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Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Firsts in Milwaukee History

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Byron Kilbourn
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of Milwaukee

ilwaukee was established where three rivers -- Milwaukee River from the north, Menomonee River from the west and Kinnickinnic River from the south -- meet, then flow into Lake Michigan. Once occupied by Native American peoples, the site first attracted permanent white settlers from New England and New York in the 1830s. Solomon Juneau, Byron Kilbourn and George Walker each founded separate villages that merged to become Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin.

Among the first settlers was builder Benjamin F. Church who came in 1835, from Ulster County, New York. His home is now a museum.

Soon the new city attracted immigrants from many European countries, swelling its population. William George Bruce chronicled the city's history in several books including his memoirs. What follows is adapted from an appendix in his 1946 book Builders of Milwaukee, published for Milwaukee's centennial. A few firsts from other sources are included.

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Cream City
Chronicles: Stories

of Milwaukee's Past

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Solomon Juneau,

Walking Tour

Walker's Point
and South

History of Milwaukee,
City and County
(Volume III)

St. Mary's Church
of a pioneer parish

Last 2 by William
George Bruce


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The Making of

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of Milwaukee


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The Making of
Milwaukee (DVD)


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(Great Lakes
Album Series)


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German Milwaukee:
Its History ~

Its Recipes


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Indian Nations of
Wisconsin: Histories
of Endurance
and Renewal


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Milwaukee Stories (Urban Life Series)


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The Milwaukee story;
The making of an
American city

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They Came to Wisconsin (New Badger History)


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Books, Family
Tree Software
& More


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In the Richness of the Earth: A History of

the Archdiocese
of Milwaukee,


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The Milwaukee story;
The making of an
American city

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German-American Urban Culture: Writers & Theaters in Early Milwaukee


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The German-



Firsts in the Early Years   [ Top ]

1674 - First white man, Father Jacques Marquette, visited the site
            of what would become Milwaukee.

1779 - First sailing vessel, British sloop Felicity, visited Milwaukee.

1818 - Solomon Laurent Juneau was appointed agent of the
            American Fur Company at Milwaukee, and first arrived
            September 14.

1822 - Solomon Juneau built the first log cabin
            trading post.

1823 - First commercial vessel, Chicago Packet,
            landed at Milwaukee with goods for Solomon
            Juneau and took away furs.

1824 - First frame building was erected for Solomon
            Juneau. It served as a schoolhouse, court of
            law, recorder's office, jail and as a barber

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Milwaukee Streets:
The Stories Behind
Their Names

1833 - First election to choose a delegate to Congress was held,
            taking place at the residence of Solomon Juneau.

1834 - First surveyor, William S. Trowbridge, arrived.

1834 - The first newspaper, a weekly called The Advertiser, was first
             published on July 14.

1835 - A key year in Milwakee with the following occurring:

            First title to land in Milwaukee was obtained by Solomon
            Juneau in August in a land sale at Green Bay.

            First post office was established with Solomon Juneau as
            postmaster. He erected a store, likely the first, at what was
            then East Water and Wisconsin streets.

            First brick was made by Nelson Olin; the first constable was
            Sciota Evans; Albert Fowler was chosen justice of the peace.

            Wilhelm Strathman was the first German settler.

            First hotel, the Cottage Inn, was established by Jacques Vieaux.

            First steamboat, The United States, visited Milwaukee.

            First white boy, Charles Milwaukee Sivyer, born May 4, 1835.

            First town meeting held, at Juneau's house.

            Byron Kilbourn bought his first tract of land on the west side of the
            Milwaukee River. Benjamin F. Church launched his carpentry
            on the west side where he built now the famous Church House.

            George H. Walker  founded Walker's Point on the south side.

            First white girl, Milwaukee H. Smith, was born October 10, 1835.

1836 - On June 13, Solomon Juneau had first ground broke for
            grading and filling East Water Street. Also during 1836:

            The sloop Wenona was the first vessel built in Milwaukee; the
            schooner Solomon Juneau was built the same year.

            First German child was born, Louis Bleyer on December 25.

1837 - Milwaukee incorporated as a village with Solomon Juneau
            elected as president. Also during 1837:

            First newspaper that continued into the modern era - the
            Milwaukee Sentinel - was founded by Solomon Juneau.

            First Catholic services officiated by Rev. Fleurimont Bonduel,
            held at the home of Solomon Juneau.

1838 - The first lighthouses were built, and the first
             bank, Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance
             Company was established.

1839 - First large group of German immigrants, the
            Old Lutherans, arrived, including many
individuals from Pomerania.

