The largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee is situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan and known as as "Brew City" or "The Brew" for having been home to four major brewing companies throughout its history note and several smaller ones note . Milwaukee is also home to Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle manufacturer that is known just as much for their clothing line, hotel and restaurant chains, and making high-priced toys for wealthy executives nowadays. One of the more interesting aspects about Milwaukee is that it's the only major American city to have ever elected three Socialist mayors.
Milwaukee's status in the world of pop-culture has been a contentious issue for its citizens. Never was this more obvious than in 2008 when a privately-funded bronze statue of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli was erected along the city's Riverwalk to heavy controversy. Many residents feel that the city's portrayal as an urban Eagleland in Happy Days and its spinoff, Laverne & Shirley was not only historically inaccurate note , but has hurt the city socially and economically by stigmatizing it as a stodgy, blue-collar town. In fact, Garry Marshall, the shows' producer, had never even stepped foot in the state of Wisconsin until the statue's dedication. This is such a big issue locally that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, upon being elected in 2004, quipped that one of his goals was to let the world know that "Laverne and Shirley don't live here anymore."
The stodgy image extends to the city's flag, a crowded mish-mash of buildings, seals and icons that was created in the 1950s (and includes a few now non-existent things, like County Stadium) and is maligned in the flag and design communities (ranking fourth last in one poll, only ahead of 'futzing around in MS Paint' entries for smaller towns). It has been oddly defended by older city politicians and residents; only in 2018 has an incredibly simpler and acclaimed "People's Flag" begun to gain strength for an official adoption by the city.
Milwaukee was incorporated on January 31, 1846 as an end to the violent "Bridge Wars" between three different settlements along the Milwaukee River: Juneautown, Kilbourntown, and Walker's Point. (This is still visible, however, in the streets: many that intersect at the Milwaukee River do not cross straight, but tend to angle on each side. North of the river the streets have names: these change into numbers once you cross the river, e.g. Water St. turns into 1st.) Although Milwaukee grew generously, in population and physical size, it never truly lost the feel of three separate towns; as the immigrants who came to Milwaukee tended to settle in ethnic clusters along those same lines, thus entrenching it for generations to come.note
Sometimes referred to as East Milwaukee or simply, "The East." The east side grew out of the original Juneautown settlement into an Italian neighborhood, and is still home to a large number of Italian-owned businesses such as restaurants and bakeries.
Towards the end of The '60s, the east side's corner bars and coffee shops such as the Avant Garde became incubators for Milwaukee's growing counterculture that eventually centered on Brady Street. Predictably, this led to a wave of gentrification through The '90s, turning the surrounding area into a bourgeois bohemia... especially on or near the lake. In turn, the original Brady Street scene has since moved west across the Milwaukee River into the neighborhood of Riverwest.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was founded in 1956 note , and has since grown to boast one of the top film schools in the world. Many UWM Film School grads find work in Hollywood and over 100 episodes of CSI have been shot by UWM alumni. The film school is also credited for the numerous film festivals that now call Milwaukee's East Side home, the biggest of which is the Milwaukee Film Festival, which takes place every September and into October.
The university's rapid expansion has also drawn the ire of older residents, who loathe how much of a college town East Milwaukee has become. This came to a head in the fall of 2012, when Milwaukee's Police Chief sent a letter to the university stating he considers UWM students to be "guests" and not citizens, which angered many students and non-students alike.
The original Juneautown is now known as Eastown, and makes up the eastern half of Downtown Milwaukee. It's most well-known landmark is the Brise Soleil ("Sun Breaker") of the Milwaukee Art Museumnote .
Sometimes referred to as North Milwaukee or simply, "The North." The north side grew out of the original Kilbourntown as it was settled by Bavarian immigrants, many of whom fled what is now known as Germany after an unsuccessful revolution in 1848 and brought with them their beer and pro-labor politics... both of which would have a profound effect on Milwaukee's economic and cultural development.
