History of the Wheel – 1893

This article served to provide the early history of bicycles in Milwaukee back to the first “ordinary” or high-wheel bike to the later “safety” which is similar to what we ride today.

Milwaukee Sentinel, May 21, 1893


How the Bicycle Made Its Appearance in Milwaukee

Brought Here in 186 by Harry L. Smith

Smith Was Visiting the Centennial at Philadelphia, and, Getting the Bicycle Fever, Invested in One Which Came Back With Him. In Point of Continuous Riding, Andrew A. Hathaway is the Pioneer Wheelman of the City, He Having Been At It Since 1879.

It is only seventeen years since the first bicycle made its appearance in this city and was gazed at with undisguised amazement by the startled natives, who hurried to their windows and crowded upon the sidewalks to get a look at the strange thing that sped noiselessly by. Within those seventeen years the bicycle has passed through a period of revolution and the wheel of to-day bears little resemblance to the one which first came within the limits of the city. That original cycle was one of the old-fashioned ordinaries with one big wheel, almost mountainous in its height, having an insignificant looking little trailer at the rear, which, though diminutive, was of great importance to the welfare of the rider. The bicycle of to-day is the safety, with two common sense wheels of about the same size, which answer all recreative and racing purposes without endangering the lives and limbs of the riders.

The first wheel to reach Milwaukee was brought here in 1876 by Harry L. Smith, son of Winfield Smith, who is now living in Chicago, where he is employed with the Wisconsin Central railway. In that year young Smith made a trip East, taking in the Centennial in Philadelphia, and, while there, the bicycles captured his fancy. He invested in one and brought it home with him, it being at that time a high grade wheel of the best pattern, but which is now obsolete. This was about the time that the bicycle began to take root in this country, after having obtained considerable popularity in England. It was introduced first in the East, whence it was rapidly pushed to the West.

The Underwood Boys Get Wheels.

The sight of Harry Smith pedaling around town on his ordinary in stately grandeur isntigated other young men to buy bicycles and the next Milwaukeeans to invest in them were Frank and Herbert Underwood. The number of riders, however, did not grow rapidly, the bicycle then being considered and expensive luxury, and during the next three years all riders in this city could be numbered on the fingers.

About the year 1879 the first bicycle craze struck the city and the number of riders increased very rapidly. It was in this year that Andrew A. Hathaway began riding a wheel. He has ridden ever since, adopting the styles and changes as they were made, and he still uses his machine regularly. In this respect he is the pioneer rider of the city, none of the young men who were contemporaneous with him at the start having stuck regularly to their wheels. Some of them have been a good many years during the interim that their feet have not touched a pedal.

In the latter part of the year 1879 L.M. Richardson established the first bicycle agency in Milwaukee, having his headquarters on Broadway between Wisconsin street and Grand avenue. He was a hustler and by pushing his business induced a good many men to ride who probably would not otherwise have done so. Other riders appeared upon the scene about this time and a year later their number had grown to such an extent that the question of organization was agitated and resulted in the formation of the Milwaukee Bicycle Club. Its first officers were Andrew A. Hathaway, president, and Albert Jones, secretary and treasurer. Its organizers and original members were Angus Hibbard, Harry Haskins, A.W. Friese, D.G. Rogers, Jr. H.W. Rogers, C.H. Moses, Frank Stark, Arthur Young, Harry and Will Weller, William Mariner, Fred Pierce, Harry C. Reed, S.H. Marshall and several others. Within a short while after this the list of riders was swelled by the additions of Francis Bloodgood, Jr., H.O. Frank, Charles Wood, Jr., and the following named riders who have used the wheel ever since and still stick to it: Thomas R. Mercein, W.L. Simonds, Frank A. Hall, Henry P. Andrae, and Frank Morawetz. Many of those named continued to ride until the ordinary was pushed into the background to make room for the safety, which they refused to take kindly to, and they are now classed among the old timers who have stopped riding. Among those who have accepted the safety and who find pleasure and profit in taking daily spins upon it are Henry P. Andrae, A.W. Friese, Thomas R. Mercein, Andrew Hathaway, Frank Morawetz, and W.L. Simonds.

All Riders In The Club.