1840 - First brewery founded by Owens and Pawlett.
            More on Milwaukee breweries, German
            immigrants' influence. Also in 1840, the Old
            Settlers' Club of Milwaukee was organized.

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Germans in


1842 - First foundry was built by Egbert Mosley, Laring Dewey and
            Stephen Newhall.

1843 - First Jewish settler, Gabriel Schoyer, arrived.

1844 - Benjamin Church House was built on 4th between Cherry and
            Galena in Kilbourntown on the west side of the Milwaukee River.
            The house is now a museum of pioneer life, in Shorewood.

1845 - First wholesale grocer was P. M. Bagley.

1846 - First mayor when Milwaukee became an incorporated city with a
            charter was Solomon Juneau. Also in 1846 the first fire marshall
            was Thomas H. Fanning, the first city treasurer was John Allen
            and the first city attorney was Charles E. Jenkins.

1847 - First City Directory, with early churches, officials, more

1848 - First tannery was founded by Pfister and Vogel.

1852 - First comptroller was Cicero Comstock.

1853 - The Milwaukee Turnverein founded.

1868 - First commercially successful typewriter invented.

1869 - First tax commissioner was Matthew Keenan, and first
            commissioners of public works were C. Latham Sholes,
            Henry Millman and James Reynolds.

Firsts Later On   [ Top ]

1874 - First president of the City Council was H. M. Benjamin.

1877 - First telephone service, with 15 subscribers, followed in 1879
            by founding of the Milwaukee Telephone Exchange Company.

            Also in 1877, the first health commissioner, Dr. J. H. Stearns,
            was named.

1890 - First public electric car, the Wells Street line, was started. Also
            in 1890 the first public natatorium was launched.

1899 - First automobile was operated in May by George L. Odenbrett.

1906 - First motion picture was presented by the Saxe Brothers.

1907 - First practical outboard motor invented by Ole Evinrude

1929 - For the first time, annual factory production in Milwaukee
            reached the billion dollar mark.

More Milwaukee History   [ Top ]

Beginnings, Dates and Events A to Z:  Chapter 16 of The History of Milwaukee, City and County, Volume I, [large pdf] edited by historian William George Bruce.  Early churches and colleges, cholera epidemic, disasters and fires, first bridge, first German settler (1835), first auto (1899), the Zoo (1905), the first movie theater (1906), the Auditorium (1909), and other firsts.  See book's table of contents.

Timeline of Milwaukee History: from its founding in the early 1800s  to today -- follow links to the "bridge war," Socialist era, much more.

Eras of Milwaukee County and Milwaukee history including
1674-1850 starting with the visit of Father Jacques Marquette;
1850-1940 starting with opening of the first public market;
1940-1980 starting with county airport named Gen. Mitchell Field
1980 to 2001 starting with the launch of German Fest in 1981

Jacques Vieau:   the first fur trader with a home in Milwaukee and the father of Josette Vieau who married Solomon Juneau. The genealogy of Jacques Vieau, the surname also spelled Vieux.

Solomon Juneau:   French-Canadian fur trader and founder of Juneautown on the Milwaukee River's east side, later merged into the City of Milwaukee, and husband-wife Josette and Solomon Juneau and Juneau images including Solomon, his wife and trading post. The year 1835 and Juneau recalled, and Solomon Juneau, a brief biography.

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Great Lakes and
Great Ships: An
Illustrated History
for Children

Byron Kilbourn: Connecticut native and developer who founded Kilbourntown on the west side, merged into Milwaukee in 1846, and more on Kilbourn and early Milwaukee when Auditorium's Kilbourn Hall dedicated in 1911. William George Bruce was a speaker.

Milwaukee's Competing Founders: a brief look at the city's early days plus return of Byron Kilbourn's remains to Milwaukee

History Highlights: from the Native Americans to the founders and the Bridge War to the large immigrant German population to the three Socialist mayors.

Early Kilbourntown and growth in late 1840s of a Little Germany around Fourth and Chestnut, and a city history with photos of brewers Blatz, Miller, Pabst and Schlitz.

Old Milwaukee's Yankee Hill, a sketch by William George Bruce of early residential area of New Englanders and New Yorkers.

Old Milwaukee: a sketch of early Milwaukee history and culture by William George Bruce, in Wisconsin Magazine of History online.

Milwaukee Jewish Timeline starting in 1842.

Milwaukee Charter in 1846 -- granted by Wisconsin's territorial legislature -- recalled in anticipating city's 50th anniversary jubilee

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Wisconsin (Images
of America)


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Jewish Milwaukee
(Images of America)

Milwaukee's History in brief, from the producers of Milwaukee Then and Now, with then and now photos from City Hall to the Turner Hall, an historic image library, maps and more.

