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Airports and Air Transportation

Wide shot of Charles K. Hamilton showing his posture sitting on his vintage airplane called the Hamiltonian parked on flat ground. He wears a long-sleeved jacket and boots. His hands are attached to the plane's circular steering wheel while one of his feet steps on a part of the aircraft. On top of his head and behind his back is the plane's engine. Several blurry figures stand at the rear of the aircraft.
Since the early 1900s, airports have served as a site for recreation, commercial travel, and the transportation of goods. Today, General Mitchell International dominates Milwaukee air travel, but other small airports serve the area as well. The first flight in Milwaukee is believed to have been made at the Wisconsin State Fair on September 10,… Read More


Image of a long alley with bumpy paving slabs. Houses along with power poles appear on the left and right sides of the road. A light-colored car is parked by the left edge of the alley, and a darker-colored one is placed on the opposite side.
Alleys have been part of the infrastructure of the City of Milwaukee and several of its surrounding towns from their founding. The 1846 Charter of the City of Milwaukee gave it authority “to lay out new highways, streets, alleys[,] and public walks.” Milwaukee developed a grid pattern of city streets already common in other eastern… Read More

Billy Mitchell

Sepia-colored headshot of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in a uniform. His body faces to the left while his face gazes at the camera lens. Various military medals, badges, and insignia decorate the General's uniform.
General William “Billy” Mitchell (1879-1936) was both a celebrated and polarizing figure during his career as a US Army officer. After World War I he championed military aviation. His fierce advocacy brought him into conflict with other military leaders, ultimately leading to his court martial. He has been posthumously praised for his vision and widely… Read More


A grayscale wide shot of the Lincoln Avenue Bridge over the Kinnickinnic River connecting the two banks.
Three rivers—the MILWAUKEE RIVER, Menomonee River, and the Kinnickinnic River—run through Milwaukee and converge DOWNTOWN. Because they forge connections across the natural barriers of rivers, bridges have facilitated transportation and commercial activity. But their construction and use also sparked conflict throughout the city’s history. Milwaukee pioneers SOLOMON JUNEAU, BYRON KILBOURN, and GEORGE WALKER competed fiercely… Read More

Building Regulations

Exterior view of a dilapidated duplex house facing slightly to the right. This image shows two sides of the two-story structure. One on the left has a wooden exterior wall and windows. One on the right features two doors on the ground floor and three regularly spaced windows on the second. The wall is mainly in a poor condition. One of the windows is broken; others are mostly covered.
As in other nineteenth century North American cities, Milwaukee’s earliest regulations dealt with the risk of fire. Destructive fires in the 1840s and 1850s led the city to prohibit the construction of wooden buildings in the central business district and to regulate the design and construction of chimneys, hearths, ovens, and boilers. Concerns about health,… Read More

Car Ferry

An aerial photo shows the City of Saginaw car ferry that is docked and being loaded with a long line of railway cars. Dozens of cars parking next to the railroad seem to indicate a busy day.
As railroads revolutionized the transportation of goods and passengers around the United States in the nineteenth century, they confronted a problem: bodies of water too big to build tracks across. The solution to this problem was car ferries, special vessels that carried railroad cars, goods, and passengers across waterways. The first self-propelled car ferry, the… Read More

Chicago & North Western Railway

Grayscale long shot of the Chicago and North Western rail depot. The center portion of this image displays long railroad tracks headed toward a shelter at the center of the photograph. The train depot appears in the background with a tall clock tower on the right.
Until its corporate death in 1995, the Chicago & North Western Railway (C&NW) had long served greater Milwaukee. Although the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad was the first carrier to appear in the area, in the early 1850’s a predecessor of the Milwaukee Road, two future units of the C&NW, the Illinois Parallel Railroad, and the… Read More

Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railway

A vintage postcard featuring the facade of the Milwaukee Road station against the sky. The large building, which features a clock tower, is built on a corner of a street. Some horse-drawn vehicles are parked in front of the station. Across the building is a park with green grass and trees. In the upper left corner, red text identifying the depot is printed in English and German.
The Milwaukee Road, incorporated in 1847 as the Milwaukee & Waukesha Railroad Company, operated a 10,200-mile system stretching from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest into the 1970s. Its accomplishments included the first tracks connecting Lake Michigan at Milwaukee with the Mississippi River; high-speed, luxurious, beautifully designed HIAWATHA passenger trains; efficient freight services; an innovative… Read More

County Roads

Page of the 1927 Map of Milwaukee County showcasing state and county trunk highways. Red lines illustrate the U.S. highways and state trunks highways. Blue lines symbolize county trunk highways. The right portion of the map contains the legend, signatures of the chairmen and committees related to the highways' development, and a list of the members of the board district of supervisors.
Milwaukee’s county roads originated in Indian trails that wound through the region. In the early nineteenth century, these routes became important channels for fur traders, settlers, and the U.S. military and mail service. A particularly important trail connected Fort Howard in Green Bay to Fort Dearborn in Chicago, cutting past the trading posts of Jacques… Read More


Grayscale photograph of a bridge standing tall above mountains of coal. The name sign of "Milwaukee Western Fuel" stretches horizontally on the far side of the bridge's structure.
Energy has many different forms. Over the years, businesses and homes in the Milwaukee region have relied on a broad variety of energy types to fuel daily activities, from illuminating, heating and cooling homes, for travel and transport, and for manufacturing and commercial activities. Energy has the remarkable quality that it can be neither created… Read More