At the time of the organization of the Milwaukee Bicycle club its memebrship included all riders of the city, the number of which had reached sixty-five in the year 1881. The club made regular tours into the country every Saturday, the favorite destinations being Lakeside and other lake resorts in Waukesha county, where bicycle hops would be held in the evening. They paid little attention to races, but devoted much of the time to runs into the country, some of which were participated in by riders from other cities in this section. This was in the day of the high wheel and small tire, when touring was attended with a great deal more inconvenience and liability to accident than now, but the element of danger was itself an attraction to the riders. The club continued until 1883, when it disbanded, owing to the bad streets and roads. The season was an exceptionally bad one on the country roads, which were literally trails of mud and the streets in the city had been allowed to get into such bad condition that it was impossible to ride over them. In the following year some of the men who had been members of the old club got together and organized the Milwaukee Wheelmen which has flourished ever since and which now has over 300 members. The first road races of the Milwaukee Wheelmen were run over Wauwatosa course, which was retained for the annual event until the Waukesha course was selected.

Milwaukee in Miniature

A new exhibition opening up at the Milwaukee County Historical Society will display 16 scale model buildings created by Ferdinand Aumueller in the late 1960s. The project included 60 blocks of downtown with 200 buildings in all. Several block were last displayed in 1984 at the Historical Society but have normally been in storage because of the size required to display them. The models are intricately detailed to be as accurate as possible.

Ferdinand Aumueller worked as a secretary for the Cramer-Krasselt advertising agency until he retired in 1955. He occupied himself during retirement building scale models of buildings for home Christmas displays and in 1967 tackled the downtown project to depict the view as it looked during the early 1900’s. He worked on it for two years before finally completing it in 1969. After his death in October 1971, the models went on auction and were bought by Mrs. Thomas O’Byrne and later acquired by the Historical Society.

The exhibit opens Thursday June 14 at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

Convent Hill

If you look now at the old Convent Hill, much has changed since has changed since the demolition of the Park East Freeway stub. There is still plenty of open land although plans are beginning to develop to use the vacant fields. This area got its name from the large Convent for School Sisters of Notre Dame which encompassed the entire block between Milwaukee, Jefferson, Ogden, and Knapp Streets.

Before the Park East was a dream, the area was dominated by the Convent and workers houses for the Pfister & Vogel Tannery and other nearby industries like Schlitz Brewery. It was a nondescript working class neighborhood and traces of it can still be found around Jefferson, Jackson, and Pleasant Streets.

Demolition for the Park East was extensive and wiped away a large swath of land as well as these working class neighborhoods between Lyon and Ogden. The Convent was closed and torn down in the early 1960s and moved out to Elm Grove. Everything seen in these pictures from 1930 is long gone but the neighborhood continues to evolve and actually improve.

Milwaukee Public Schools leading to some other questions

One of my long term projects is on the Milwaukee Public schools.   This is going much slower than I thought, only because there is so much interesting material that diverts me away from where I am supposed to be working.

I have been given a copy of an image that is of unknown location, year, and significance, but thought that someone could give me some information on it.

The picture is attached and shows children and their teacher wearing cold weather coats, hats, and blankets on their laps.  In the background, there are two men just right of center in the photo.

It appears to me that the classroom does not have a wall in the back, but the print quality is pretty poor.

I am going to guess that the picture was taken in the 1890s or so.

Does anyone know anything about this photo?  I cannot find a copy of it on the Internet and because of the two men in the background who look like they are of some import, I do not think that this is the normal photo showing children undergoing horrible conditions to inspire the public to act, such as the famous Breaker Boy photos of children working in the coal industry or pictures of street orphans in NYC.

When I attended John Marshall High in Milwaukee, I vaguely recall our senior history class text stating that schools in the 1890s in some of the eastern coast region had enrollments of up to 10,000 or 12,000 students!  I don’t know if I am remembering that anywhere near being accurate, as Marshall’s enrollment when I was there was over 3,900 and it seemed pretty big.

The photo makes me wonder if this was taken at one of those schools where the numbers of children were rapidly increasing and this was the temporary solution to that, while walls were going to be added or a room was being built elsewhere.

Could anyone enlighten me on the photo, including a source for a better copy? I would also love to hear whether those gigantic schools did exist.

Thank you.


Milwaukee’s Arab History

Marquette professor Enaya Othman, has worked for several years to help create an organization here called the Arab Muslim Women Research and Resource Institute. The organization and her work was reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel back in December 2009.

One of the projects she and dedicated individuals has been working on for this institute is a history of Arab immigrants to Milwaukee. An article on the project’s website gives a brief history of Syrian and Palestinian immigration.

