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Author: Carl Swanson

Milwaukee Notebook: The sweet smell of disaster

In 1919, with Prohibition about to end beer production, the owners of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, turned their attention to candy, building a vast complex on Port Washington Road in Glendale. From its massive purpose-built factory to the staggering amount of money lost in its eight-year history, everything about Milwaukee′s Eline’s Chocolate and Cocoa Co. was outsized. The venture was launched by the Uihlein family, owners of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company It’s not easy to go from Beer Baron to Count Chocolate but they certainly gave it a good try. The family hired experts, built a sprawling state-of-the-art...

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Milwaukee Notebook: The horseman in Lake Park

Erastus B. Wolcott, M.D. was a brilliant surgeon, benefactor of the poor, expert horseman, and all-around good guy. The emergency surgery described above did take place on the patient’s (very well-scrubbed) kitchen table in 1861. The man survived the operation, but died 15 days later of exhaustion due to the difficult recovery. Still, Dr. Wolcott made medical history for performing the first-ever successful removal of a diseased kidney. He was 35 when he arrived in Milwaukee on July 4, 1839. A graduate of the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, Wolcott had served several years as an army...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Grenades and Underpants

A few months after the United States entered the First World War Milwaukee investors established a company to make munitions, built a factory along the Milwaukee River in Glendale, and hired an all-female workforce. Many Milwaukeeans fought the Kaiser. The women of Briggs Loading Co. did so in their underpants. In his corporate history, The Legend of Briggs & Stratton (Write Stuff Syndicate, 1995), Jeffrey L. Rodengen wrote, “Long Victorian-style dresses were serious hazards, since they could become caught in rotating machinery and belts. Women took to wearing ‘bloomers’ pants-like garments originally intended as undergarments.” In time the government...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Downtown sculptured is an overlooked masterpiece

“Victorious Charge” is the name of the 1898 sculpture on Wisconsin Avenue near the Central Library. It memorializes the courage and sacrifice of Wisconsin soldiers in the Civil War. Milwaukeeans love to despise the city’s public art. From David Middlebrook’s deliberately lopsided Tip in Gordon Park to Gerald P. Sawyer’s Bronze Fonz on the downtown Riverwalk, just about every sculpture in town has its share of detractors. Even in Milwaukee a piece of public art can occasionally resonate with nearly everyone. For example, the sculpture in the above photo was immediately embraced by art critics and the public alike...

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Milwaukee Notebook: A river made for recreation

Canoes crowd the Milwaukee River at Gordon Park on a fine summer day in the early 1900s, as spectators line the railing of the Folsom bridge, now Locust. The North Avenue dam, built in 1843, divided the Milwaukee River into an industrialized lower river through downtown to the harbor and a relatively untouched upper river, which became a center for recreation for the growing city. Here, from the late 1800s to World War I, you could take a steamboat from North Avenue up the river to visit a beer garden or an amusement park. For the more energetic, there...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Election yesteryear madness

There had never been a presidential election like this: The Republican Party is split into bickering factions and unable to unite behind its candidate, while the Democratic Party is in disarray following a bitter nomination process. Adding to the turmoil, candidates from two small parties are attracting unprecedented support. Now one of those upstart candidates is coming to Milwaukee, where an assassin will fire a bullet into his chest. It is Oct. 14, 1912, and Theodore Roosevelt is scheduled to speak at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Covering a city block, the auditorium holds 9,000. An overflow crowd is gathering, eager...

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