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Frank Zeidler

Mayor Frank Zeidler signs a Book of Remembrance while members of the Zionist Organization of America look on in this 1949 photograph.
Frank Paul Zeidler (September 20, 1912-July 7, 2006) was the forty-first mayor of Milwaukee, serving from April 20, 1948 to April 18, 1960. His successful tenure coincided with the last dynamic period of growth in Milwaukee. While the post of mayor is nonpartisan, he is known as the last Socialist mayor of a major American… Read More

Fusion Party

A headshot of Gerhard Bading in grayscale tone. Bading looks directly at the camera lens in his notched lapel suit.
To blunt the potential of a labor candidate for mayor in 1888, Milwaukee Republicans and Democrats successfully merged their interests through a unity or fusion ticket. A similar tactic was used in 1908 within several aldermanic campaigns. Then immediately after SOCIALIST EMIL SEIDEL won the 1910 mayoral election, the Milwaukee Sentinel prophetically called for unity… Read More


Two newspaper clippings appear side by side. One on the left is titled "Are An Organized Gang." The right reads "Gang of Boy Burglars" with the subheading "Depredation of Appleton Lead to Belief That Organized Crowd Are Working There--Seen by Woman."
Gangs, once called “boy gangs” to distinguish them from adult criminal gangs, have been a feature of urban America since the nineteenth century. The notion of gangs has always raised a number of issues, including race and ethnicity, economic opportunity, criminal behavior, and ultimately political decisions regarding the use of resources to address gangs as… Read More

George H. Walker

Portrait of George Walker, one of Milwaukee's original founders. He was elected mayor twice, first in 1851 and again in 1853.
George H. Walker was one of three prominent nineteenth-century founders of Milwaukee, along with Solomon Juneau and Byron Kilbourn. Born on October 22, 1811 in Lynchburg, Virginia, Walker first moved westward as a young teenager when he migrated to Gallatin, Illinois with his family. Then, in early 1834 he headed for Milwaukee and settled on… Read More

Greater Milwaukee Committee

High-angle shot showing the construction of the Milwaukee Arena. Grandstands appear from inside the unfinished building. A truck drives out of the building. Planks and girders lay on the ground. Milwaukee's downtown buildings are in the background, including the County Courthouse on the right and the Wisconsin Gas Building on the left.
Founded at the end of World War II, the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s (GMC) roots lie in the creation of the 1948 Corporation, a group of businessmen initially led by Richard Herzfeld, president of the Boston Store, and Irwin Maier, president of the Milwaukee Journal. They were concerned by the physical and economic conditions of downtown… Read More

Harold Breier

Grayscale medium shot of Harold Breier in glasses and notched lapel suit. He poses in an upright body posture and direct eye contact with the camera lens showing an expression of confidence.
Harold Breier (1911-1998) was Milwaukee’s chief of police from 1964 to 1984, one of the longest tenures of chiefs of Milwaukee’s police department. He joined the department in 1940 at the age of twenty-nine. In 1943, after a brief stint in patrol, he became an acting detective and subsequently rose through the detective ranks until… Read More

Henry S. Reuss

State representative Henry Reuss (second from the right) stands behind President John F. Kennedy as he signs a bill to limit wetland drainage in 1962.
Born on Milwaukee’s North Side in 1912, Reuss utilized his Harvard law degree locally before serving in Europe during World War Two. Afterwards, he turned his attention to electoral politics, enduring several unsuccessful city and state campaigns. In 1954, Reuss finally won Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional seat. Achievements in his twenty-eight year House career included advocating… Read More

Henry W. Maier

Portrait of Henry W. Maier, Milwaukee's longest-serving mayor. An influential figure in the city's downtown revitalization, the Summerfest grounds are named the Henry Maier Festival Park in his honor.
Henry W. Maier (1918-1994), Milwaukee’s longest serving mayor, led the city from 1960 to 1988. Born Henry Walter Nelke in Dayton, Ohio, Maier was raised by his maternal grandparents and moved to Milwaukee to join his mother and her second husband Charles Maier after high school. Taking his stepfather’s last name, Maier attended the University… Read More

Home Rule

Headshot drawing of Henry Smith facing directionally to the left.
The complex relationship between Milwaukee and state authorities has been a standing issue throughout the city’s history. The founding generation, focused as they were upon economic and infrastructure development, frequently sought state authority to expand the powers of the city charter as well as for state and federal subsidies for railroads, roadways, the port, and… Read More

Iron Ring

This map of Milwaukee County from 2006 illustrates the many towns and villages that compose the Iron Ring around the city of Milwaukee that developed as a result of the Oak Creek Law.
As used in Southeastern Wisconsin, the phrase “Iron Ring” refers to the suburban municipalities that surround the city of Milwaukee and prevent it from annexing new territory. Suburbs abutting Milwaukee emerged primarily in two waves: the first from 1879 to 1919 and the second during the 1950s and 1960s, a movement greatly advantaged by passage… Read More

