University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

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A Brief History of the City of Milwaukee

The Potawatomi gave their land the name "Gathering Place by the Waters." It was only a shoreline along the Great Lake called Michigan. No buildings yet graced the horizon, no sign emerged that here would rise a major metropolis. For this was still a jumping off place along the water route that led explorers into the remote and unknown western wilderness.

It was the action of the lake, the ice and the flowing water, that created the to­pographical features of the land along the shores of Lake Michigan. Among the most noteworthy of the features are the rivers and smaller streams that flow throughout the area. The largest of these is the Milwaukee River; next in size is the Menomonee River. The two unite with the Kinnickinnic, and together the three flow east through the city into Lake Michigan. It is not known exactly when the first Indians came to this region, but they were here centuries before the arrival of European settlers. One of the first contacts between natives and new arrivals in Milwaukee was in 1674, when Father Jac­ques Marquette met with the Indians of the "Great Council on the Three Rivers."

In 1816, the American Fur Company sent a 23-year-old French-Canadian named Solomon Juneau to Milwaukee. For nearly 15 years, Juneau, his wife, and their children lived here isolated from their fellow countrymen. Their exile was broken only by the occasional visits of traders, missionaries, and explorers. Most historians recognize Juneau as the founder of the city.

Over time, residential communities began to spread north and west, while in­dustry became concentrated along the lower reaches of the Milwaukee and Menomonee Rivers on the near south side. Industrial suburbs also sprang up south along the lakeshore and southwest of the now emergent city.

Brick making became one of Milwaukee's first industries. Bricks made from clay found along the riverbanks were manufactured with a distinctive creamy color that earned Milwaukee its nickname, the "Cream City." Flour milling and meat packing industries started and brewing began in 1840.

In 1846, Milwaukee was formally incorporated as a city, two years before Wisconsin became a state. Milwaukee changed dramatically in the 20th century. The population continued to grow and the area became home to thousands of people of varied racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. That same growth continues today, and the development and quality of life that accompany it go a long way towards making Milwaukee the great city that it is.

Metro MilwaukeePopulation

Milwaukee (population nearly 600,000 in 2000) is the nation's 19th largest city. Metro Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest population center, encompasses four counties (Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha), has a combined population of more than 1.5 million people.


Among the nation's 35 largest metro areas, metro Milwaukee has the third largest percentage of its work force in manufacturing (22%). Milwaukee manufacturers are national leaders in lithographic commercial printing and the production of medical diagnostic instruments, small gasoline engines, malt beverages, iron and steel forgings, mining and construction machinery, robotics, speed changers and drives and electronic controls.

Industrial diversity has kept the area's annual unemployment rate under the nation's for nine consecutive years.


General Mitchell International Airport is only six miles from downtown Milwaukee. Fourteen airlines provide service to all metropolitan centers; with over 200 direct destinations daily. Milwaukee is also served by Amtrak which offers daily service to and from downtown Chicago. The Milwaukee area is accessible by 161 miles of expressways.


Eighty-Five percent of metro Milwaukee's adults are high school graduates and 27% are college graduates. Milwaukee Public School's per student expenditures rank 16th highest among the nation's 269 largest public school districts.


The City of Milwaukee has a mayor-council form of government. The Common Council has one aldermanic representative from each of the city's 16 districts. The aldermen and the mayor are elected to four-year terms.

Milwaukee County's Board of Supervisors has 25 members, each elected to four-year terms. The county executive, who is also elected to a four-year term, is the top administrative official. There are 18 other municipal governments in Milwaukee County.

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