Milwaukee Historical Facts:  mayors, population from 1840, tallest and oldest buildings, among other "fast facts" starting with M

People in Milwaukee Histories    [ Top ]

Historical Figures: from founders Juneau, Kilbourn and Walker to business leaders such as Alexander Mitchell, Edward Phelps Allis, Frederick Layton and John Plankinton, to brewers Frederick Miller, Frederick Pabst, Joseph Schlitz and Franz Falk, to socialist mayors and Mathilde Anneke, publisher of America's first feminist newspaper.

History book online:  Milwaukee Illustrated: its trade, commerce, manufacturing interests, and advantages as a residence city. See pp 6-7 for settlers before 1837 including founders and Benjamin Church

Index to "History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin," by Frank A. Flower, 1881

Index to "Pioneer History of Milwaukee County from the First American Settlement, 1833-1841," by James S. Buck, 1876

Index to Pioneer History of Milwaukee, 1840-1846, Vol. II,  by James S. Buck, 1881

Index to Milwaukee Under the Charter, 1847-1853, Vol. III,  by James S. Buck, 1884

Index to Milwaukee Under the Charter, 1854-1860,  Vol. IV,  by James S. Buck, 1886

History Of Milwaukee From Its First Settlement To 1895, by Howard Louis Conrad:  Index to Vol. 1, Index to Vol. 2 and Index to Vol. 3

Memoirs Of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, by Jerome Anthony Watrous, 1909:  Index to Vol. 1 and Index to Vol. 2

"I Was Born in America: Memoirs of William George Bruce," Index

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Then and Now

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Then and Now

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Milwaukee Road in Its
Hometown: In and Around
the City of Milwaukee
(Golden Years of
Railroading Series)


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Art Poster Print:  Milwaukee, City of, 1873


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Historic Photos
of Milwaukee


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German Immigrants (Immigration to the
United States)


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In Search of Your German Roots. The Complete Guide
to Tracing Ancestors
in Germanic Areas
of Europe


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Milwaukee's Brady Street Neighborhood (Images of America)


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West Milwaukee (Images of America)


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South Milwaukee (Images of America)


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Irish Milwaukee

of America)


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Bronzeville A
Milwaukee Lifestyle


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Latinos in
Milwaukee (Images
of America)


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Italian Milwaukee

of America)


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Erving, Burdick &
Co's Milwaukee city directory, for
1857 & 1858.

Milwaukee's Immigrants   [ Top ]

Arrival of German Immigrants:  In the 1840s, Milwaukee became known as the German Athens due to its rich German culture

Germans in Wisconsin: including why Milwaukee was a German Athens

Immigrants to Wisconsin  from England, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Poland.

Milwaukee's roots from the native people to the founders, immigrants and more

Milwaukee Founding Families:  Pabst, Cudahy, Miller, Brumbder and more

Buildings & History   [ Top ]

Milwaukee Architecture 1837 to Today: a wealth of photographs from early residences such as the Benjamin Church House and early churches to the Milwaukee Art Museum's world-famous Calatrava addition

Registered Historic Places in Milwaukee County, including Benjamin Church House, also called Kilbourntown House

Milwaukee Architectural Sites from the Pabst Mansion to the 1844 Benjamin Church House, the latter in Greek Revivial style

Famous Buildings of Milwaukee: from the 1988 MIlwaukee Center to the 1895 Flemish Renaissance-style Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee City Hall: explore Milwaukee today starting with historic city hall and its environs including nearby Cathedral Square

Architect Peter J. Brust designed religious, residential and commercial building for Milwaukee and churches for the region.

Milwaukee Neighborhoods   [ Top ]

Picturing Milwaukee Neighborhoods: illustrated essay on the city's historic development and ethnic roots

Map of Milwaukee Neighborhoods with links to photos

Eastside and Westside Milwaukee maps, indexed with historic and major buildings

Milwaukee Neighborhoods Today:  the distinctive parts of town and and more on the city's neighborhoods

Milwaukee's Harbor is integral to its history and commerce. A key force in its development was William George Bruce, the eldest son of Augustus Bruce and Apollonia Becker Bruce.

Milwaukee Genealogy   [ Top ]

Links to the Past for Milwaukee:  a major source for genealogy and history with a wealth of resources such as early  census indexes and the 1848-1849 City Directory

Milwaukee County GenWeb with surname lists, look ups, links, more

Wisconsin GenWeb - Milwaukee County
with indexes for early Milwaukee histories, early census records, obits, more

GenForum for Milwaukee County

Milwaukee Genealogical Society

Milwaukee County Historical Society and the building that houses the MCHS and details on the county's area historical societies

Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society has a wealth of genealogical material: marriage records; death, burial and obituary indices, and online family histories. Submissions welcome.

