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Airports and Air Transportation

Aviator Charles K. Hamilton landed the first airplane in Milwaukee at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1906.
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


A 1970 photograph of an alley near Park Place and Bartlett Avenue showing parked automobiles and utility wires.
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

Portrait of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell
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


This 1924 photograph shows the Lincoln Avenue Bridge over the Kinnickinnic River.
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

Building regulations, such as housing codes, categorized and quantified physical characteristics of structures in Milwaukee. This building, from the 1400 block of North 6th Street, was in such poor condition that it was razed soon after this photograph was taken in 1947.
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

The City of Saginaw car ferry is docked and being loaded with railway cars in this photograph from 1946.
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

Constructed in 1889, the Chicago and North Western rail depot on Milwaukee's lakefront served as a city landmark until its demolition in 1968.
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

This 1910 postcard showcases the large Milwaukee Road station once located on W. Everett Street. It was designed by prominent architect E. Townsend Mix and first opened in 1886.
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

This 1927 map shows state and county trunk highways in Milwaukee County.
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


Photograph featuring a bridge at the Seventeenth Street dock of the Milwaukee Western Fuel Company in 1942. The bridge is used for unloading coal from ships and loading it into cars and hoppers.
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


This undated photograph shows the relationship between freeway development and Milwaukee's urban fabric.
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


A garbage crematory next to a life-saving station on the Milwaukee lakefront.
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

Two children share a bike as they ride down a Milwaukee sidewalk in October 1943.
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

Portrait of Henry C. Payne, 1843-1904.
  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


This 1939 advertisement used art deco style to emphasize the sleek modernity of the Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha trains.
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

The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company expanded its interurban transit lines west toward Oconomowoc in 1907.
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


This 1980 photograph shows a portion of a landfill in Germantown that closed in 1989.
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


The Wind Point Lighthouse, north of Racine, remains active due to the combined efforts of the Village of Wind Point, the US Coast Guard, and a local nonprofit organization.
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

A man works on the original Marquette Interchange in 1966. During planning and initial construction, the project was known as the Central Interchange.
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

People wait for a streetcar in this 1932 photograph showing a station, the tracks embedded in the street, and the electrical network overhead.
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