Milwaukee German Newspapers

The large number of German newspapers that were printed in Milwaukee at one time are largely forgotten. Most readers would be hard-pressed to name even one. A few survived into the 20th century but were slowly smothered by competition from the stronger English-language dailies and forced Americanization of their readership.

In 1889 the Bennett Law forced all public and private schools to teach the major subjects in English. Although the law was repealed a few years later, it led to the younger second generation of German-Americans to be more dependent on English rather than their native language. By 1899, many of the country’s leading German language newspapers were starting to cease operations. World War one and Two together helped to squash the pride many felt in their German heritage. The Milwaukee Herold continued to be published in Milwaukee until 1932.

This 1898 article tells the history of the beginnings of the larger and most influential German newspapers in Milwaukee during the mid 19th century.

Milwaukee Sentinel May 8, 1898
MILWAUKEE GERMAN JOURNALISM.

Some Reminiscences Suggested by the Disappearance of The Daily Seebote—Some of the Editors Who Rose, Flourished and Died—First German Paper Appeared in September, 1844.

The absorption of The Seebote by The Herold last week and the suspension of the former as a visitor to the homes of the Germans of Milwaukee, was a consummation lamented by a large number of old settlers who, even if unable to read the text of The Seebote, regarded it as one of the institutions of the city lively to endure for all time. While not in itself the oldest German newspaper in the state of Wisconsin, The Seebote had absorbed all its predecessors in the city, and by this means stood at the top of the list as the senior German paper of the state when it went out of existence with it’s last issue a week ago this morning.

German journalism in Milwaukee antedates the city charter. The first paper published in that language was The Wisconsin Banner, which made its appearance in September, 1844, with Moritz Schoeffler as editor, It was a weekly publication, and was printed on a Rammage press, which, contrasted with the web perfecting machinery at present used in the production of the newspaper, shows a remarkable advance in the art of printing.

The Rammage press would only admit of the printing of one side of a single page at a time, and to print the four pages of that day required the paper to be run through the press four times. On the authority of the Hon. P. V. Deuster, who was employed as apprentice, or rather “printer’s devil” in the old Banner office, the Rammage press was brought to Milwaukee from Green Bay, where it gained the distinction of being the first printing press ever brought to Wisconsin, or rather the territory that afterward bore the name, for the advent of the old printing machine ante-dated the naming Of even the territory.

The Wisconsin Banner was Democratic in its political predelictions, and as the Germans were flocking to Wisconsin in large numbers The Sentinel, then the advocate of the Whigs, realizing the necessity of counteracting the influence of The Banner among the new arrivals, started a German paper, which passed current among the people as the property of Fred Fratny. The venture was a losing one, and the publication was rechristened The Volksfreund, made independently Democratic in its politics, and devoted its energies to assailing The Banner. The latter paper however, continued to prosper, and Mr. Schoeffler built a printing office just north, of the present St, Charles hotel, on Market square on a leased lot. The building was finally removed further up the street, and is now doing duty as a residence at 522 Market street.

Moritz Schoeffler died Dec. 6, 1875. He was about 60 years of age at the time, He was one of the founders of the German-American academy, and was collector of customs under the administration of James Buchanan.

In 1855 Mr. Fratny died, and The Volksfreund was purchased by and became consolidated with The Banner as The Banner and Volksfreund, with Schoeffler & Wendt as owners and August Kruer as the editor, and was issued as a daily.

Mr. Fratny was bitter in his opposition to the Catholic churcb, although his wife was a devoted follower of that faith. He made a vigorous attack upon the Rev. Father Heiss, afterward archbishop, for refusing to bury an ex-priest in a Catholic cemetery. When he was taken down with his fatal illness, he called upon the members of a certain secret society of which he was a member, to remain with him during his last hours for fear that he might in his weakness yield to the importunities of his wife and allow a priest to approach his bedside.

In 1850 The Stimme der Wahrheit (Voice of Truth) was started in opposition by the Democrats. The editor of this publication was a character. Roessler von Oels had been a member of the German parliament at Frankfurt-on-the-Main in 1848, where he was known as “Reichs-kanarienvogel” (canary bird), owing to the peculiar cut and color of the clothing he wore. He had, previous to coming to this country, been imprisoned at Hohenasperg for political offenses, but had managed to escape. He was an eccentric man.

In 1852, July 4 coming on Sunday, the Germans wished to celebrate that day, but the Americans and church people objected and Roessler sided with the latter. After the suspension of his paper, which was short lived, he contributed to the columns of The Sentinel, and finally went to Quincy, Ill., where he established The Tribune, and died while engaged, in its publication.

