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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… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More

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… Read More

Fur Trading

Illustration of Jacques Vieau's cabin outpost. Vieau was Milwaukee's first permanent fur trading agent.
During the early European settlement period, Milwaukee was one of several fur trading posts along the western Great Lakes. Wisconsin’s fur trade originated in the second half of the seventeenth century when the French exchanged various small but useful items for peltry and foodstuffs from indigenous men and women. By the mid-1700s, fur trading had… Read More

GE Healthcare

With research, manufacturing, and management facilities located throughout the Greater Milwaukee area, GE Healthcare is a significant contributor to the community's manufacturing industry and philanthropic endeavors. The company's products, like the MRI machine pictured here, are used around the world.
GE Healthcare (GEHC), with major research, manufacturing, and management activities located in the Milwaukee area, is among the world’s most prominent providers of advanced healthcare technologies. Its offerings range from medical imaging (including radiography, fluorography, mammography, computed tomography, magnetic resonance, molecular imaging, and ultrasound), software and IT, patient monitoring, and diagnostic pharmaceuticals to drug discovery,… Read More


Bikers parade through Milwaukee as part of Harley-Davidson's 105th anniversary celebration in 2008.
Harley-Davidson is an international motorcycle manufacturing company with production facilities, certified dealers, and a museum all within the city of Milwaukee. Located at 37th Street and Juneau Avenue, Harley-Davidson’s corporate headquarters is not too far from the site of the first Harley-Davidson shop. In 1901, William Harley and Arthur Davidson, coworkers at a bicycle factory,… Read More

Harold Christoffel

Portrait of Harold Christoffel taken in 1937, the year he began his tenure as president of the UAW Local 248 union in Milwaukee.
Harold R. Christoffel (1912-1991) was the chief organizer and first president of United Automobile Workers’ (UAW) Local 248 (at the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company), the largest union in the state at the time. He also helped introduce the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to Milwaukee and was the first union leader indicted and jailed during the… Read More

Heil Company

1943 photograph of Heil Company war production employees making gasoline tanker trucks.
For the better part of the twentieth century, Heil was one of Milwaukee’s major industrial enterprises and contributed to the city’s growing reputation as the “machine shop of the world.” Like many Milwaukee firms, however, Heil relocated to America’s Sunbelt states following the economic turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s. Julius Heil, a German immigrant… Read More

Ice Industry

1906 illustration of men cutting ice blocks and loading it onto a conveyor belt at the right.
Before widespread use of artificial refrigeration, ice was an important part of processing, preserving, and consuming food and beverage products. Over time, an ice industry in and around Milwaukee developed to meet local industrial and residential refrigeration needs. Southeast Wisconsin proved an ideal location for the industry because its long, cold winters and extensive river… Read More

Increase A. Lapham

Increase Lapham examines a meterorite that had fallen in Wisconsin, circa 1868.
Increase Allen Lapham (1811-1875), self-taught naturalist, and scientist of lasting influence, arrived at frontier Milwaukee in July 1836, when he was 25. One of thirteen children of a New York Quaker family, he worked on canals in New York, Kentucky, and Ohio, where he met Byron Kilbourn. Kilbourn, founder of Kilbourntown (one of three settlements… Read More


Illustration of the Milwaukee Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company building once located on Water Street.
Forming in the years prior to the city’s charter, Milwaukee’s insurance industry became a key part of the city’s economy while several Milwaukee insurance firms grew into significant regional and national industry leaders. The area’s insurance companies not only provided important protection against calamitous loss of life, property, wages, and other investments, but also played… Read More

International Harvester

Panoramic photograph of the International Harvester plant in Milwaukee, circa 1907.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Wisconsin was a leading producer of farm implements. One of the major contributors to this growing industry was International Harvester, which was active in Milwaukee for nearly a century. Long before the Milwaukee plant became a part of an international conglomerate, it was Milwaukee Harvester—a local operation… Read More

Jacob F. Friedrick

Jacob Friedrick (second from left) is pictured with his fellow members of the Berlin Trade Fair trade union team and Under Secretary of Labor James T. O'Connell (center) prior to their trip to Berlin in 1958.
Jacob “Jake” Frank Friedrick (1892-1978) was a prominent labor leader and first president of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, significant public servant, and president of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. Born in Perjamos, Hungary (now Periam, Romania), Friedrick migrated to Milwaukee with his family in 1904. Friedrick began working as a teenager,… Read More

John W. Schmitt

John W. Schmitt (left) meets with Jesus Salas (right), leader of Wisconsin's migrant farm worker union, Obreros Unidos, in 1967.
John W. Schmitt (b. February 3, 1920, in Milwaukee), as president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO (1966-86), is credited with strengthening the labor federation and its impact on state policy by building grassroots political action programs. He grew up in the Depression; after army service during World War II, he worked in Milwaukee breweries, becoming… Read More

Johnson Controls

This page from a 1924 Johnson Controls publication, then known as the Johnson Service Company, features the company's headquarters and building directory.
With operational headquarters in Glendale, Johnson Controls employs 150,000 people worldwide. As of 2015, Johnson Controls remains the largest public company in Wisconsin, with $42.83 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2013-2014. In three divisions, the company manufactures automotive batteries, automobile seats, and building climate and security control systems. A 2016 merger with Tyco moved… Read More

Jones Island

1982 photograph of the Jones Island wastewater treatment plant that originally opened in 1925.
Jones Island is a peninsula formed at the mouth of the Milwaukee River, shaped as much by the city’s development as the lake and river that surround it. With easy access to fish, wild rice, and mainland resources, the marshy strip became an important Potawatomi summer village prior to white settlement. As the frontier community… Read More

Kohl’s Corporation

Prior to transition to a department store, Kohl's grocery stores, like this one on 64th and Silver Spring, were located throughout Milwaukee.
Kohl’s Corporation, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in suburban Menomonee Falls, operates a national chain of over 1,100 department stores. The Corporation had over $19 billion in sales in 2014. As of 2015, Kohl’s had stores in every state except Hawaii and employed a total of 137,500 people across its corporate and retail locations. Forty… Read More

Ladish Company

During the twentieth century, the Ladish Drop Forge Company manufactured many parts for the automotive industry. This 1922 advertisement illustrates the company's Cudahy plant.
For over one hundred years Ladish Company has engaged in the age-old practice of forging metal into a variety of finished products. Innovative application of such technology made the company one of the foremost forge shops in the country, and modernization of the basic process made Ladish a key supplier of aerospace parts. In addition,… Read More

Leather Industry

A view of tanneries on the Milwaukee River looking southeast on what will become Commerce Street, which was originally a canal along the river.
Although now merely a shadow of itself, the production of leather and leather goods was once a key part of Milwaukee’s industrial history. The leather industry and city grew together as firms tanned, curried, and finished animal hides as well as manufactured a variety of finished products. Milwaukee matured into a leading national and international… Read More