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Water

Photograph of a Union Steamboat Company vessel in Milwaukee Harbor, circa 1885.
The history of Milwaukee is anything but dry. Water, in fact, runs through it like a river, constituting an element so critical that imagining the community without it is virtually impossible. Whether for transportation, industry, recreation, sanitation, or simply as the backdrop for daily life, water is the fluid medium in which Milwaukee evolved from… Read More

Water Policy

The grand architecture of Milwaukee's 1939 Water Purification Plant reflected the city's investment in clean water.
Water policy in Milwaukee has evolved with both changes in scientific knowledge and federal law; as understanding of the ecological role of water systems and legal acknowledgement of hierarchical structures in the use of those systems has changed, so has the focus of Milwaukee’s water policy. Like other cities in the nineteenth century, whether extant… Read More

Water System

The North Point Water Works, shown around 1885, including the standpipe at the top of the hill on the right.
Cities supply water for domestic, industrial, and agricultural uses in response to concerns about quality and quantity. Milwaukee first implemented water supply for both domestic and industrial reasons; since then, quality and quantity demands have alternately dominated changes in the water system’s infrastructure. Water in Milwaukee was available from a private vendor as early as… Read More

Watermills

Photographs of watermills are rare because they were largely outmoded by the time photography became common. This undated photograph by Roman Kwasniewski shows a mill, bridge, and waterfall in winter.
Watermills, structures that rely upon water power to drive mechanical processes, were common features in 19th century Wisconsin settler communities. The earliest of these mills were often sawmills. In addition to processing wood for export, sawmills produced lumber for local use, allowing more ambitious structures to rise alongside the early log cabins. In 1834, Dr.… Read More

Waukesha County

This 2016 photograph provides an aerial view over some of Waukesha County's extensive farmland.
Beginning in the 1600s, France, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois all claimed portions of what is now Waukesha County. Not until 1818, when the Michigan Legislature organized Brown County, did one of the most prosperous counties in Wisconsin begin to take shape. In 1834, it became part of the newly-formed… Read More

Waukesha County Technical College

A student at Waukesha County Technical College works at a small drafting table in this photograph from 1950.
Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) is a vocational training and general education school headquartered in Pewaukee. It is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System. WCTC emerged out of the vocational education movement of the 1910s. In 1911, Wisconsin passed pioneering legislation requiring fourteen and fifteen-year-olds to attend school at least part-time (a stipulation extended… Read More

Waukesha Freeman

The Waukesha Freeman has served Waukesha area residents since 1859. This front page clipping is from September 16, 1880.
During its more than 155 years in print, the Waukesha Freeman has been the principal newspaper for Waukesha County and has a long career of journalistic innovation. Founded by Martin Cullaton, the first issue of the weekly Waukesha Freeman appeared on March 29, 1859 and was published in an office above the Waukesha County Bank.… Read More

We Energies

The Lakeside Power Plant's turbine room is shown in this 1983 photograph.
Headquartered in downtown Milwaukee’s PUBLIC SERVICE BUILDING, We Energies is Wisconsin’s largest electric and natural gas utility. The publicly-traded company serves eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A subsidiary of parent company WEC Energy Group, We Energies’ 21st-century portfolio includes coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, and renewable energies. The firm dates back to THE MILWAUKEE… Read More

Weather

A figured bundled up against the cold shovels the sidewalk on a snowy night in December 1978.
Milwaukeeans love to boast about their weather almost as much as they love to complain about it. I’m reminded of an old song by John Martyn, “Bless the Weather.” It’s a love song of lament—the refrain noting that what the weather giveth, the weather taketh away: “Bless the weather that brought you to me//Curse the… Read More

Welsh

The North Presbyterian Church was built in 1851 at the corner of what is today E. State and N. Milwaukee Streets. In 1871, a Welsh congregation purchased the building, and it operated as the Welsh Presbyterian Church until 1954.
The Milwaukee area’s Welsh population generally left their homes in Wales in southwestern Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century due to the paucity of available land for farming. There is evidence that many people in Wales were aware of the 1841 American preemption laws, which allowed for the purchase of 160 acres for $1.25 per… Read More

