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George W. Peck

Portrait of George W. Peck. Peck served as Milwaukee's mayor in 1890 before being elected as Wisconsin's governor, a position he held for four years.
George Wilbur Peck bridged major developments in the cultural and political maturation of Milwaukee and Wisconsin in the late nineteenth century. The oldest of three children, Peck was born in Henderson, New York on September 28, 1840. He moved with his family to Cold Spring, Wisconsin where he left school as a teenager to learn…
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German Fest

Musicians dressed in traditional German garb perform at German Fest in 2007.
German Fest, one of many ethnic celebrations in Milwaukee, honors the city’s rich German cultural heritage. When then-Milwaukee mayor Henry Maier challenged the city’s local German groups to create a German gathering akin to other ethnic festivals being organized at the time, they responded by forming German Fest. Their primary goal was to promote German…
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Great Circus Parade

A carriage drawn by a team of ponies turns onto State Street in Milwaukee in 1964.
Perhaps it is no surprise that in a city made famous by beer, Schlitz Brewing brought the circus to the streets of Milwaukee by sponsoring the first Great Circus Parade in 1963. As a fundraiser for the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the Great Circus Parade featured animals, circus wagons, marching bands, wagons, clowns,…
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Harley-Davidson Museum

2006 photograph of the Harley Davidson Museum under construction in the Menomonee Valley.
Opened in 2008, the Harley-Davidson Museum celebrates one of Milwaukee’s most famous businesses. Exhibits on the second floor chronicle the company’s rise from a two-person partnership to a multinational corporation, as well as its rich racing history. Displays on the ground floor emphasize the company’s influence on popular culture. The museum’s construction reflected a revitalization…
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Holiday Folk Fair International

Men and women dressed in traditional costumes stand outside holding a banner during the Holiday Folk Fair.
Sponsored by the INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF WISCONSIN, the Holiday Folk Fair International seeks to help all citizens of Milwaukee “appreciate the Old World culture” and to “further a better understanding and appreciation of our neighbors.” The first Holiday Folk Fair took place at the Wisconsin Electric PUBLIC SERVICE BUILDING on December 10, 1944. It was…
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Indian Summer Festival

Traditional Native American dances are a central aspect of Indian Summer Festival, as seen here in 2015.
Held at Henry Maier Festival Park on Milwaukee’s lakefront each September, the Indian Summer Festival is one of the largest celebrations of Native American culture in the United States. Approximately 45,000 people attend this three day event. Butch Roberts, a Milwaukee police detective and an Oneida Nation member, started the festival in 1986 to celebrate…
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Irish Fest

This colorful poster commemorates the inaugural Irish Fest held in Milwaukee in 1981. Each annual festival has its own uniquely designed poster.
Initially inspired by the success of Festa Italiana, Irish Fest blossomed into a world-renowned celebration of Irish culture and heritage. Local Irish musician and president of the Shamrock Club, Ed Ward, led the way in organizing the first Irish Fest in 1981, which met with strong community support. The festival grew to include not only…
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Jewish Museum Milwaukee

The Jewish Museum Milwaukee is located on Prospect Avenue just north of the city's downtown. It is committed to preserving and exploring the history of the Jewish community in Southeastern Wisconsin.
The Jewish Museum Milwaukee (JMM), a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation (MJF), has its roots in 1986, when Clarice Resnick and Kathleen Bernstein established the Milwaukee Jewish Archives (later Historical Society), which collected personal documents, institutional records, photographs, and artifacts. When the MJF undertook a capital campaign to modernize its buildings, plans included a…
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Ko-Thi Dance Company

Performing traditional African, African-American, and Caribbean dances, Ko-Thi Dance Company aspires to bridge the cultural gap between western and non-western peoples. The company’s founder, Sierra Leone native Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker studied with the National Dance Company at the University of Ghana in the late 1960s. After finishing research in Ghana, she opened the Ko-Thi Dance…
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Les Paul

Legendary guitarist Les Paul performs in New York City in the 1980s.
Les Paul changed the nature of twentieth century popular music by inventing the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar and his innovative work in recording studios. The “Wizard of Waukesha” was born Lester William Polsfuss in June 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. While he was at Waukesha High School, his orchestra, the “Red Hot Ragtime Band,” played…
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Liberace

