I immediately fell in love with this thriving metropolis on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Here are 10 fascinating Milwaukee facts that will make you want to visit Wisconsin's biggest city right now!
Have You Visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin?
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1. It Doesn’t Get Bigger Than This
At least not in the Badger State. With more than 1.5 million people calling the city on the western shore of Lake Michigan home, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin.
2. You Might Think Milwaukee is All Business
After all, the QWERTY keyboard that led to the modern typewriter and now adorns laptops and smartphones around the world was invented in Milwaukee.
3. But Nicknames like “Brew City” and “Beertown” Prove Milwaukee Knows How to Party
As German immigrants flocked to America’s Midwest in the 19th century, they brought their beer brewing skills with them. By the 1850s, Milwaukee boasted more than two dozen breweries, several of which remain household names more than 150 years later like Pabst, Schlitz, and Miller.
Fun Fact: Milwaukee’s Major League Baseball Team, the Brewers, gets its name from the city’s rich brewing history.
4. And When I Say Party, I Mean Bigger than Woodstock
For 11 days each summer, Milwaukee hosts the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest. With 1,000 performances in front of an audience of nearly one million attendees, Summerfest is more than twice the size of the grandmother of music festivals, Woodstock. In addition to Summerfest, Milwaukee hosts PrideFest, Polish Fest, Bastille Days, Festa Italiana, Irish Fest, and several other annual festivals giving it the nickname “The City of Festivals.”
5. Even When It Comes to Political Parties
While Americans today may feel torn between the two parties that dominate our politics, voters in Milwaukee already embraced a third party candidate in the early 1900s when they elected Emil Seidel as the mayor of their fair city. A member of the Socialist Party, Seidel set the stage for two more Socialist Party mayors who served until 1960.
6. Speaking of Laws Passed by Politicians
In a city full of breweries, the nationwide constitutional ban on alcohol served up by Prohibition in the 1920s could have sucked the life out of Milwaukee. And the economies of other Midwestern cities with talented German immigrant brewmasters felt its crushing blow. But Milwaukee’s crafty brewers built a survival strategy based on a Catholic canon law from the 1300s that prohibited eating meat on Friday, something that was wildly successful with its large German-American community.
Although they could no longer (officially) serve beer, Milwaukee’s breweries started serving fried fish with cabbage, potatoes, and rye bread on Fridays. (And if a patron found the fish to be a bit too salty and needed a drink to wash it down, a glass of beer was promptly provided.) Nearly a century later, the Friday fish fry tradition is still a big deal in Milwaukee!
7. It’s NOT About the Cows
In a state known for its dairy industry (and foam cheesehead hats), it’s logical to think that Milwaukee’s “Cream City” nickname has something to do with cows. Instead, it refers to the light-colored bricks made from the local clay, rich in limestone and magnesium, that have been used to construct many of the city’s homes and buildings.
Speaking of cream, Milwaukee is known as the “frozen custard capital of the world.” That’s because it’s home to the world’s highest concentration of frozen custard shops which sell an egg-yolk-enriched, richer, creamier version of ice cream.
8. But it is the Birthplace of the HOG
More than a century ago, a teenager from Milwaukee was working in the town’s Meiselbach bicycle factory. A few years later, as an apprentice draftsman, he drew up plans for an engine that could be mounted on a standard bicycle frame. That young man was William S. Harley, and after joining forces with a childhood friend, Arthur Davidson, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was born. When you visit Milwaukee, you have the opportunity to visit the only Harley-Davidson museum in the world.
Sage Advice: If you visit Littleport, England, where Harley’s father was born, look for a motorcycle monument, unveiled in 2003, to celebrate the company’s centennial.
9. A True Gathering Place by the Water
As the Milwaukee River winds through the heart of Milwaukee parallel to the coast of Lake Michigan, it is flanked on both sides by more than three miles of wooden plank walkways and paved sidewalks lined by some of the city’s best boutiques, eateries, and pubs. While the nation touts many fantastic river walks, from Chicago to San Antonio and from Georgia to Oregon, the Milwaukee Riverwalk is the only one in the US that allows pedestrians to walk over boat traffic.
Fans of 1970- and 1980-era sitcoms will recognize the name Arthur Fonzarelli from the show Happy Days, which was set in Milwaukee. Along the riverwalk, standing tall at 5’6” — the actual height of actor Henry Winkler who played “The Fonz” — is a bronze statue to Milwaukee’s most famous fictional son.
Related Article: Why the Milwaukee riverwalk is one of the best riverwalks in the US
10. It Has an Art Museum that Looks Ready to Sail. Or Soar.
Atop the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Burke Brise Soleil makes the building look like a cross between a sailing vessel and a soaring gull. With the wingspan of a Boeing 747, this moveable installation serves as a sunscreen for the glass-domed Windhover Hall below. To keep this gigantic work of art from taking flight, wind sensors automatically close the wings if the wind reaches 23 mph (37 kph) or greater.
And if one moveable piece of architecture isn’t enough, you’re in luck, because Milwaukee boasts two! Miller Park, where the Milwaukee Brewers play baseball, has a retractable roof. While this feature is not uncommon for sports stadiums, the roof covering Miller Park is the only fan-shaped convertible roof in the US.
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