O.W. Wight

O.W. Wight, the most famous Milwaukeean you’ve never heard of

O.W. Wight served as Milwaukee's commissioner of Health in the late 1870s, and was instrumental in sweeping reforms that greatly improved public health and welfare. Illustration by Carl Swanson

O.W. Wight served as Milwaukee’s commissioner of Health in the late 1870s, and was instrumental in sweeping reforms that greatly improved public health and welfare. Illustration by Carl Swanson

My friends at OnMilwaukee.com have very kindy reprinted a blog post on O.W. Wight, the city’s crusading Commissioner of Health in the 1870s. In addition to being a medical doctor, attorney, and world traveler, Wight was a gifted and powerful writer, as you’ll see from the quotes in the article. If you missed this entry the first time around, I hope you’ll head over to OnMilwaukee.com and take a look.

Also, Wight’s efforts to clean up Milwaukee’s ice supply are covered in a separate Milwaukee Notebook article.Carl_sigMKE_share

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Century-old dam is a reminder of Milwaukee’s up-river icehouses

This partially collapsed timber dam across the Milwaukee River north of Locust Street is all that remains of the Schlitz Brewing Company's ice-harvesting operation. Carl Swanson photo

This century-old partially collapsed timber dam across the Milwaukee River north of Locust Street is all that remains of the Schlitz Brewing Company’s ice-harvesting operation in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Carl Swanson photo

There is a fascinating reminder of Riverwest’s past hidden in plain sight in the Milwaukee River just north of the Locust Street bridge. Here logs across the river trace the remains of the Schlitz icehouse dam. The dam is over a century old, but the reason for Schlitz building its icehouses here dates back even further – all the way to late 1878 when this area was largely open country.

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The man who cleaned up Milwaukee

O.W. Wight served as Milwaukee's commissioner of Health in the late 1870s, and was instrumental in sweeping reforms that greatly improved public health and welfare. Illustration by Carl Swanson

Nearly forgotten today, O.W. Wight served as Milwaukee’s commissioner of Health in the late 1870s, and was instrumental in launching reforms that greatly improved public health and welfare. Illustration by Carl Swanson

There has never been anyone quite like Orlando Williams Wight. Entirely self-taught (he never attended a college or university), he was a medical doctor, lawyer, theologian, engineer, author of 12 books, editor of 38 more, and – for a few extremely eventful years in the late 1870s – Milwaukee’s Commissioner of Health.

Armed with broad legal authority and an off-the-charts level of drive and focus, Wight encouraged, cajoled, argued, and, if all else failed, outright bullied business and civic leaders into sweeping public heath reforms. (more…)