History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, where the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic rivers flow into the lake.

The French explorer la Salle found an Indian village on the site in 1679. A fur trader, Jacques Vieau, established a trading post there in the late 1700s. The first permanent settler was his son-in-law, Solomon Laurent Juneau, who settled in the area in 1818. The area around his cabin became known as Juneautown. Another district grew up where Byron Kilbourn settled in 1834 and became known as Kilbourntown. A third district developed that year, south of the Menominee River, and was called Walker's Point.

In 1837, Juneautown became a town and changed its name to Milwaukee. Kilbourntown was annexed to it in 1839 and Walker's Point followed suit in 1845. The city received a charter in 1846, at which time its population stood at 9,666. Solomon Juneau became Milwaukee's first mayor.

The failure of the German revolutions of 1848 led to the emigration of many Germans to the United States. Large numbers of them settled in Milwaukee. They were joined by many immigrants from Poland. For many years, the two groups lived largely separate lives, with the Germans predominating in the north side of the city and the Poles in the south.

Milwaukee experienced a great industrial expansion during the Civil War. It became a leading transshipment point for the wheat produced by farmers on the prairies. Its ethnic German population produced a number of master brewers and Milwaukee became famous for its beer.

In the 1890s, socialists won political influence in Milwaukee and in 1910, Milwaukee elected its first socialist mayor. Other socialist mayors were elected in later years and Milwaukee remains the largest American city ever to elect a socialist to that office. In 1940, Milwaukee elected the young Carl Zeidler as mayor. Zeidler took a leave of absence in 1942 to serve in the U.S. Navy. He was aboard the merchant ship La Salle, loaded with munitions, when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on November 7, 1942, and exploded, killing all aboard.

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Milwaukee’s Italian Heritage Mediterranean Roots in Midwestern Soil by Anthony Zignego.
The shores of Lake Michigan might seem a far cry from the coastline of the Mediterranean, even for a country famous for its opera singers. Nevertheles...