The printing outfit which he owned in Milwaukee was purchased in 1851 by a stock company made up of Catholics, and The Seebote was started, the editor being Amand de Saint Vincent, who was accounted the best musician in the West at that time, and whose criticisms of the work of the Milwaukee Musical society, which was started in 1850, were considered of great value to the society. After laboring in the editorial harness for two years he became blind, retired and was succeeded by Dr. F. J. Felsecker. Saint Vincent was a frenchman by birth, but had served in the Prussian army, was a staunch Catholic and had considerable influence with the authorities of the church both in this country and in Europe.

In 1852 Peter V. Deuster appears upon the scene as a publisher. He had learned the printing trade in The Wisconsin Banner office, and began the publication of the first literary paper in the German language in Milwaukee, Der Hausfreund, which he issued for a short time, and then went to Port Washington. There, to use his own words, “I edited a weekly paper, studied law with, George W. Fisher, was deputy clerk of the court, and in the evening I taught school. In addition to this I had the only abstract of titles in the country, and had a large amount of work to do to keep the books written up to date. When Ozaukee and Washington counties were separated, some one stole volume M of Mortgages which gave me a monopoly of the business. The missing volume was found ten years later in a vault in Blake’s building.”

Mr. Deuster was a busy man, but then it must be remembered that none of the duties he had to perform would approach anything like the demands that would be made upon him by any of the positions at this time.

In the meantime The Seebote was being edited by August Knorr, the stock of the company had passed into the hands of August Greulich, Philip Rickert and Nicholas Paul. In 1856 Mr. Deuster returned from Port Washington and purchased Paul and Rickert’s interests in the paper, and in company with Mr. Greulich published the paper until 1860, when the latter retired. In 1867 they erected the building on Mason street, the last home of the paper.

While The Seebote was a Democratic paper, and its editor, Mr. Deuster, an uncompromising member of that party, it opposed the party nominations for county offices in 1858, and succeeded in defeating them. The conventions were then controlled by a little clique of politicians known as “The Flour Barrel society,” from the fact that it held its meetings in a store on Market square, and the members sat about on flour barrels, discussed the situation and made up the “slate.” In that year Capt. Barry was elected county treasurer and Samuel Waegli register of deeds on the People’s ticket. Both of them were afterwards drowned in the Lady Elgin disaster.

Another German paper was started by Christian Esselen in the meantime, The paper fell into the hands of Bernhardt Demschke, and later W. W. Coleman, who had been bookkeeper in the paper warehouse and type foundry of Josiah Noonan, became associated with Mr. Demschke, and in 1861 they brought out the first number of The Herold, the first Republican German daily,. which has recently secured control of The Seebote.

Plankinton Arcade

With the way the Plankinton Arcade building is now subdivided with TJ Maxx blocking off a large portion, it is easy to forget how it originally was. This picture shows the original layout as it was after it was built in 1916.

River Dam 1948

This is a crop from a larger picture that I have. The exact same picture can be see in the MPL Milwaukee Waterways digital collection here. It shows an area that has changed tremendously starting in the early 1990s and continuing today.

Originally the area was a recreational spot with boating and swimming and ice skating in the winter above the dam. This picture from 1948 shows many coal yards piled up in the train switching yards and also west of the Humboldt bridge. Rohn’s swimming school still stood although it didn’t last too much longer. By then, the runoff from the coal piles and other industrial pollution was making the area unfit to swim.

Contrasts of a Car Ride – July 24, 1898

Sometimes newspaper articles from the 19th century were written as if by a poet in prose that tried to capture the spirit of a place. This particular article from the Milwaukee Sentinel distilled a streetcar ride from Bay View up to Whitefish Bay in a short article but rich in its description. It gives a rare glimpse at the sights of a long gone Milwaukee.

CONTRASTS OF A CAR RIDE

A through passenger on the Russell and Oakland avenue line from Bay View to Whitefish Bay may amuse himself with the contrasts presented during a ride of an hour and a half. I don’t think of any one-line journey in the city that equals it for versatility. A person interested in chemistry can find food for thought in the suggested contrast between permanent traces of sulphuretted hydrogen at Kinnickinnic bridge and the basswood blossom perfume at the Lindwurm road crossing. The antiquarian may reflect on the contrast between the silent smokestacks of old Minerva furnace and the closed forge of the Luecke blacksmith shop north of Humboldt crossroad. There are also many contrasts of taste, contrasts of architecture, of arboriculture, botanical contrasts as well as ethnological contrasts, yet on fine weather such as generally prevailed since St. Swithin’s day, a kind of universal beauty has spread along the way, modifying the high lights and enlivening the shadows of a picture a dozen miles long.