Today, the north side is predominantly African-American, though the outer reaches have more of a racial mix. It is often seen as a blighted Gangsterland (although the Near South Side and the northern part of the East Side are recent contenders). This is understandably a point of contention for many local residents, as the north side is a fairly large area with some middle-class residents; however, a number of neighborhoods are truly as bad as portrayed on the local news, where many of the stereotypes come from.
It is also home to what was the Northridge Mall, which remains relatively intact since its 2003 closure, and is a common sight in the online Dead Mall community, with the only reason it hasn't been torn down is a distant Chinese company now owns it and has paid enough money for the city not to declare it theirs under eminent domain, claiming they'll eventually re-develop it as a regional Asian shopping destination (which considering the major Asian communities in the area are Hmong and Indian, not Chinese, nobody in the area believes will ever succeed or even get off their poorly-rendered blueprints).
The original Kilbourntown settlement is now the western half of Downtown Milwaukee known as Westown (and sometimes referred to as "The West Side"). Marquette University, the oldest university in Milwaukee, is in this part of the city. It was also the scene of many of the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer murders.
Unlike the other two "sides," this is the only side that's almost never referred to as _____ Milwaukee or "The ____." Presumably, this hasn't caught on due to the existence of South Milwaukee, a completely separate town just south of Milwaukee's border, along with it having more separate suburbs than the north, which had the city basically swallow that area up in Milwaukee's last-gasp annexations of the 50's. It is also the hardest "side" to classify, as many neighborhoods that don't fit traditional south side definitions have emerged in the past two decades. Milwaukee's south side includes the following:
- Walker's Point: Sometimes referred to as the Fifth Ward or The Gayborhood, the third original Milwaukee settlement is now home to the city's LGBT night life, as well as some of the city's more established antique shops. Walker's Point is also home to the "Polish Moon" (more correctly called the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower), a lighted clock tower that sits atop a local manufacturing plant (originally electrical and factory-automation equipment manufacturer Allen-Bradley, currently owned by Rockwell Automation), and got its nickname because the neighborhood was largely Polish when it was first built in 1962. Each octagonal clock face is 40 feet, 3-1/2 inches across. (A slightly smaller tower in the same complex displays the outdoor temperature digitally on four sides.) The "Polish Moon" was the largest four-sided clock in the world until 2012, when surpassed by the clock tower of the Abraj Al-Bait in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, whose faces are 141 feet in diameter.
- Historic Third Ward: Wedged between Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee and Menomonee Rivers, the Third Ward was originally a community of Irish immigrants. An inferno wiped out the neighborhood in 1892, which became a warehouse district for most of the 20th century. It was then predominantly an Italian community until the 794 freeway tore right through. (In a particular bit of irony, the very first recognized historical landmark building, the Our Lady of Pompeii church, was also demolished the same year of its recognition. It exists now as a plaque marking its previous location beneath the 794 overpass.) The combination of a boom of high-rise condominiums early in the 21st century, and the emergence of MIAD as a premier art school turned the area into an art district almost overnight. As such, many smaller, independent boutiques and art galleries can be found here.
- Near Southside: Depending on the definition, this area could include Walker's Point, but it's usually used to describe the originally Polish, now heavily Hispanic community near Downtown centered on Caesar Chavez Drive (Walker's Point's western border). This area emerged in the 80s and 90s thanks to a wave of Mexican immigrants, who were later joined by many Puerto Ricans who moved up from Chicago and down from Riverwest.
- Far Southside: When The Beatles toured Milwaukee in 1964, John Lennon famously quipped that Milwaukee southsiders reminded him of Liverpudlian scousers. Indeed, most of what people think of as the "traditional" Milwaukee south side applies here as the area is marked by a now-aging population of blue-collar Polish and Serbian Catholics, many of whom pack into Serb Hall for the traditional Friday night fish fry. This area also tends to be more conservative, politically and socially, than the rest of Milwaukee, and (right or wrong) many of its residents draw comparisons to Archie Bunker... especially its infamous Alderman Bob Donovan.