Liberace poses for a photograph in 1968.
Wladziu Liberace, or “Mr. Showmanship,” once said, “don’t be misled by this flamboyant exterior. Underneath I remain the same—a simple boy from Milwaukee.” He was born in West Allis in 1919 to a Polish-Italian family and, when he was four, began playing the piano. Liberace quickly outpaced his family’s basic piano lessons and began his…
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Literary Milwaukee

Built in 1896, the Germania Building downtown once served as the headquarters of the Brumder Publishing Company.
Looking Back The history of literature in Milwaukee can be traced back to nineteenth century German immigrants. During this time, Germans published a variety of newspapers and periodicals. The Wisconsin Banner, edited by Moritz Schoeffler in 1844, was the first German-language newspaper in Milwaukee. The Sentinel started a German paper (which became The Banner und…
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Mexican Fiesta

Men and women wearing costumes and carrying flags parade down the street at part of Mexican Fiesta in 1984.
Mexican Fiesta is a three day celebration of Mexican and Hispanic culture held on the third weekend of August at the Milwaukee Summerfest Grounds. Mexican Fiesta was originally organized in 1973 by LULAC Council #9990 as a street festival to celebrate Mexican Independence and raise money for Latino students pursuing a college education. In 1977…
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Milwaukee Art Museum

Photograph featuring a profile view of the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is the largest art museum in Wisconsin. The 341,000 square-foot museum is home to 30,000 works; its world-renowned collections include strengths in “American decorative arts, German Expressionist works, folk and Haitian art, and American art after 1960.” While the institution’s current manifestation as the Milwaukee Art Museum is relatively new, dating…
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Milwaukee Ballet Company

The Milwaukee Ballet Company formed in 1970, joining several other resident performing arts groups and rounding out Milwaukee’s cultural repertoire. The idea for a professional local company originated with Roberta Boorse. Boorse, a former guest dancer for the ballet and part-time instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, ran her own dance academy in West Allis…
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Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra

The Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra performs for an audience gathered on a Villa Terrace patio.
The Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra (MCO) grew out of the Villa Terrace Serenades, an outdoor summer series that began in 1970 at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. Stephen Colburn, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s principal oboist, organized and conducted those programs, which featured his fellow MSO wind players. In 1974, Colburn launched the MCO as a…
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Milwaukee Children’s Choir

Founded in 1994 by former music educator and Vice President for choral publications at Hal Leonard Corporation Emily Holt Crocker, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir (MCC) is a music education and performance non-profit organization serving children and youth from the ages of four to eighteen in the Greater Milwaukee area. MCC includes six choral divisions: Songbirds,…
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Milwaukee Diaspora

A crowd of people gather outside the movie theater in Ripon, Wisconsin to welcome home Milwaukee native and Ripon College alumnus Spencer Tracy in celebration of his 1940 movie "Edison the Man."
Milwaukee has produced a number of noteworthy people whose careers shaped the United States and beyond. The members of this “Milwaukee Diaspora” were born in the Milwaukee area but made their greatest contributions after they moved away. Any such list is naturally subjective, but the following sampling of famous Milwaukeeans was chosen because they were…
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Milwaukee Highland Games

A group of people, some of whom are dressed in traditional kilts or tartan sashes, are bound for the Highland Games in 1909.
The Milwaukee Highland Games is one of the city’s oldest and longest-running ethnic FESTIVALS. Organized by the St. Andrew’s Society in 1867, the festival took place in Mitchell Grove. Throughout the late nineteenth century, festival attendance steadily grew, peaking in 1892 at 25,000. Competitors from around America traveled to Milwaukee to participate in traditional Scottish…
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Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra

The Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, originally established in 1900 as the Bonne Amie Musical Circle, claims to be the “oldest fretted-instrument organization in the country.” It was one of over twenty such groups established in Milwaukee around the turn of the twentieth century, when mandolins peaked in popularity. In spite of the group’s preference for popular…
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