Early settler James S. Buck wrote the four-volume Pioneer History of Milwaukee, which one writer described as “a fascinating hodgepodge of largely undigested facts, gossip, puffs and salty observations.” Buck included events both great and small in the city’s formative years. For example, many historians relate the construction of Milwaukee’s first courthouse in what is today Cathedral Square, but only Buck gave us “The Courthouse Trouser Disaster.”
Book contains favorite posts from Milwaukee Notebook
We did it! Thanks to The History Press, the all-time best posts from Milwaukee Notebook – rewritten and expanded – are now collected in the new book Lost Milwaukee. The 42 essays and more than 70 images cover a broad range of topics, including:
- In the waning days of World War II, a duck named Gertie built a nest in downtown Milwaukee and became a national sensation.
- A popular bike path was once the route of one of the world’s fastest steam-powered passenger trains.
- The last days of the Schlitz brewing empire in Milwaukee.
- Women employed in a World War I munitions factory worked in their bloomers because the machinery made long dresses hazardous.
- Today’s Estabrook Park was once a massive quarry and the home of the world’s largest producer of natural cement.
- A nearly forgotten Milwaukee River park was a popular beer garden.
- One-hundred years ago, excursion steamboats ran on the upper Milwaukee River.
- For decades the rickety-looking Wells Street viaduct provided a thrilling ride for trolley passengers.
- In 1859, Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Milwaukee included fiery rhetoric – and an encounter with a sideshow strongman.
- The story of the lost canal under a busy city street.
From beer barons to chocolate makers, from a courthouse statue locals said resembled a drunken dancing girl to an ice cream run that led to the founding of Evinrude outboard engines, Lost Milwaukee is a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past. Click here for more information on this new book!
[From the Acknowledgments section of Lost Milwaukee] “Lastly, I wish to thank those who have followed my blog and shared their love for Milwaukee. This book would not have been possible without their support, comments and suggestions.”
The digital age (almost) invented in Riverwest
The device upon which you are reading this, the network you used to access it, along with every modern computer, smartphone, GPS device, in fact, the entire digital age was born in 1958 when Jack Kilby, an electronics engineer with Texas Instruments, designed the first integrated circuit built on a piece of semiconductor material. As Thomas Fehring, author of the new book, The Magnificent Machines of Milwaukee and the engineers who created them, explains, this world-changing invention may have its roots in a company located in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.
East Side tunnel to nowhere
There is a mystery in Cambridge Woods Park on the east bank of the Milwaukee River — an ancient tunnel made from carefully cut and fitted stone blocks and large enough to drive a truck through.
From its portal in a bluff at the foot of Hampshire Street, the tunnel extends eastward under the Oak Leaf Trail only to end abruptly at a modern concrete wall about 60 feet inside the entrance.
Who built it? And for what purpose? (more…)
The man who dreamed of locks
Harry Soref, the founder, general manager, and chief designer of The Master Lock Company, was a most unlikely industrial tycoon. Small, slight, and soft-spoken, he preferred working in an unadorned cubbyhole of an office in the huge factory he built. His working day started at 5 a.m. and often continued until 9 or 10 at night, six days a week.
“There is no Sunday, no Monday, no Tuesday for me,” he told the Milwaukee Journal in 1940. “The days are too short and nights too long.”
His factory employed more than 600 people but Soref refused to install time clocks or set production quotas. One could spot newly hired employees when they referred to the company’s founder as “Mr. Soref.” The workers who had been there a while called the boss by his first name.
Milwaukee’s airship port
According to legend, the owners of the 22-story Wisconsin Tower (originally the Mariner Tower), built 88 years ago at 606 W. Wisconsin Ave., included something unusual in its design – a rooftop mooring mast for dirigible airships. In drawing up plans in the late 1920s builders pinned their hopes on the latest development in transportation – airships. With a dirigible mooring mast on the roof, 280 feet above the street it was just a matter of time before Zeppelins linked Milwaukee, via this very building, to the major cities of the world.
Mae West’s Milwaukee secret
Mae West, called the “epitome of playfully vulgar sex” by the New York Times became a household name and amassed a vast fortune by portraying confident and outrageously outspoken characters on stage and in films. But, early in her career, something happened she wanted to forever remain secret.
In 1911, at the age of 17, she had gotten married in Milwaukee.
As her fame grew, West maintained she had always been single, famously saying, “Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution yet.” In fact, West not only had been secretly married to Vaudeville song-and-dance man Frank Wallace, their union lasted 31 years.
Cracker-Jacks Park was a river landmark
On the Fourth of July, 1938, two sisters, ages 6 and 12, seeking a spot to watch the Estabrook Park fireworks from the west bank of the Milwaukee River found trouble instead. As they approached the bluff, an adult male emerged from the bushes, slapped the 6-year-old twice across the face, picked her up, and carried her off down a ravine.
Fortunately, help was nearby. Henry Kaeding, a resident of the 4200 block of North Richards Street, came running at the sound of the older girl’s screams and charged into the ravine in pursuit of the abducted child and her assailant.
Racism, candy bars, and fairness
From its beginnings in a one-room factory on National Avenue in 1921, the Sperry Candy Co. grew into one of Wisconsin’s largest candy makers. By the 1940s, 275 workers in a five-story factory at 133 W. Pittsburgh St., were producing Sperry’s 5-cent “Chicken Dinner” and “Denver Sandwich” candy bars for customers nationwide.
One of those workers was Inonia Champion.
Wilkie James and the measure of greatness
The five children of Henry James Sr. include some of America’s greatest thinkers.
Henry’s oldest son, the philosopher and educator William James, is considered the father of American psychology and his second son (and namesake) Henry James Jr. wrote 22 novels, hundreds of short stories, and many volumes of biographies, travel writing, art criticism, and memoirs. A third son, Robert, showed promise as an artist and writer until alcoholism derailed his career. Their sister, Alice, taught history but suffered from psychological and physical illness much of her life. Her sharply observed and insightful diaries, published after her death, are still widely read and admired.
Then there is the fourth son. Garth Wilkinson “Wilkie” James was born in New York City in 1845, Wilkie was an undistinguished student, experienced many failures, and died young and penniless.
Of all the James family siblings, guess who ended up in Milwaukee.(more…)