Chudnow Museum gives taste of vintage consumerism
“My hope that preserving these objects will serve as a reminder of the fascinating lives led by the people who established our community.” – Avrum M. Chudnow
Entering the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear is an immersive experience that will take visitors back to the rise of consumerism. It is a time capsule of Milwaukee life between the two World Wars.
Over his 92 years of life in Milwaukee, Avrum M. Chudnow accumulated artifacts that reflected everyday life from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Chudnow was a cultural historian, not a hoarder, and his collection is estimated at over 250,000 items, of which barely one percent are on display in the museum.
“There’s a lot of great products that in today’s world we cannot even imagine them being sold over the counter. But in the early 1920s they were part of everyday life,” said Steve Daily, Executive Director. “For example, the tonics and elixirs contained high doses of alcohol or cocaine.”
The replica Bay View pharmacy is one of the most popular venues within the museum, which features products like cough syrup made by Bayer, a German company known for its aspirin and popular with the ethnic population of Milwaukee. Remedies like it contained a high level of heroin, which would only cover-up health problems and leave consumers addicted for life.
The idea for the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear was conceptualized by Chudnow in 1991. The late lawyer and graduate from Marquette University Law School inherited this fascination of artifacts from his father, who was a junk and scrap peddler. The museum is housed in an 1869 residence on 839 North 11th Street, which Chudnow bought in 1966 and to run his law office and management company. His family created the nonprofit museum after his death in 2005.
The overwhelming charm of the museum is Chudnow’s fascination with everyday items. Exhibits are bursting with historic tools, bottles, posters, and products like a prohibition era wooden box of Velveeta-style processed Cheese, made by the Pabst brewing company.
Chudnow’s painstaking and meticulous preservation is evident in the mint condition of so many of the artifacts. His collection is comprised of things that would have been thrown away after use, like candy wrappers, ice cream cartons, pharmacy bottles, old soda bottles, boxes of oatmeal and baking powder. But these items reflect who the people of Milwaukee were in their era and the life they lived which is not detailed in the history books.
The museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and noon until 4:00 pm on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for kids 7 to 17, seniors 62 and older and college students, and free for kids 6 and under. The best deal is on Sunday, when an entire family can visit for the flat rate of $10.
Chudnow continued this tradition of gathering memorabilia until his death in 2005. The mission of the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear is share his vision and educate the community of Milwaukee about the city’s history during a unique era from before women could vote, through the preservation and exhibition of his collection.