School Sign History

Here is a sad story of how the original school zone sign came to be. This article is from a January 1921 issue of Safety Engineering magazine.

Safety Engineering, January 1921

“School, Drive Slow”

How did this effective and widely prevalent traffic sign near schoolhouses originate? Who was the inventor? What led to the invention?

In October, 1914, a little boy in Milwaukee, coming out of school, saw his father waiting for him, in an automobile across the street. His father calling, “Come quick,” he ran across the street as fast as he could. Neither the father nor his little son noticed a heavy truck that was coming along at full speed. Its heavy wheels killed the boy instantly. The father’s grief was beyond description. He was a physician, a specialist for children. The boy was his only child. The unfortunate truck driver tried his best to stop but he was driving at a speed that made stopping impossible. The driver was heart-broken over the accident.

The circumstances of the distressing fatality came to the attention of Miss Emma M. Selle, a friend of little children. The thought came into her mind that signs should be placed near schoolhouses calling attention of drivers to the nearness of the school and commanding them to drive slow and look out for the children. If a sign of that kind had been placed near the school where the little boy was killed, the driver of the truck could have stopped his machine and the child’s life would have been saved.

Miss Selle wrote the pathetic story to a city official, who turned the letter over to the Safety First Committee of Milwaukee, recently organized. There was an 8-mile speed limit ordinance in force in the city and a sign giving that information had been placed near one school in the city. When Miss Selle’s letter came before the City Council, suggesting that the signs, “school, Drive Slow,” be placed in several places near each schoolhouse, money was appropriated for that purpose and the signs were erected.

On December 12, 1916, Miss Selle wrote to President Wilson, asking him to suggest to the governors of the different States, then meeting in New York, that similar signs be placed near all schoolhouses throughout the United States. On December 14, Mr. Tumulty, private secretary to the President, sent an acknowledgement of her letter and said that her suggestion would be brought to the attention of the President. On December 18 Miss Selle received a letter from the office of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, signed by Mr. D. J. Donovan, secretary, saying that the Commissioners of the District had received her letter to President Wilson, which the President had referred to the Commissioners, and that due consideration would be given to the placing of signs in streets near schoolhouses in order to protect the children.

On December 15, 1916, Miss Selle wrote to Governor Phillips of Wisconsin telling of the accident that had happened. Through the influence of Governor Phillips, the signs, “School, Drive Slow,” were placed near every schoolhouse in the State of Wisconsin—public, parochial and even small country schools.

“school, Drive Slow,” conveys three distinct thoughts:

“School” suggests the near presence of children.

“Drive” arrests the attention of drivers.

“Slow’ is a command which makes every driver involuntarily grip his wheel to slacken his pace.

In some cases, warning signs, made up according to the ideas of city officials, had been placed near schoolhouses. But most of them were complicated, containing many words, and were either not read or not heeded.

Hence, the first real safety sign to protect school children was Miss Selle’s “School, Drive Slow,” which is now being rapidly installed everywhere throughout the United States. Other signs have been developed from the original “Drive Slow” idea, such as “Keep To The Right, Drive Slow,” seen on bridges; and “Danger, Drive Slow,” seen near sharp turns in roads.

Chapman Department Store

Someone who attended one of my presentations this fall was kind enough to send me some pictures she took of the old Chapman Department Store downtown before it was torn down. These pictures are attached along with a short history of the building. A big thanks to Gwen Mickey!

On the south side of East Wisconsin Avenue between Milwaukee and Jefferson Streets there stood one of the earliest and longest standing department stores in the city. Chapman Department stores were located there since its founding in 1857 until it finally filed for bankruptcy in 1987. The store was built in 1885 after a fire destroyed the previous Chapmans Dry Goods store that stood there since 1872. The design was a modern commercial style of white brick with decorations of terra cotta in a French Renaissance style. Mr. Chapman had the best materials used to build his store including highly polished granite for columns, Ohio sandstone and Tennessee marble. Beautifully painted frescoes adorned the store with classical figures that made the customer feel as if they were in a place of elegance. This was no ordinary store and even the offerings were of the best quality so that it became known as the “Palace of Trade”.

In 1911, several adjacent buildings to the east were combined in a large-scale renovation. The Wisconsin Avenue facade was modernized in 1930 but the Milwaukee Street elevation remained as it had originally with the large bay window on the upper floors above the Greek inspired portico at the side entrance.

The store expanded into Madison and Appleton and a few other locations in Milwaukee during its last 9 years. The downtown Milwaukee store closed in 1981 and was torn down to make way for the 30 story 411 Building which was finished in 1985. A few items from the Chapman’s building remain, most notably the fireplace which is on permanent display at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

Some of the last pictures taken inside the building were by Gwen Mickey. The fireplace stood in the center of the main floor and cost $6,000 back in 1885. It had three identical sides which were used to warm shoppers on cold days. In the back of each fireplace there was the symbol of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. A picture above the mantel was of Timothy Appleton Chapman himself.

Italian muralist and painter, Vergilio Tojetti painted several of the murals which can be seen here. This was one of two skylights which were originally above an atrium which opened all of the way to the main floor. The murals represented Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter with classical motifs.