Grayscale and blurry aerial shot of the intended route of the Park West Freeway shows blocks of vacant lands surrounded by densely packed residential areas. The tall buildings of the downtown are visible in the right background.
The Milwaukee freeway system, for the past 50 years, has served as the backbone of commuter and commercial traffic in MILWAUKEE COUNTY and southeastern Wisconsin. Contrary to urban myth, the system was built with democracy as a central characteristic. Engineers did not develop the system without public input or implement it over the objections of… Read More


Postcard illustrating a life-saving station next to a garbage crematory against the sky. Both buildings have towering chimneys. A body of water surrounds this area.
At the time of Milwaukee’s founding as three separate communities, the concept of “garbage” did not exist in the way we think of it today. Household wastes such as digestive products were deposited in privy vaults, food remains were composted or fed to family hogs or chickens, and firewood ash was either used for soap… Read More

Getting Around

Long shot of a smiling kid cycling with a small child who sits on the front basket. Their legs float in the air, letting the bike freely ride down the sidewalk. Both wear warm clothes in this grayscale-colored image. Leafless trees, a tall building, and a parked car are visible in the background.
Humans love to travel. We want to explore new places, learn new things, experience new cultures, and then return home again to familiar surroundings. There are also practical reasons why we go from one place to another. We need to go to work, or visit relatives, or purchase food and clothing, or just socialize. But… Read More

Henry Clay Payne

Sepia-colored medium shot of Henry Clay Payne from the waist up in formal attire. His body and eyes face to the right.
  Henry Clay Payne (November 23, 1843-October 4, 1904) played an instrumental role in Milwaukee’s late 19th century commercial and political development. Born in Massachusetts and rejected from military service, he moved to Milwaukee in his teens, working as a shop clerk and insurance salesman before entering politics. He led the Milwaukee Young Republicans and… Read More


A colorful advertisement features acaricatural image of a Hiawatha train in large size, in predominantly red and grey color drawn on a yellow and black background. The ad illustrates an incoming train passing a blue-colored track line. On the bottom left of this image reads "1939 Hiawatha, Ahead of the Times."
When the Milwaukee Road inaugurated its new high speed Hiawatha trains in 1935, it created a nationally recognized brand. The railroad purchased streamlined steam locomotives from American Locomotive Company, built modern passenger cars in its Milwaukee Shops, and launched an award winning advertising campaign. Calling itself the Route of the Hiawathas, the railroad named their… Read More

Interurban Transit

Grayscale wide shot of an interurban car with "Oconomowoc" sign on the top front part of its body. Some passengers are seated by the front window. A conductor with eight buttons on his jacket stands at the front. The car passes a building and trees in the background. The bottom of this photograph reads "Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company, Car on 1200 Volt Direct Current System."
During the early years of the twentieth century, residents of greater Milwaukee were not immune from “interurban madness” that swept much of the United States, being especially intense in the Midwest. Once individuals, investors, and others grasped the potential of electric intercity railways, they recognized the advantages of this alternative to steam railroads for passenger… Read More


Various kinds of waste are stacked and scattered on landfill's terrain. The terrain's bottom part is covered by a pitch black stagnant puddle filled with rubbish and mud.
As in all communities, Milwaukee residents have always needed to dispose of the GARBAGE they produced. One disposal method that transforms the metropolitan landscape is sanitary landfills—sites where garbage is dumped into trenches and covered with soil. At times the use of landfills brought the city of Milwaukee into conflict with both neighboring and distant… Read More


Long shot of Wind Point Lighthouse in grayscale. In the far back is a one-and-a-half-story building with dormer windows, which used to be the keeper's house. A small structure with a gable roof stands on the left of the house. A covered walking path connects the dwelling with the sturdy lighthouse tower on the right. The tower has a lightning rod, beacons, windows, and an observation deck. A long fence span from left to right separates the lighthouse complex from the empty ground in the foreground.
As industrial and agricultural development spurred trade in the nineteenth century, cities along Lake Michigan became major shipping ports. Lighthouses aided navigation and improved maritime safety as lake traffic increased. Although modern navigation tools made most lighthouses obsolete, many are still maintained for educational purposes. Built in 1838, Milwaukee’s first lighthouse was intended to mark… Read More

Marquette Interchange

Long shot of the Marquette Interchange under construction. A man using a hammer kneels atop a structure in the right foreground. Construction workers and a variety of heavy equipments are in the background.
The Marquette Interchange is the linchpin of the Milwaukee area freeway system. It is the heart of Wisconsin’s transportation system and the backbone for distributing people and commerce throughout the state. It is estimated that 50 percent of the state’s residents and 60 percent of its major industries use the Milwaukee area freeways. Wisconsin’s major… Read More

Mass Transit

Long shot of a single-story streetcar station on a street corner. Some people stand next to the building, some walk pass the station. Above are the crisscrossing overhead wires. The streetcar tracks embedded in the street are in the foreground.
According to transit historian Zachary Schrag, mass transit “generally refers to scheduled intra-city service on a fixed route in shared vehicles.” Since 1860, opposing political and economic forces significantly shaped the provision of transit in the Milwaukee metropolitan region. These forces included changes in available and economically viable technologies, advocates for public versus private ownership,… Read More