Recently, I had the opportunity to open an interesting book in the Museum’s Library entitled Milwaukee’s Great Industries (1892). This 352-page tome features a history of Milwaukee, articles on its various industries, schools, churches, trades, a variety of advertisements, and a list of city facts entitled “Milwaukee in a Nutshell.”
Did you know that in 1892, Milwaukee produced $135 million in goods; had the biggest iron foundry in the world; or produced fully one-third of all the tin-ware used in the United States? And yes, Milwaukee officially had the largest brewery and tannery in the world!
Last but certainly not least–did you know that, in 1892, Milwaukee also had “one of the finest art galleries in the land, and several of the best private art collections in the world”?
You had me at “one of the finest in the land.”
In the chapter “Music and Fine Arts,” Julius Gugler writes with pride and praises three arts institutions active in the city in 1892: The Layton Art Gallery, the Wisconsin Art Institute, and the Milwaukee Art Association. The Layton Art Gallery was open to the general public. The Wisconsin Art Institute was a school for practical art instruction. And the Milwaukee Art Association was an artists’ organization charged with creating a market for resident professional painters. Of the city’s artistic appeal, Gugler wrote:
“Our people feel clearly that the bounty which came to them by their enterprise, economy and thrift should, if they would otherwise enjoy their wealth, be expended liberally in beautifying their surroundings, in addition to their store of knowledge and in cultivating their appreciation of the arts.”
The diversified nature of the City’s interests in commerce and the arts, proposed Gugler, established Milwaukee as a cosmopolitan city, making it the ideal place to live and start a business.
The publisher of Milwaukee’s Great Industries, the Association for the Advancement of Milwaukee, focused on establishing a bureau of information to represent and promote the City’s growing commerce and lifestyle. Organized in 1888 by several members of the Merchants’ Association, the Association for the Advancement of Milwaukee took its task seriously and compiled a remarkable record of facts, figures and local articles marketing the potential of their fair city.
While an update of this book would certainly bring about a change in output numbers, not to mention industries called by new names or called to new purposes, what is certain is that the bounty of this twenty-first century city continues to be visible in the shared cultural wealth of its communities. The many successful music venues, schools and events, art galleries, schools, cooperatives, and of course the Milwaukee Art Museum, with its fair Calatrava addition, would have made Julius Gugler and the Association for the Advancement of Milwaukee proud.