1948 Milwaukee River View

For today’s Gigapan view, this is something I posted previously but will post again. This view is looking southwest along the Milwaukee River from above the Dam that used to be just south of North Avenue. Much of Commerce Street can be seen in its industrial glory with coal yards and railroad tracks of the Beerline where condos now sit.

Police Court Scenes 1914

These are a few stories from the police court of cases which made the court a busy place back in 1914. The Milwaukee Daily News had a regular feature which reported on each day’s cases. Some were funny, others were sad

Milwaukee Daily News, March 13, 1914

After tracking one of the women by the marks of her bare feet in an underground passage and pursuing a man up a dark alley, Detectives Hartman and Stout succeeded in apprehending all of the inmates of an alleged disorderly house at 604 Edison Street last night.

When Julia Washington, 30 years old, colored, alleged keeper of the place heard one of the officers ascending the front steps, she sought safety by fleeing into the cellar and entering an adjoining building through an underground tunnel. After tracking the footsteps in the dust in the passage, the detective found his quarry hiding under a bed in the building next door, according to testimony.

Joseph Woligarski, 18 years old, alleged inmate, is said to have made his escape by climbing through a back window, sliding out on the long porch and dropping into the alley. He was seized by the other detective who had stationed himself in the back yard.

Julia Washington was fined $25 and costs by Judge Page, Woligarski was let off with a reprimand and Lulu Williams, alleged inmate, was fined $10 and costs.

Milwaukee Daily News, April 6, 1914

One hundred and twentythree prisoners, the largest number ever appearing in court in a day in the history of Milwaukee, were arraigned before Judge Page. Seventy persons were charged with being drunk and disorderly.

Judge Page held the blame for the immorality wave at the door of the election, holding that discussions of candidates are prone to make men thirsty, and that thirst is the one great factor in the downfall of the over-zealous voter.

About 500 people appeared in court as witnesses. The consultation room had to be used as a temporary “bullpen” to accommodate the prisoners awaiting trial and “coppers’ row” had a sky blue tint which came from sixty “cops” squeezing into a gallery that was made to hold that number.

Johann Lembeisser was tried for being drunk.

“Your honor,” he pleaded after the judge had imposed a fine of $5 and costs. “Seeing there is so many people here may I make a speech?”

“No.” said the court.

Undaunted, Leimbeisser jumping upon a chair, waved a tattered hat in the air and yelled;

“Whurrough! I got drunk, drinking of Hading and not ashamed a bit, am I. The Socialists may eat cabbage but the blamed staff went to their heads instead of their stomachs and that’s why the whole kaboodle of ’em are cabbage heads.”

At this point Deputy Fitzgerald interfered and led the gifted orator away, but not before the man had been rewarded by a deafening round of applause.

TMER&L Auditorium

A high resolution view of the auditorium of the Public Service Building as it looked when finished in June 1906 via Gigapan.

Milwaukee Night Life 1967

This article from the Milwaukee Journal of February 23, 1967 talks about several of the newer night clubs that opened in downtown. They range from music clubs to dance, and themed clubs. One that still remains is the Safehouse which opened in 1966.

The Nauti-gal was something which hopefully didn’t last too long. It seemed like something that was the epitome of the 1960’s. Dancing waitresses would be different to put it nicely. This ad from the Nauti-Gal in the March 5, 1967 Milwaukee Journal explains the idea. Are you ready?

The Gilpatrick Hotel

The Gilpatrick Hotel was relatively short lived as Milwaukee hotels go but it had an interesting history nonetheless. It was opened in 1907 on North 3rd Street where the Hyatt currently sits. The Hyatt has actually been there longer than the Gilpatrick. Here are a few interesting items from my collection on the history of the Gilpatrick.

Be sure to see the re-enactment of the attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt on Sunday!

As it looked in 1937:

Remember When from July 12, 1970:

From the Milwaukee Journal, July 31, 1970:

1969, A Milwaukee Space Odyssey

Way back in the late 60’s, astronaut James Lovell was a household name in his hometown of Milwaukee. He was among the crew of Apollo 8 who were the first to orbit the moon in December of 1968. Milwaukee capitalized on their hometown hero by creating a short lived space museum within the MacArthur Square parking structure. It was dubbed the James A. Lovell Space Center and was administered by the Milwaukee Public Museum.

When funding was dropped in 1969 from the City budget, the space museum couldn’t survive. Objects and displays on loan from NASA were taken away and the lights were turned off on October 26, 1969.

Death of Emma Uihlein

The area around 5th, 6th & Galena was known as “Uihlein Hill” due to a number of Uihleins living in the area during the heyday of the Schlitz brewery. The Alfred Uihlein mansion sat at 1639 N. 5th St, and the home of Charles Uihlein and his wife Emma was at 609 W. Galena St.

This article tells about her death – the last of the Uihleins to live in this declining neighborhood. After her death, the city purchased the property and moved ahead with their redevelopment plans of the neighborhood.