- Bay View: Just down the lake from the Third Ward. Bay View wasn't part of Milwaukee until the turn of the 20th century, but its residents still consider Bay View to be socially and culturally different from the rest of Milwaukee, even more that usual. They even tend to list their addresses technically incorrectly as "Bay View, WI." Indeed, Bay View does retain a "small town" feel and its commercial center, Kinnickinnick Avenue, is not unlike many small town Main Street's (albeit, with a more urban and bohemian flair). It was also the site of the Bay View Massacre in 1886 as laborers went on strike to demand an eight-hour work day.
Milwaukee isn't generally known as a massive sports town, but it does host the MLB's Milwaukee Brewersnote and the 2021 season NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucksnote , and the local private Catholic school Marquette University is a college basketball power. Milwaukeeans' greatest sport loyalty, however, is generally regarded to be to a team that doesn't even play in their city. The Green Bay Packers play 100 miles north of the city, but they played some of their home games at the old County Stadium in Milwaukee every year until the mid-'90s. Because so many "cheeseheads" call Milwaukee home, the city remains treated as part of the team's "local market" by the NFL; it is subject to the same blackout rules as Green Bay proper, and most of the reporting on the team is done by Milwaukee papers.
Famous people from Greater Milwaukee include Oprah Winfrey, Les Paul* , Steve Miller, Gene Wilder, Heather Graham, Al Jarreau, Eric Benet, Speech (of Arrested Development... the hip hop group, not the TV show), current WNBA star Arike Ogunbowale, retired MLB/Brewers sportscaster Bob "Mr. Baseball" Uecker, late NASCAR great Alan Kulwicki, RuPaul's Drag Race winner Jaida Essence Hall, and former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir (who came to Milwaukee at the age of six and grew up on the North Side).
Fiction set in the Greater Milwaukee Area:
- Lewis Black, a regular at Summerfest since 1991, has a monologue about drinking in Wisconsin where he tells a story about what happened one night after performing in Milwaukee.
- Jade and Obsidian of Infinity, Inc. hail from Milwaukee.
- As do the Great Lakes Avengers, though they relocated to Detroit in their most recent series.
- Bridesmaids - except for when it's in Chicago (about an hour and a half away by car).
- Dawn of the Dead (2004)
- Dogma - Bartleby and Loki's opening scene is set in Milwaukee, presumably at General Mitchell International Airport. Amusingly, the address on the envelope addressed to Bartleby has the correct zip code, but "Redemption Blvd" does not exist.
- Mr. 3000
- Major League - Milwaukee County Stadium and Milwaukee's television/radio stations become the Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Cleveland in the film)
- Wayne's World - the Alice Cooper scene.
- "Milwaukee" by Al Jarreau.
- "My Cousin In Milwaukee" was most famously recorded by Ella Fitzgerald.
- "213" by Slayer was written about the Jeffrey Dahmer murders and named after his apartment number.
- "My Projects" by Coo Coo Cal
- "Man From Milwaukee" by Hanson
- "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Made A Loser Out of Me)" by Jerry Lee Lewis
- "Milwaukee Sky Rocket" by Braid
- Happy Days
- Step by Step took place in Port Washington, a Real Life city on Lake Michigan just north of the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area (it's not actually a suburb; there's a good 12 miles of farmland and rural area in between).
- Though That '70s Show was set in the fictional town of Point Place, the characters sometimes journeyed here, primarily when they needed to visit Hyde's real father and his record store business.
- "Reggie "The Crusher" Lisowski was a native of South Milwaukee who developed the beer-drinking tough-guy gimmick that would be adopted decades later by The Sandman and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. His Polish-Milwaukeean heritage was also a huge part of his persona and he'd brag about "takin' the dollies to polka up and down Wisconsin Avenue."
- Half in the Bag is set in Milwaukee, and (unlike most examples on this list) all location footage is shot there, since RedLetterMedia is based out of the city.
- In the Futurama universe, Milwaukee is the known as "The Most Romantic City on Earth" and the "Birthplace of Beer Goggles."
- In Aaahh!!! Real Monsters:
Airport employee: What's your destination?
Father: (excitedly) Milwaukee, Wisconsin!
Airport employee: Oh boy, sir, you are in for the thrill of a lifetime!