At the turn of the 20th century, Milwaukee was a force to be reckoned with. Milwaukee was a town that made things — a town built on machines, radical politics and beer. Lots of beer.
Milwaukee is a city that was hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs that started in the 1960s and continued to bleed the economy dry throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The city is on the eastern tip of the rust belt and has always been Chicago's little brother, just a short drive up Lake Michigan's eastern coast — America's third coast, as some locals like to say. For all that Milwaukee has to offer, the metropolis has always been in the shadow of the Second City.
Today in 1848, Wisconsin became the 30th state in the union. And in honor of Wisconsin's single greatest city, today we have some predictions from Milwaukee residents at the dawn of the 20th century.
The Milwaukee Sentinel talked with people on the street and published their hopes and concerns for the 20th century in the December 30, 1900 edition of the paper. These quotes were excerpted in the book Yesterday's Future: The Twentieth Century Begins by Michael E. Stevens, an excellent book for any retro-futurists out there who love the Dairy State.
The concerns of people in the city of Milwaukee will likely sound familiar to the people living there today: we must invest more money in our overcrowded schools, we must encourage the growth of the manufacturing sector, we must address our crime problem (what the people of 1900 called their "boy criminals," or youth delinquents) if the city is to thrive into the future.
Perhaps the call for more foreign immigration may seem out of place to many in the 21st century, but it is undoubtedly what made Milwaukee prosper in the early 1900s.
From the December 30, 1900 Milwaukee Sentinel:
Deputy Comptroller George W. Porth — One of the tasks the city must accomplish is the reduction of taxes. How? More economy in all city departments. We must construct more schools; and we need deeper river channels.
Aid. Henry Smith — Social Revolution! It's got to come. You can't get away from it. It's either coming or we will have slavery. And when it comes there will be wisdom in city government and all faults of today will be met! Public ownership of public utilities also must be accomplished.
Ignatz Czerwinski [real estate developer] — A larger influx of European immigration is needed. We want more factories, and the prosperity which will accompany them.
Henry J. Baumgaertner [Republican nominee for mayor, 1900] — The city is most in need of a larger percentage of citizens who do their own thinking; of men who dare to assert their rights and manhood, and whose actions are not wholly controlled by an interested few, for pecuniary gain. Then all other city needs, such as municipal ownership of public utilities, more adequate railway facilities, just taxation, etc., will follow as a matter of course, in rapid succession, and the year 2000 will dawn upon Milwaukee with a population twentyfold that of to-day.
Ira B. Smith, President of Merchants and Manufacturers' Association — I should like to see seventy-six foot bridges at every street that crosses the rivers, making Milwaukee the Venice of America, and more railway facilities, and then Milwaukee will become a great commercial center.
John Johnston [cashier, Marine Midland Bank] — I think we are located to insure our becoming a large manufacturing center. Our climate is such that workmen can work a full day all year round, while in many localities, such as St. Louis, Cincinnati and elsewhere, the heat in the summer is so oppressive the workman cannot sleep at night and is not in condition to work the following day. It is invaluable to us that we have such a fine harbor on the chain of great lakes. We must keep our river so that we can admit the largest vessels. We must encourage manufacturers by not hav- ing more than a moderate rate of taxation; we must furnish them with cheap water and cheap light. . . .
Under-Sheriff Louis Meyer — To secure a new place for boy criminals is one of the things that must be undertaken — the quicker the better.
Mrs. H. F. Whitcomb [wife of the president of Wisconsin Central Railroad] — Milwaukee's greatest task for the next century must be the proper education of children. First of all we must have adequate schools, especially in the kindergarten and primary grades, even if the High schools must be sacrificed to get this result. We must have the ungraded schools and the parental farm school in connection with the reformed system. We must also have the Juvenile Court law, and efficient probation officers to investigate every child's case thoroughly.
E. A. Wadhams [president, Wadhams Oil and Grease Co.] — Not within 100 years, but immediately, we want boulevards connecting all the parks in the city, a viaduct from Twenty-seventh street to the south side and a lake drive to connect with the boulevards connecting with the park system.
S. E. Tate [secretary, Swain and Tate Co.] — The thing that Milwaukee must have is a belt line. As matters are at present there are two railways here, one on the lake shore and the other in the Menomonee valley. This being the case, all manufactories must be located in these two limited districts, andjust so far Milwaukee's progress will be impeded. By having a belt line we could have other roads touching Milwaukee. They would willingly come in then, affording us additional shipping facilities, and, what is more, provide more localities for manufacturing industries.
D. M. Schüler, Principal Eighth District School No. 2 — What the city needs most of all in educational circles is more school room. This is a matter of present need, and might be considered building for the coming century. There should be more room, so as to give a more reasonable apportionment to the class teachers. Our teachers are woefully overcrowded, especially in the inter- mediate grades. I know of grades in which there are sixty-three pupils to the teacher, when there ought really to be fifty at most, while forty would be about the proper number that a teacher should be expected to take care of.
E. L. Philipp [Milwaukee businessman and future Republican governor] —What do we need most during the next century? Why, a Republican administration, to begin as soon as possible and remain in charge indefinitely. We want good, honest men at the head of our affairs, and with such we need have no fear concerning the city's progress during the next 100 years.
C. B. Willis, General Secretary of the Y.M.C.A. — What the city needs is righteous men: men who fear God and keep His commandments. We would then have no difficulty with municipal corruption or any other.
Top image: Panoramic view of Milwaukee circa 1898 from the Library of Congress
Lower image: December 31, 1900 Superior Evening Telegram via Yesterday's Future by Michael E. Stevens