The Port of Milwaukee is in southeast Wisconsin in the United States where the Kinnickinnic, Menomonee, and Milwaukee Rivers join to flow into Milwaukee Bay on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Located about 150 kilometers north-northwest of Chicago, the Port of Milwaukee is the heart of a five-county metropolitan area that stretches some 50 kilometers south to Racine. The State's biggest city, the Port of Milwaukee is part of a large industrial region that reaches through Chicago, Illinois, into northwestern Indiana. In 2000, almost 597 thousand people lived in the Port of Milwaukee, and almost 1.7 million lived in the Milwaukee-Racine metropolitan area.
Thirteen Fortune 1000 companies are headquartered in the Port of Milwaukee suburbs and has more Fortune 500 company headquarters than all but four other cities in the United States. The fastest-growing sectors in the Port of Milwaukee economy are services and management, and the healthcare industry provides almost a third of the city's jobs. Over a fifth of the Port of Milwaukee's workers are employed in the manufacturing sector.
Before European settlers arrived, the area around the Port of Milwaukee was the home of several indigenous tribes: Menominee, Ojibwe, Winnebago, Mascouten, Suak, Fox, and Potawatomi. The first Europeans in the region were French traders and missionaries who ventured through in the late 17th and 18th Centuries. The word "Milwaukee" means "Good/Beautiful/Pleasant Land" and derives from the Algonquian word Millioke.
Three towns were originally established in what would become Milwaukee. French Canadian Solomon Juneau founded Jueautown in 1818. Byron Kilbourn established Kilbourntown on the west side of the Milwaukee River to compete with Juneau. George Walker claimed land to the south of the river in 1834 which became known as Walker's Point. By the 1840s, the three settlements had grown, as had their rivalry. Conflicts ended in the Milwaukee Bridge War of 1845, when the three towns were united. Solomon Juneau was the first elected mayor of the new Port of Milwaukee.
The Port of Milwaukee was born in 1835 as a Great Lakes port when commercial cargo vessels came to the new village. European settlers came to the area due to its easy access to the frontier via the three rivers flowing into Lake Michigan at the harbor. Those same streams are now the focus of significant commercial and industrial development, extensive dredging, and thick dock facilities that handle millions of tons of cargo each year.
Unlike other Great Lakes ports, the Port of Milwaukee recognized early on that the river channels could not accommodate significant cargo traffic indefinitely. The city created a comprehensive plan to acquire lakefront areas and develop an outer harbor under the control of the city.
During the middle and late 1800s, the area became home to many German immigrants who fled the Revolution of 1848 in the German States and Austria. Here, they found cheap land and freedom. In the 1850s, many German Jews arrived in the Port of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, many of whom became quite successful in banking and retail businesses. While the German communities in the Port of Milwaukee remained strong after the American Civil War, other immigrants came to the city as well.
Polish immigrants began to arrive, escaping poverty and political oppression. In the Port of Milwaukee, they found work, and soon the Port of Milwaukee became the home of one of the United States' biggest Polish communities. By the early 20th Century, only New York City rivaled the Port of Milwaukee in the percentage of foreign-born residents in the United States.
In 1857, a new harbor entrance was finished and the new port outlet moved 0.8 kilometers to the north. Due to the many shipping disasters on Lake Michigan in the mid-1800s, the US Congress approved the development of a Harbor of Refuge in the Port of Milwaukee in 1881, funding an extension of a breakwater across the Bay.
In 1900, the Port of Milwaukee's mayor proposed that docks and terminals be built in the deep waters off Jones Island because the rivers were being overwhelmed with traffic. While the federal District Army Engineer initially opposed the project, the mayor persisted, and a Permanent Harbor Improvements Committee was formed. After study, the Committee recommended improvements to the inner harbor channels but did not address the Jones Island proposal.
In 1903, the Engineer proposed several improvements that would allow larger vessels to moor at the port. The city would secure the lands to widen channels, and the federal government would do the necessary dredging. The proposal was adopted by Congress in 1905, though little happened after the city acquired the property.
In 1908, the city recognized the eventual need for more and better harbor facilities, and a committee proposed an outer harbor on Jones Island. The US District Engineer recommended a plan that acknowledged the likely need for an outer harbor in the near future. Still, little action followed, and plans for an outer harbor were postponed.
In 1912, the Harbor Commission was formed and recommended the immediate acquisition of Jones Island because it was the only place where the municipality could still acquire and develop its waterfront and build a terminal. In 1913, Jones Island was condemned and taken by the city.
In 1914, many improvements to the Port of Milwaukee were approved and the State Legislature granted the city the authority to create a Board of Harbor Commissioners. In 1920, plans for the Milwaukee harbor project were finally approved. The city formed the Board of Harbor Commissioners with authority to employ workers and award contracts for the maintenance and operation of the port.
By 1926, work had begun on the Jones Island port facilities in the Port of Milwaukee. Dredging and filling on Jones Island began in 1927 as the first step in developing a car-ferry terminal. The Port of Milwaukee Board of Harbor Commissioners has operated continuously since 1920.
In the early 20th Century, the Port of Milwaukee was the center of the United States' socialist movement. Three socialist mayors were elected from 1910 to 1960, and the Port of Milwaukee is still the only city in the United States to have elected socialist mayors.
While at one time, the Port of Milwaukee was known for its breweries and manufacturing plants, the city has been changing. Over the last decades, the city has added many cultural attractions in attempts to upgrade its image. These include the Milwaukee Riverwalk, Miller Park, Pier Wisconsin, and the Midwest Airlines Center. The city has also expanded the Milwaukee Art Museum and renovated Milwaukee Auditorium. Today, the city sports new condos and new skyscrapers along the lakefront and the rivers.