Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co.

Thrills on the Wells Street Viaduct

A postcard, dated 1909, shows a streetcar crossing the viaduct. The 2,085-foot-long Wells Street viaduct was the Milwaukee streetcar system's greatest engineering feat. Built in 1892, it remained in service until the end of trolley service in 1958. Carl A. Swanson collection

A postcard, dated 1909, shows a streetcar crossing the viaduct. The 2,085-foot-long Wells Street viaduct was the Milwaukee streetcar system’s greatest engineering feat. Built in 1892, it remained in service until the end of trolley service in 1958. Carl A. Swanson collection

Nothing remains today, but for 60 years, the Wells Street viaduct was a Milwaukee landmark and the single greatest engineering achievement of the city’s once-vast streetcar and interurban empire.

As a thrill ride, albeit an unintentional one, the viaduct had few equals – especially when high winds buffeted the cars. Even veteran riders felt apprehensive as their streetcars rattled and swayed across the rickety-looking 2,085-foot-long bridge, 90 feet above the Menomonee River valley.

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Milwaukee’s deadly transit strike

A brief strike in 1934 paralyzed the city's transit network and triggered mass rioting. Carl Swanson illustration

A brief strike in 1934 paralyzed the city’s transit network and triggered mass rioting. Carl Swanson illustration

A Milwaukee transit strike 81 years ago resulted in three successive nights of rioting, massive property damage, scores of arrests, widespread injuries, and the death of a young man. It is one of the most significant labor disputes in Milwaukee history.

At stake was union representation for 4,700 employees of the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co., the giant utility supplying the city with both electric power and mass transit. It ended with a union victory that helped pave the way for further labor inroads in the city. (more…)