A History of the German Immigrant Community in Milwaukee, WI

Bavarian Bierhaus | © VISIT Milwaukee
Bavarian Bierhaus | © VISIT Milwaukee
Immigrants from all over Europe settled in Milwaukee, but the Germans, in particular, left their mark. It was estimated that by the 1990s, nearly half of all people living in the area had ancestors that came from Germany, making it one of the most German cities in the country. From Bavarian beer halls and traditional restaurants to North America’s largest annual German Fest, the people of Milwaukee are proud to celebrate the heritage of Wisconsin’s biggest city.

The nineteenth century brought with it a wave of Germans immigrating to Wisconsin to escape the 1848 revolutions happening in Europe. It is estimated that in the 1840s, more than a thousand German immigrants arrived in Milwaukee every week, and by the 1850s over a third of the city’s population was German. As a result, German was widely spoken throughout the area and Milwaukee had a number of German language schools, clubs, and churches. Toward the end of the century, there were even five different daily newspapers published in German.

Mader's Restaurant © VISIT Milwaukee

However, despite the close-knit community formed by the German diaspora, it is important to note that Germany was not a unified country until 1871, so the people moving to Milwaukee during this period came from different regions and brought with them unique traditions, religions, and dialects. While these cultural differences might have caused some clashes, the real problems for Milwaukee’s German population began with the lead up to World War One. While Europe was at war, prejudice against the German American community in the USA spread. The fear of backlash led to forced assimilation and caused many people to hide their cultural identity, including changing the names of German related clubs and schools, or anglicizing their last names.

Pabst Mansion © VISIT Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s German heritage is still a big part of its culture today. Brewmasters such as Frederick Miller and Frederick Pabst left their legacy by creating beers that are still enjoyed around the world, and the city’s Major League baseball team, called the Milwaukee Brewers, plays at Miller Park stadium. Additionally, Usinger’s factory and store on Old World Third Street, Turner Hall on Fourth Street, and the Pabst Mansion are just a few other reminders of the past that can be seen in Milwaukee. The city also has more than thirty societies dedicated to preserving its German culture and traditions. While the Germans are just one of the many groups to settle in the area, it’s clear to see their influence has left a lasting impression on Milwaukee.

Miller Park © VISIT Milwaukee