West Bend

A 2007 view of West Bend's downtown, with the Milwaukee River in the background.
The city of West Bend, the seat of Washington County, is located at the point where the Milwaukee River turns due east and flows into Ozaukee County. The area was settled by Euopean and American migrants in the 1840s and was incorporated as city in 1885. After its incorporation, West Bend transformed from a local… Read More

West Milwaukee

St. Florian Parish formed in West Milwaukee in 1911 and its current building was dedicated in 1939. Though the church lost a significant number of parishioners whose homes were razed for a freeway that was never built, the parish continues to serve the community today.
The Village of West Milwaukee occupies about one square mile, roughly between 38th and 56th Street and from National to Lincoln Avenue. It is surrounded by the CLEMENT J. ZABLOCKI VA MEDICAL CENTER grounds on the north, Milwaukee on the south and east, and West Allis to the west. Potawatomi lived in the area until… Read More

Whig Party

Front page of a leaflet announcing a Whig meeting at the Milwaukee County Courthouse on June 26, 1841.
This political party’s influence in Milwaukee, first apparent in the late 1830s, was circumscribed because of the city’s substantial foreign-born population. German and Irish voters tended to align themselves with the Democratic Party against the Yankee-dominated Whigs, who were seen as nativists and temperance advocates. Over the course of the 1840s and 1850s, Milwaukee Whigs… Read More

Whitefish Bay

An early twentieth century postcard view of the Whitefish Bay Resort.
The Village of Whitefish Bay is located about five miles north of downtown Milwaukee on the bluffs above Lake Michigan. It is primarily residential, with a retail shopping area along Silver Spring Drive. When settlers began moving into the area in the mid-nineteenth century, the area was much different. Like other early Milwaukee settlements, it… Read More

Wiccans

Members of Milwaukee's pagan community participate in their annual Beltane Celebration, held each May.
Wiccans, some of whom self-identify as witches, and other Pagans are a small but growing presence within the United States. Many Wiccans practice their faith individually or in small groups. Although estimates of the number of Wiccans are unreliable, a 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that roughly 0.3% of Americans identified as Wiccans or… Read More

Wild Rice

This illustration depicts three Native American women knocking wild rice grains into their canoe with paddles.
Wild rice was and is a staple food crop for the Native American tribes of Wisconsin. Indeed, the Menominee, one of the major tribes in the Milwaukee area, were called “the Wild Rice People” by Europeans. Traditionally grown in shallows at the edges of lakes and ponds, wild rice is harvested in the fall by… Read More

Wildlife

Once driven away from the Milwaukee area, whitetail deer have become a more common sight in recent decades. These deer were spotted in Whitnall Park in Greendale.
The history of wildlife in the Milwaukee region is the story of the complex relationships between animals, humans, and the built and natural environments. The region is defined here by the four human-defined counties that encompass the Milwaukee River Basin and its three rivers, the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic. To the east is the shoreline… Read More

William Beck

After his first appointment in 1855, William Beck intermittently served as Milwaukee's police chief until 1882. Pictured here is an excerpt of his 1870 annual report to city officials.
William Beck was appointed Milwaukee’s first police chief in 1855 after a series of arsons, thefts, and murders. German-born, Beck migrated to New York, serving as a police officer before becoming a farmer in the Town of Granville outside of Milwaukee. He served as a deputy sheriff for two years before beginning an on-again/off-again span… Read More

William George Bruce

Portrait of William George Bruce sitting at his desk during his tenure as president of the Milwaukee Harbor Board of Commissioners between 1920 and 1949.
William George Bruce (1856-1949), a publisher and civic activist from a largely German North Side ward, was born to Augustus F. and Apollonia (Becker) Bruce on March 17, 1856. Bruce’s paternal grandfather had moved to Milwaukee from New York in 1842, four years before cityhood. A hip ailment left young William an invalid at the… Read More

Wisconsin Black Historical Museum

Dedicated to preserving the heritage and history of Wisconsin's African American community, the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018.
The Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum, located at 2620 West Center Street, is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Wisconsin’s African-American community. Founded in 1987, both the museum and its associated organization—the Wisconsin Black Historical Society—were formed by Clayborn Benson, III. Benson, an experienced video and photo-journalist, created the museum to gather together a… Read More