Milwaukee resources history and genealogy resources, with steps for doing research at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, much more.

Probate records: how to use Milwaukee County probate records back to 1830s

Famous Settlement House cookbook created by Lizzie Black Kandler of Milwaukee, born to German Jewish immigrant parents

Wisconsin Ancestors: offers family group sheets, obituaries, and news articles for all of Washington and Ozaukee counties plus some for Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Marathon, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Sheboygan, Waukesha and Wood counties.
Search here for ancestors.

Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries: online database for genealogy research

Famous people with burials at Milwaukee's renowned  Forest Home Cemetery

Wisconsin History Dictionary with many brief biographies and location descriptions including Milwaukee and its founders --  Juneau, Kilbourn and Walker -- and the influential Milwaukeean William George Bruce, an author, publisher, historian and public servant

WCHS Research Library and a wealth of online genealogy resources recommended by the Milwaukee Public Library

Milwaukee History Sources: from  libraries and city archives to books on Milwaukee, and the Online Guide to Genealogical Collections

Milwaukee County Cemeteries 1880 Census, more

Genealogy Resources:   find your family

Milwaukee Library Photos: search database

See Milwaukee through the lives of pioneer Benjamin Church and businessman and historian William George Bruce

Wisconsin Genealogy   [ Top ]

Wisconsin Historical Society:  Genealogy resources including searchable Vital Records

Wisconsin State Genealogical Society

New Holstein: history and genealogy resources for this Calumet County town

Sheboygan and Sheboygan Falls: history and genealogy resources for this cities

Other Genealogy Resources   [ Top ]

Relative Musings:  our blog on family history research, with Finding Family for Free ideas.

Family Research Tips & Tools including an index to our growing series of Finding Family for Free segments, reviewing remarkable resources that help you discover your ancestors for little or no cost.

Visit our Genealogy Shop for family history and genealogy books, family tree software, more.

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German Expressionist Prints: The Specks Collection at the Milwaukee

Museum of Art


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Wisconsin Office of
Emigration 1852-1855
and Its Impact on German Immigration
to the State


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A God-Given Talent:
Peter J. Brust, Architect, His Work and Legacy, 1906-2006


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Built in Milwaukee:
An Architectural
View of the City


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Milwaukee Architecture:
A Guide to
Notable Buildings


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The Mayor Who Made Milwaukee Famous


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Milwaukee's Bronzeville,

Wisc., 1900-1950
(Images of America)


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the Particular: Photographs of
Milwaukee's Polish
South Side


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Black Milwaukee: The

Making of an Industrial
Proletariat, 1915-45


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The German American Family Album

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German Amercan
Family Album


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Shorewood Wisconsin (Images of America)

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Women's Wisconsin: From
Native Matriarchies to the
New Millennium

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Milwaukee Fire

(Images of America)

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Danes in Wisconsin:
(Expanded Edition)


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Rand McNally
2006 Milwaukee


many biographies
History of
City and County
(Volume III)


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Cultural Map of Wisconsin:
A Cartographic
Portrait  of the State


Maps of Milwaukee   [ Top ]

Territorial Milwaukee Map: showing original Juneautown, Kilbourntown, Walker's Point

1852 Map of Milwaukee: with old street names

Collection of early Milwaukee maps

1878 Map of Milwaukee: click, then zoom in to specific areas of the city in detail - has important buildings from city hall to schools to breweries.

Version of 1878 Map with sketches of city founders and the court house.

Milwaukee County 1906 Map: topographic map showing extent of development

Collection of Milwaukee Maps: 12 maps from 1883 to 2000. Choose "view descriptive record" for medium-sized version and text

Map of Milwaukee Neighborhoods from 1885 to 1998 with links to photos

Downtown Milwaukee maps: Eastside and Westside, modern street names

Milwaukee County Map in PDF format, from WisDOT, and a Milwaukee County map showing the city and its many surrounding suburbs

Maps of Wisconsin   [ Top ]

1895 Wisconsin Atlas: state and county maps plus index to towns, cities

Historical Maps of Wisconsin: digital maps

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The Milwaukee

Neighborhood Map
(Maps & Atlases)


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Irish in Wisconsin
(People of Wisconsin)


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The Atlas of
Ethnic Diversity
in Wisconsin


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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Milwaukee Road
(Railroad Color History)


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The Milwaukee Marvel

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Wisconsin Lighthouses:
A Photographic &
Historical Guide



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