The starting point is Delaware and Pennsylvania avenues, three blocks from Lake Michigan, yet so near that the sound of the waves on the beach is often heard, and the cliff swallows flitting from their nests in the bluff often perch by hundreds on the telephone wires. A feature of the undergrowth here that cannot be ignored is the thrifty character of the melilotus plants, south and east. They have in some cases covered roads and sidewalks with a forest four feet high. It is essentially an inland view that greets the eye as the car moves north, with glimpses of strips of forest trees to right and left. On Russell avenue a bit of swamp scenery appears, with typhad spikes growing tawny in the sun and water eternally distilling the color from roots. Churches of four denominations have a place before the corner of South Bay street is reached, and between them appear a few large houses of the old style, with grounds originally extensive, but curtailed to meet the demand for city lots. A community of modest residences and stores spreads away on every side, bounded on the north by coal yards and manufacturing places.

As the car turns into Clinton street, one of the pioneer houses of the city, the old Horace Chase residence, is worthy of note, and before it is a public fountain, the only one on the line except the Bergh fountain on market square. For three miles the car runs along what was once the principal retail business street on the south side, from Horace Chase’s subdivision through “Milwaukee proper” to “Walker’s Point.” It is a manufacturing district now, with smoky atmosphere and cinders everywhere. The restaurants of the dock laborers around Walker’s point can be viewed hastily, as well as the brick pavement in front of the old Axtell house and the brick block that Col. George H. Walker built fifty years ago.

Glimpses of the deep-blue waters of the lake are afforded as the side streets flit by, and at the Walker’s point bridge its dazzling expanse spreads to view through the straight-cut, beyond the docks. Odors of river slime, tempered by sunrays, bubble up, and the car may be detained while some long steamer goes through the draw.

A half-mile of wholesale business establishments and a mile of retail stores, well peppered with saloons, is followed by the tannery district, in which the aroma of hides strive for mastery with that of tan bark. If there is any choice, the latter seems the least disagreeable. Remains of the old squatter dominion, formerly unquestioned at the head of Jefferson and Jackson street, claims a glance from the architectural student, who expects to build inconvenient houses.

A picturesque river view is seen at Boyleton place, and at North street bridge and then the car passes monotonously along North avenue and through Murray’s addition and Mitchell heights to Oakland avenue (formerly High street). The air from here to the end of the trip is clear and delightful. Beyond the Humboldt cross-road, farm land sprinkled with small houses is on one side and thick groves of birch and oak on the other, with one or two pretentious country places between. This sort of landscape continues to Whitefish bay, giving surprises constantly. One superb bit of water color, showing the coastline to Fox point and the whole bay, is brought to view.

Early Expressway Plans

Back in 1949 a study was completed that analyzed the best routes for expressways in the city. Many of the plans went ahead to be completed 15 and 20 years later while some were changed immensely. During the time period from these early plans to the time of final construction many things changed in the city. The post war building boom opened up many new tracts of the city which led to a radical shift in population. The late 1950s brought the death of the North Shore railroad line.

The following sketch shows a plan that incorporated the old North Shore railroad into the new expressway. This design gave the railroad its own right of way that got rid of the bottleneck on South 6th Street where the railroad ran previously. Unfortunately with the North Shore’s demise these plans were dropped.

Crystal Theater

The west side of downtown was the entertainment district in the early part of the 20th century. West Water Street, 2nd street, 3rd Street, and Grand Avenue had numerous variety, vaudeville, and early movie theaters. The Crystal Theater was a small vaudeville house at what is now 726 N. 2nd st. It played musical, comedy and dance acts. Slapstick acrobatics and trick riding were common as well as bawdy musicals. New shows were regularly scheduled with a variety of performers traveling from city to city.


Ad from November 1915.

The theater finally started showing films in August of 1925 with “The Folly of Youth” but lasted only a few years more until it closed, unable to match the larger and more popular movie theaters.

Downtown Postcard View

This is an old postcard view of Sixth and Grand Avenue as it looked in the 1920s. The view looks east and shows two big theaters that once graced the Avenue. On the left is Saxe’s Wisconsin and on the right is the Palace Orpheum. The Saxe Wisconsin was in what was known as the Carpenter Building and had bowling alleys and a popular dance ballroom on the roof.

Ziegler Candy

This advertisement from the early 1900’s was for Peerless Milk Chocolates which were made by the Ziegler Candy Company. A little known fact is that Ziegler Candy still exists and sells many of the candy bars that they have always been known for. The Giant Bar was a staple of many a Milwaukeean as they grew up in the 50’s. Stop by their little store at 9617 West Greenfield Ave. in West Allis and take a trip back to the past.

Library of Congress Baseball Cards

The Library of Congress has an interesting online collection of baseball cards from around 1910. This collection includes quite a few of the players on the Milwaukee team. The cards can be seen here.

Donkey Baseball

From the Milwaukee Journal of August 18, 1935 comes this treasure.