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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… Read More

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… Read More


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,… Read More

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,… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More

American Motors

An employee works on a nearly-finished automobile at the Nash Motors plant in Kenosha in 1935.
Founded as a furniture manufacturing company, the Seaman Body Corporation gained prominence as a maker of automotive bodies. For nearly seven decades, the Seaman Body factory at Capitol Drive and Richards Street on Milwaukee’s North Side produced bodies for the Nash and American Motors companies. At its height in 1928, the factory employed 6,500 workers.… Read More

American Society for Quality

The May 1950 of the American Society for Quality's publication "Industrial Quality Control" advertises the upcoming ASQ conventions to be held in Milwaukee.
Headquartered in the former Gimbels Department Store building in downtown Milwaukee, the American Society for Quality (known as ASQ) is a professional association for over 75,000 quality assurance and quality control professionals. As of 2016, the Society had 239 sections worldwide and 185 employees. ASQ offers professional certifications, maintains the world’s largest quality-related publisher, and… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More


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… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More

Cudahy Brothers

In September 1906, the Cudahy Brothers plant caught fire and sustained significant damage. However, as illustrated by these images, the building was restored and running 49 days later.
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… Read More


A Cutler-Hammer employee tests electrical controls in 1963.
Originating in Chicago in 1892, Cutler-Hammer quickly relocated to Milwaukee and became one of the city’s leading business enterprises. Capitalizing on the broad use of electricity in the late nineteenth century, the company gained world renown for its electrical controls, devices that were used in everything from lamps to military aircrafts, submarines, and battleships. Like… Read More

Department Stores

This 1912 image shows the large Gimbels department store building downtown.
Solomon Juneau’s trading post provided the first source of commodities for locals, with indigenous peoples as its earliest customers. After land sales in the mid-1830s drew hundreds, then thousands of Americans west of Lake Michigan, an early newspaper advertisement for Juneau’s shop listed cotton cloth, blankets, hatchets, saddles, looking glasses, rifles, and flints available in… Read More


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… Read More
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