Some folks might think of Milwaukee as the quieter, cheaper city to live in that’s “close enough” to Chicago, but this city is so much more than a bedroom community. It’s also not just a brewery city for the rest of us.
Milwaukee has its quirks but she’s one of the nicest waterfront cities on Lake Michigan with loads of Milwaukee secrets and unique hot spots.
There are tons of Milwaukee facts you should know about this city if you want to think of yourself as a true local. Check ’em out.
Milwaukee facts you really ought to know if you want to call yourself a local
1. The first Milwaukee fact is all about winter sports, specifically ice skating. The “Slice of Ice” skating rink in Red Arrow Park downtown is larger than Times Square! The rink allows up to 100 skaters comfortably around the ice at one time.
2. Milwaukee goes by many nicknames. Some of the most well-known include The Mil, Miltown and Brew City. You might also hear mention of Mildoggy, Cream City, Ma-waukee or Milburb, too.
3. Brew City is home to the world’s only Harley Davison museum. Why? Well, a teenager who worked at the town’s bicycle factory (Meiselbach) got the itch for something “better” and built himself an engine, which he attached to a standard bicycle frame. That kid was William S. Harley and he joined forces with childhood friend, Arthur Davidson to create the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Milwaukee is where the motorcycle was born.
4. The Milwaukee Public Museum is home to the planet’s largest known dino skull – a T-rex skull, accompanied by a full-size replica of the beast’s body.
5. The same museum happens to have been around since 1892, though in a bit more modest form. The museum is home to over 4 million artifacts and specimens, too, making it a pretty impressive history museum for a smaller city like Milwaukee.
6. Cheeseheads might tell you Wisconsin and Milwaukee are all about the dairy and the football, but the town’s nickname of Cream City actually has nothing to do with the dairy industry. The nickname actually refers to the local clay. The area is rich in limestone and magnesium, resulting in beautiful bricks.
7. Milwaukee is known as the frozen custard capital of the world. The city has the largest gathering of frozen custard shops, selling that egg-yolk-based, rich, creamy version of “ice cream” so many of us love loading up with toppings and mix-ins. If you haven’t had custard concrete yet, you’re seriously missing out.
8. Milwaukee didn’t just give us the motorcycle, this magnificent city gave the world the QWERTY typewriter, the precursor to our contemporary computers and keyboards. The inventor, Christopher Latham Sholes, moved to Milwaukee to begin writing for a local paper and decided he needed a typewriting machine to keep up with the workload. So, now we have the typewriter.
9. Milwaukee’s art museum moves more than hearts and souls. It literally moves. Well, part of it does, anyway. The museum is one of the few in the world that has an intentionally moveable part. The wings of the “Calatrava” open in the morning to welcome visitors, then close up at night. It’s worth popping by for a watch, even if you don’t go inside.
10. Another creation birthed in Milwaukee is Carmex lip balm. In the 1930s, the creator, Wilfred Woelbing, whipped up his first batch on his home stove to relieve cold sore pain. Realizing he’d found a good thing, he started selling the product out of the trunk of his car. Eventually, he opened a facility for manufacturing it, and the lip balm is still being created right here in one of the Milwaukee suburbs.
11. What goes well with brewskies? A bowling alley, of course. And Milwaukee happens to have the oldest certified bowling alley in the U.S., located inside the Holler House on Lincoln Avenue. There are only two lanes, though, players score by hand and pinsetters still tend the lanes. You’ll have a pretty long wait to play, but if you’re into booze, you can sidle up to the bar and have a fabulous gab with the bartender. While there, you can check out another bizarre claim to fame: a collection of bras that hangs from the ceiling, started about 50 years ago by the beloved Marcy Skawronski, the late owner of the establishment.
12. How about this Milwaukee fact: There’s a lake under the city. The city, as some folks think, isn’t built on swampland, but over Lake Emily, located under the old Northwestern Mutual home office.
13. Cream City is the unfortunate location of the attempted assassination of former President Teddy Roosevelt, in 1916. Thankfully, his glasses cases and the manuscripts in his chest pocket saved his life. And, undaunted, the former president went on with his speech, despite having a bullet in him.
14. Milwaukee wasn’t always spelled the current way. It was “Milwaukie” in early records. The name itself comes from an Algonquin word, “millioke” which means “good,” “beautiful” and “pleasant land.”
15. The Bronze Fonz, a bronze statue of the character Arthur Fonzarelli from “Happy Days,” stands along the Milwaukee RiverWalk. The city’s proud of its most popular fictional character.