Milwaukee Journal
August 20, 1946

Death Closes Cover on a Milwaukee Era

An era came to an end in Milwaukee Monday, an era which represented the Milwaukee that was truly half German. Mrs. Emma Uihlein died and the house on the hill is dark and silent.

Mrs. Uihlein lived for many years alone in the old brick home — alone except for the devoted housekeeper, Theresa Schmidt, who now cannot quite comprehend what has happened. Her mistress was 88 and she is – ach, let’s see once — well, maybe 72 and life is strange in the quiet house.

Miss Schmidt could not talk very much when the reporter called. All she could say was that her mistress was gone after being sick for “a long time already” and that she didn’t want to do much “speaking.” It will be very hard for the elderly spinster in the old home at 609 W. Galena st.

Charles Uihlein’s Widow

The determined old lady who now is gone was the widow of Charles Uihlein and mother of the late Oscar L. Uihlein, who headed the Uihlein Electric Co. here for 30 years. She died at Milwaukee hospital following a severe five week illness.

The old home in the city’s earlier years was one of a row of fashionable, ornate houses in the neighborhood that now has slipped into the worst blight of the city. It is in the southern corner of the sixth ward, where now the Negroes dwell in the ramshackle, tumble down houses that for years have mocked the old brick castle.

Mrs. Uihlein’s home was truly her castle. She would not leave it, come what might. She and the faithful Theresa held their ground behind the iron railing serving as fence and defied time to budge them. They shopped in the neighborhood – Theresa did most of it – and Mrs. Uihlein took long walks when her health was good.

Walks Remembered

Dwellers in the ward tell of watching the round old lady as she strolled in the warm afternoons around the neighborhood, looking with disapproving eye at what time was doing, but making no complaint. From the front veranda she could look across the street at the Philadelphia church. Back of her home, in the recent years, has been a firm of car movers.

The prospect was anything but beautiful, but nothing could have persuaded the old lady to surrender to the changing years. She kept her home in spotless order and dreamed of the days when the old home, was one of the best, and the finest people frequently dropped in for something from the cellar.

The home was built to be timeless. Its rich old woods would cause a twinge of envy to any antiquarian. A beautiful grandfather’s clock stands silent in the hallway. Portraits of the family stand in the living room, close to a lovely upright piano that may not have sounded music in a decade.

“Nein, nein.” Theresa Schmidt struggled to say Tuesday morning, “not much company we had for a long time.”

The housekeeper has lived in the home 45 years. She came from Germany as a “kleine maedchen” a long, long time ago. She worked in the Niedecken family five years, then was idle for a spell, but most of her life has been passed in the quietness of the hill.

Lower Their Voices

When they passed the old home, the Negro children were lowering their voices Tuesday, just as they have done for a long time. The old lady was thought of as patrician and her wishes were respected. The yard is as clean as any on Lake dr., even though the grass has trouble staying green under the protective trees.

Mrs. Uihlein is survived by Mrs. Oscar Uihlein of Grafton, another daughter-in-law, Mrs. Arthur C. Uihlein. of 2230 E. Bradford av.; a brother. Frank J. Kohn of Chicago; grand-daughter, Mrs. Kdward A. Banner of Grafton, and two great-granddaughters, Barbara Ann and Susan Banner.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday from the Weiss funeral home at 1901 N. Farwell av. Burial will be in Forest Home cemetery. The body will be at the funeral home from 1 p.m. Wednesday until the hour of the funeral.

Few of the old friends can call at the funeral home, to share in the hushed reminiscence. An era has passed and gone. Only the dauntless could have remained as long as the little old lady just gone.

Police Court Stories

Strange stories from the police blotter one hundred years ago.

Milwaukee Journal, August 12, 1912

Police Court News

Michael Tornic, 4104 Grand-av, arrested as the result of statements made by Mary Reonlaka, 15, in juvenile court, was found not guilty in district court, Monday.

Walter Austin, 45, was standing on Kinnickinnic-av, Sunday night, when a man passed, carrying three jugs of whiskey. The bearer of the jugs accosted Austin and the two sat down upon the sidewalk. “I am going to West Allis,” said the man with the whiskey. “Will you go with me?” “I’ll go anywhere with a man who has three jugs of whiskey,” declared Austin. The three empty jugs were used as evidence against Austin, Monday, when he was fined $5 and costs.

Neither Calvin Whittington nor William E. Hunt, who engaged in a fist fight in front of the Plankinton, Saturday night, while Miss Ruth Gwendolyn Shaw, said to be a Chicago heiress, acted as referee, appeared in the district court, Monday, when their names were called. Judge Neelen fined each $1.

For raising a disturbance and using profane language on a street car on Eighth-av and Mitchell-st, Sunday night, Joseph Klutz, 25, was fined $25 and costs Monday.

“Your wife must be a wonder.” Judge Neelen told James Heina, Chicago-rd, arraigned Monday for being drunk. “She must certainly be economical.” Heina said that he had a wife and six children and that he earns $60 per month. His wife said he kept the family well on that sum. “Because of your wife I’ll let you go.” the court told Heina. “Do your part by keeping away from whisky.”