Milwaukee is situated where the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers flow into Milwaukee Bay. Mahn-a-waukee Seepe ("gathering place by the river") was used by several Native American tribes and was visited by Jacques Marquette and Luis Joliet in 1673.

In 1793 the North West Company established a fur-trading post in Milwaukee. A French-Canadian, Solomon Juneau, arrived in 1818 and his fur trading enabled him to acquire a considerable fortune. Juneau acquired large areas of land in the area and built the settlement's first store and tavern and became president of the village in 1837.

After the failed revolutions in Europe in 1848, Milwaukee attracted large numbers of immigrants escaping from dictatorial rulers. In 1890 over 80,000 people living in the city had been born in Europe. This was 39 per cent of the 240,000 population and included over 55,000 from Germany.

These immigrants brought with them progressive political ideas and the city soon had a large and active branch of the Socialist Party. The leader of the group was Victor Berger, the editor of the Milwaukee Leader. In 1910 the party put up Emil Seidel as their candidate for mayor. With the support of the city's large German-born population, Seidel became the first socialist mayor of a city in the United States. One of Seidel's achievements was to introduce the country's first worker's compensation program in 1911. Other initiatives included adult and worker education classes and free medical and dental examinations for schoolchildren.

The supporters of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party joined forces to defeat Seidel in 1912. However, another socialist, Daniel Hoan, was elected in 1916. Hoan remained mayor for twenty-four years, the longest continuous socialist administration in United States history. He brought in a large number of progressive reforms including the country's first public housing project, Garden Homes, started in 1923. Hoan also led the successful drive towards municipal ownership of the stone quarry, street lighting, sewage disposal and water purification.

Hoan developed a reputation for honest and efficient government. In 1999, Melvin Holli, the author of The American Mayor, and a group of experts on local government, voted Hoan as the eighth best mayor in United States history. Holli wrote: "Although this self-identified socialist had difficulty pushing progressive legislation through a nonpartisan city council, he experimented with the municipal marketing of food, backed city-built housing, and in providing public markets, city harbor improvements, and purging graft from Milwaukee politics. Perhaps Hoan's most important legacy was cleaning up the free-and-easy corruption that prevailed before he took office."

Hoan was defeated in 1941 and three years later left the Socialist Party and joined the Democratic Party. He ran for mayor again in 1948 but was defeated by the socialist candidate, Frank Zeidler who remained in power until 1960.

Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and in 1990 had a population of 628,000. It is the main port of entry for the entire Midwest and to world ports via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Milwaukee produces heavy machinery, electrical equipment, diesel and gasoline engines, tractors, motorcycles, refrigeration equipment and beer. The city was hard hit in the 1979-82 recession but recovered in the late 1980s.

Primary Sources

(1) In 1856 Henry Villard moved to Milwaukee where he started a career in journalism. He wrote about the city in his Memoirs: Journalist and Financier (1904)

Milwaukee has always been an almost German city. In 1856, the preponderance of the German element was even greater than at present; in fact, its Americanization, which has in the meantime progressed very rapidly, had then hardly begun. It was known among German-Americans as "Deutsch-Athen" and comparatively speaking, deserved the name. There was a large number of educated and accomplish men among my countrymen, and in them the love of music and art was very marked.

(2) Daniel Hoan, while the mayor of Milwaukee, had an article published in the radical journal, The Unemployed (Spring, 1931)

Our large industrial cities have been the greatest beneficiaries and the worst sufferers from this transition to a complex mechanization of our economic life.

The machine has not only transformed our social environment but has solved the age-old struggle to produce enough to properly feed, house and clothe the human family. In the past families periodically visited the peoples of the world, taking a toll of millions of lives. The machine has multiplied production on the farm and in the factory ten-fold. The problem is no longer one of famine due to under-production. The machine has changed all of this to one of danger of starvation because we can produce too much.

The cause of this period of depression is deep-seated, not superficial. It lies in the fact that the machine has been made an instrument of exploitation of the workers for private gain, and not the means of relieving their burden, shortening hours of work, and allowing more leisure for recreation and the enjoyment of the fruits of their toil. The machine has enslaved the workers, instead of the workers becoming the masters of the machine.

The country cannot be restored to its status of artificial prosperity which followed the world war by superficial remedies. A temporary cure can be effected, and Milwaukee and other cities have taken the initial step toward such a cure. But full rehabilitation will not come until the core of the situation is touched.