John Mitchell

Portrait of John Mitchell, prominent Milwaukee banker, politician, and education advocate.
Only son of financier Alexander Mitchell and father of aviator William “Billy” Mitchell, John Lendrum Mitchell (1842-1904) was a prominent banker, Civil War veteran, philanthropist, and legislator. A self-described farmer, Mitchell’s interests included scientific agriculture, horse breeding, social reform, literature, and art, all of which he pursued at his Milwaukee-area estate Meadowmere. Mitchell was a… Read More

Joseph McCarthy

Photograph of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, 1908-1957, taken by United Press in 1954.
Republican Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy (1908-1957) grew up on a farm near Appleton, Wisconsin. He moved to Milwaukee in 1930 to attend Marquette University, where he studied engineering and law. A mediocre scholar, McCarthy was active in student government, debate, and men’s boxing. He graduated with a law degree in 1935. He worked a long… Read More

Joshua Glover

An elongated mural on the I-43 overpass wall in Milwaukee displays caricatural images of people running from slavery. Drawn on the wall, is a figure of a man holding a protest sign that reads "Free Joshua Glover Now" while parading Glover on his shoulder.
Joshua Glover was an escaped Missouri slave. In 1852 he settled in Racine working at a nearby sawmill. On the night of March 10, 1854, a posse consisting of two federal marshals, Glover’s former master (Benammi Garland), and four other men broke into his home and arrested him under the authority of the Fugitive Slave… Read More

Lady Elgin

Illustration of the steamship Lady Elgin docked in Chicago the day before she sank during her return trip to Milwaukee.
In one of the worst maritime disasters in the history of the Great Lakes, the steamship Lady Elgin sank off the coast of northern Illinois during the early hours of September 8, 1860. The ship left Milwaukee late on September 6 bound for a political rally in Chicago with approximately four hundred passengers on board,… Read More

Land Use and Planning

A modern view of Milwaukee's RiverWalk with signs directing pedestrians to area attractions.
Several distinct phases in land use and planning are apparent throughout Milwaukee’s history. Informal and “special purpose” planning dominated the city’s early decades, followed in the Progressive Era by creation of formal planning bodies that guided growth and redevelopment for the first half of the twentieth century. Lastly, attempts at both regional planning and central… Read More

Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee

Pictured here are the members of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee's team at their downtown office as of 2019.
The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee is one of America’s oldest, continuously-operating law firms providing free legal services to the poor. Its creation was suggested in a 1910 letter from Professor John R. Commons, renowned University of Wisconsin economist, to Victor L. Berger, Milwaukee alderman-at-large and head of the Socialist Party. When successive bills in… Read More

Legal Landmarks

Photograph of abolitionist leader Sherman Booth. His refusal to adhere to the Fugitive Slave Act led to his arrest in  1854.
Milwaukee has generated many social movements and controversies throughout its history. The following controversies have produced legal changes of lasting importance. The Booth Cases (1854-60): In 1850, the U.S. Congress enacted a Fugitive Slave Act that imposed harsh penalties on persons who helped slaves escape to freedom. The Act was deeply unpopular in Milwaukee and… Read More

Legal Profession and Services

A group of Milwaukee lawyers are being sworn in in this photo from 1984.
Lawyers appeared in Milwaukee almost simultaneously with the first settlers: Hans Crocker (1836), John H. Tweedy (1840), future Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Abram Smith (1842), and William Pitt Lynde (1843) were the first Milwaukee attorneys admitted to practice before the Territorial Supreme Court. Law in early Milwaukee, as elsewhere in frontier America, was a highly… Read More

Lloyd Augustus Barbee

Photograph of Lloyd Barbee walking past a meeting table full of people sitting in formal attire with papers on the conference table in front of them. Near the top right of this grayscale image is a man working on a professional video camera that seems to be used to record the meeting. Barbee turns his back on these people while holding what looks like a large cardboard. He wears a dark suit and tie and round glasses.
Lloyd Barbee (1925-2002), born in Memphis, came to Milwaukee in 1962. An African American attorney committed to equal rights for all, in 1973 Barbee began a sustained drive to integrate Milwaukee’s racially segregated public schools. The Barbee-led movement of blacks and whites used educational picketing, marches, non-violent civil disobedience, and three school boycott campaigns, but… Read More


This 1985 map illustrates the many communities that have developed in the greater Milwaukee area over time.
“Metropolitanization” can reference a perception, a behavior, or a process. As one moves north, south, or west from the central business district (CBD) of Milwaukee, a seemingly endless landscape of shopping malls and housing districts provides an “urban” definition to what we are seeing, until one reaches less developed areas in Ozaukee, Racine, and western… Read More