Haymarket Square on February 13, 1930 to listen to Communist speakers, protest working conditions, and call for the recognition of the Soviet Union.
The Communist Party of America organized in the United States in 1919 was a split-off from the Socialist Party after the Russian Revolution. It was affiliated with the Communist International, often called the Third International, which advocated for world communist revolutions to overthrow capitalism. The Communist Party of Wisconsin organized as a statewide branch of…
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Cudahy Brothers

Operating in the Milwaukee area from 1888 to the present, the Patrick Cudahy Corporation is one of Milwaukee’s historic meatpacking giants. The company originated in the packing firm of John Plankinton, a successful enterprise due in large part to the lucrative partnerships that he established with other budding packing moguls from the early 1850s through…
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Menomonee Valley in 1958, looking east, when Milwaukee's industrial economy still hummed along.
The Early Years In many ways Milwaukee is a metropolitan area typical of the industrial Midwest. The arc of its development and growth mirrors the arc of other cities in the region, including Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. Milwaukee had its beginnings in the 1830s when a few settlers established residence on the western banks of…
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Eight-Hour Movement

Illinois Steel employees stand in front of the rolling mill in Bay View in 1886. That same year, the mill was the site of strike spurred by the Eight-Hour Movement.
An eight-hour day movement flourished for several decades after the Civil War and united thousands of Milwaukee and other American workers who otherwise differed by skill, occupation, race, gender, and ethnicity. Often working ten or twelve hours a day, workers said they needed more time for rest and to be with their families, and insisted…
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Falk Corporation

Employees work with molten metal at Falk Corporation in 1963.
Situated in the heart of the Menomonee Valley, the Falk Corporation has been a fixture of Milwaukee’s industrial landscape for over 120 years. Family-owned until the late 1960s, the company developed a reputation as both “a good name in industry” and a good place to work. Focusing on the production of gears, Falk helped modernize…
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Flour Milling

Artist's sketch of an Eagle Flouring Mills building. Opened in in 1844 by John Anderson, it came under the management of John B.A. Kern in 1866 and was one of the largest mills in the area.
Flour milling became Milwaukee’s first manufacturing industry of note during the middle and late nineteenth century. The city’s first flour mill opened in 1844, and the rate of production increased steadily throughout the 1840s and 1850s as additional mills began operation. Despite steady growth, however, Milwaukee’s flour industry experienced its largest boom after 1870. Prior…
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Food Processing

Jacob Nunnemacher's farm and distillery were located on the far western edge of the Town of Lake, on the east side of what became 27th Street, just north of Howard Avenue.
Throughout Milwaukee’s history, firms of different sizes preserved, processed, and packaged raw ingredients from Wisconsin farms, producing an array of foodstuffs, including alcoholic beverages, baked goods, candy, and ice cream. Many of these specialties derived from skills that pioneer settlers and later immigrants brought with them and developed over time. Production and preservation of food…
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