16. Another unofficial Milwaukee nickname is City of Festivals. The town knows how to party! With cultural events along the lake at the Henry Maier Festival Park and the incredible Summerfest, which has earned itself the “World’s Largest Music Festival.” As many as 900,000 folks show up to the amazing event every year. Yeah, approaching a million people at a single party!
17. Another invention to come out of Milwaukee is the answering machine. Joseph Zimmerman and George Danner created the first successful answering machine right in Milwaukee – and some of you reading this probably don’t even know what one of those is.
18. The Polar Plunge has been popular in Milwaukee on New Year’s Day since 1916. Folks strip down and jump into the freezing water of Lake Michigan. Some folks dress up in crazy costumes to up the insane factor for a little extra fun.
19. The city was pretty bummed when their baseball team The Braves moved south to Atlanta in 1966. But in 1969, the Seattle Pilots hit the bankruptcy wall and moved to Brew City to become the Milwaukee Brewers.
20. Located on the campus of Marquette University, there’s a tiny chapel named the St. Joan of Arc Chapel — and it’s older than America’s first official establishment by 300 years! The French village of Chasse built the tiny religious building and sent the ruins of the chapel to America after World War I where it was rebuilt in New York. The owners then gifted the chapel to Marquette University. The building was painstakingly transferred to the campus and installed. It’s the only medieval structure in the Western hemisphere that’s actively used for holding mass services.
21. Random Milwaukee fact: The city is home to the world’s largest collection of antique microphones. You can find them at an electronics store on East National Street — all 1,000+ of them! There are some pretty cool ones here, including one used during an expedition to Antarctica. There’s also an original telephone from Alexander Graham Bell, from 1876.
22. The Oriental Theatre of Milwaukee is a huge fan of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. In fact, the theatre has run the film every single month since January of 1978!
23. The American Family Field, where the Brewers play, has a retractable roof. It’s pretty cool to watch if you get the chance.
24. The walking path along the river downtown has a unique claim to fame: Its skywalk is the only one in the world that exists over boat traffic.
25. By the 1850s, Milwaukee was heavily inhabited by German immigrants and already boasted more than two dozen breweries. Some of them are still in business today, like Pabst, Miller and Schlitz.
26. And speaking of Pabst, in the Brewery District, located around the original site of the Pabst Brewery, is a vibrant community now with loads of Milwaukee apartments for rent here along with loads of nightlife.
27. In the early 1900s, Milwaukee ditched the idea of the two most popular political parties in the country and went with a third option: the Socialist Party. They voted in a Social mayor, Emil Seidel, then again twice more with other social mayors.
28. And speaking of mayors, Milwaukee has only had four mayors since 1960, including interim Mayer Marvin Pratt who only served for three months!
29. You’d think with all the breweries and beer in Beer City, Prohibition wouldn’t have been a thing. Well, you’d be wrong. The 1920s Prohibition laws nearly sank the city. The breweries, however, managed to find a way around this by serving up beer to their Catholic patrons eating fried fish on Fridays, as a means of “washing down” the fish fry. For those breweries wanting to abide by the laws, they served up soda, non-alcoholic beer, candy and even started snow plowing for survival.
30. The area surrounding Milwaukee was originally home to several Native American Nations, including the Menominee, Fox, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Sauk and Potawatomi.
31. The first Europeans to come through the area were French Catholic Jesuit missionaries who aimed to minister to the Native Americans and the fur traders of the region.
32. The Basilica of St. Josaphat is in the Lincoln Village neighborhood in Milwaukee, and it’s modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building boasts one of the largest copper domes in the world.
33. During the second half of the 19th century, Milwaukee became a hub of industry. Flour milling, iron founding and leather tanning were all major industries in the area, bringing prosperity to the city. For a time, Milwaukee was heavily involved in manufacturing automobiles, as well — including the Kissel Kar, the Ogden and the Nash — but that industry has become obsolete in the city now.
34. One of Milwaukee’s most interesting houses from the old days used to belong to Frederick Pabst, founder of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Victorian-style mansion is on West Wisconsin Avenue and has 14 fireplaces, 10 bathrooms and a study filled with secret compartments.
All right, folks. We gave you the Milwaukee facts, but what have we missed? Leave your comments below!
Whether you’re a beer-drinking cheesehead or a transplant looking for some nightlife, weird museums and historical hotspots, these Milwaukee facts will get you headed in the right direction to sounding like a local in no time. Find your own place to live to enjoy the city now!