The name "Milwaukee" comes from an Algonquian Indian phrase, "Millioke," which translates as good, beautiful, pleasant land. In Potawatomi Indian, "minwaking," or in Ojibwe Indian, "ominowakiig," translates as gathering place (by water).
For many years, the name "Milwakie" appeared on printed records. "Milwaukee" received its current name in 1830, when a newspaper quietly altered the spelling.
As Wisconsin’s largest city and one of its cultural centers, Milwaukee sits on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan and has a population of about 605,000. Well known as a beer-brewing and manufacturing mega-center, Milwaukee worked to transform its image in the past decade with such notable projects as the internationally acclaimed Milwaukee Art Museum’s new $100 million wing designed by Santiago Calatrava. In addition, the Milwaukee Riverwalk, Miller Park baseball stadium and the Frontier Airlines Center, all mark a new era for the city.
Milwaukee’s humid continental climate features quickly changing weather, with cold, windy, snowy winters and hot, humid summers. Milwaukee has the second-coldest (next to Minneapolis) average annual temperature in the U.S.
The area of Milwaukee was first home to the tribes of the Meonominee, Fox, Mascouten, Sauk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe (all Algic/Algonquian) and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago Sioux). French fur traders and missionaries were the original Europeans to travel the region. In 1818, French-Canadian explorer and settler Solomon Juneau began the town of Juneau’s Side or Juneau Town in the area now known as Milwaukee. Juneau’s Side and two bordering towns incorporated in 1822, and Milwaukee was born.
A variety of immigrants, especially of German and Polish descent, aided the population’s growth during the 1840s and beyond.
By the 1920s, mobsters from Chicago crept north to Milwaukee during Prohibition. Infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone owned a house in Brookfield, a city suburb where moonshine was clandestinely produced. Today, the building still remains on “Capone” Street, named after its notorious resident.
In 2006, Milwaukee’s dedication to preserving its heritage was rewarded. The city was dubbed one of the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Educational walking tours of the town’s historic districts are available and include such subjects as Milwaukee’s rich architectural history, its glass skywalk system and the new Milwaukee Riverwalk.
Milwaukee earned its nickname, the “City of Festivals,” and was heralded in the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records as holding the “biggest music festival in the world”. Summerfest attracts about 840,000 music lovers to its annual 11-day lakefront extravaganza. The biggest operating model train show in America, Trainfest, also takes place in Milwaukee.
An unusual distinction for a city the size of Milwaukee is its “bronze-level status” awarded by the League of American Bicyclists. As the host city for The Point Premium Rootbeer International Cycling Classic sponsored by TimeWarner Cable, Milwaukee enjoys the men’s and women’s Superweek Pro Tour races, with both top pro and “elite amateur” cyclists from throughout the U.S. and over 20 foreign countries.
Milwaukee offers an abundant choice of museums, from art to social and cultural history, to science and natural history. Many musical groups and entertainment venues enrich Milwaukee’s cultural life, from the Festival City Symphony, Florentine Opera, Skylight Opera Theater, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Ballet, Repertory Theater, and Youth Theater, to name just a few.
The city of Milwaukee now offers a world-class art museum, fine cuisine and lodgings, professional sports, theater, music, opera, and ballet and higher education (Marquette University). Parks and gardens, nature centers, and the Milwaukee County Zoo all offer family fun along the shores of Lake Michigan, which is a choice spot for sailing, fishing, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Written by Kathleen Cooney