Further reading on Milwaukee’s Syrian colony can be found in the following article from the Milwaukee Journal of June 19, 1945.

Missing Milwaukee Walking Tour

Here’s a great opportunity to take a walk into the past of Missing Milwaukee. This walking tour will be hosted by myself and will provide a glimpse back at several downtown buildings which are no longer with us. These buildings were featured in the HMI book published last year as well as many others.

The tour will start at 5:30 on May 11th and is $15 for HMI members and $20 if you are not a member. For $10 extra you can get a copy of the book.

More details and tour registration can be found here.

Monday Milwaukee Mystery

Today we are back with the Monday Mysteries after some time spent doing much needed website maintenance.

This mystery photo has some clues as to the location in the picture. I will leave it to you to decipher. The building on which the sculpture is located lies in the area of downtown west of the river. I’ll wait to see if anyone can guess it before giving out more clues.

Remembering Richard Nickel

In the 1970’s the city of Chicago, like Milwaukee saw many buildings fall to the wrecking ball. In the spring of 1972 the Chicago Stock Exchange building was being demolished. This structure was a grand example of late 19th century architecture designed by the famous Chicago architects, Dunkmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. It was considered one of Sullivan’s best remaining works of architecture in the early 1970’s. It was an imaginative work that used the latest technology of the steel frame and merged it with the highest forms of decorative arts and terra-cotta.

One person interested in documenting and trying to save the Stock Exchange and other 19th century Chicago buildings was Richard Nickel. He was an architectural photographer and historian who was continuing a project to completely document all of Adler and Sullivan’s remaining work. This started in the early 1950’s after studying under Aaron Siskind at IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. The project continued after he completed his thesis in 1957 and grew with the demolition of the Garrick Theater in 1961. Nickel launched an all-out preservation effort to try and save the Garrick early in 1960 and even with a court battle by preservationists was unable to halt the building’s demise. Luckily he was able to salvage many terra-cotta and plaster ornamentation as well as completely documenting much of the building prior to its destruction.

The last battle that he fought was the effort to save the Chicago Stock Exchange. This crusade was fought for several years before it was found to be unwinnable. As with the Garrick, the only solution was to save as much of the building’s artwork as possible. Richard Nickel worked with the Art Institute as well as the Metropolitan Museum and Southern Illinois University to save various architectural artifacts for their collections. Through his effort, many artifacts were salvaged from the Stock Exchange building including an immense entrance arch which was placed outside the Art Institute in 1977. He continued on with his salvage work and documentation, often working alone whenever he had the opportunity. He sacrificed much to save a history that many didn’t think was worth saving and because of that we know much about Adler and Sullivan that would have otherwise been lost.

The last day anyone saw him alive was 40 years ago today. He was found in May 1972 in the rubble of the Stock Exchange as the last walls came down.

I recommend:
Art Institute of Chicago website
Digital Stock Exchange
They All Fall Down

Tutorial Time

So I finally put together a few guides for working with the new blog. Most everyone should now be able to log in and comment and quite a few of you can write your own posts. If things aren’t working, shoot me an email.

The About section should give you a basic run-down of where things are. For the adventurous ones you can write something down and be famous! The Posting Guide section will step you through that process.

If we have some new people that want to try their hand and help us out here at Oldmilwaukee.net then email me and we will get you set up.


Spanish Swindlers

The emails you get from Nigerian bureaucrats asking you to help them launder a couple million dollars for a cut of the pie are nothing new. These 419 scams have been going on long before email was around. A hundred years ago the Spaniards were adept at sending letters to hapless victims here in the US and were sometimes successful as this article suggests.

Milwaukee Sentinel, January 11, 1906


Wisconsin People Being Victimized by Story of Heritage to Fortune

Information has been placed in the hands of officials of the state and postoffice departments here that persons in Wisconsin have been victims of Spanish adventurers who are operating the old scheme of getting money out of the gullible, who are informed that they are the heirs to fortunes left by Spanish branches of their families, of whose existence they never dreamed, and who in reality never existed. The Spanish fortune scheme has been operated in the United States for twenty-five years. This government has made the matter a subject of diplomatic exchanges with Spain on several occasions and Spain has gone to extremes to break up the gang responsible for these outrages perpetrated on American citizens. A number of cases of the kind arising in Wisconsin have been brought to the attention of the authorities here and members of the state delegation. Inspectors of the postoffice department have been put on the trail and already it is understood their work has been productive of results.

The game practiced upon a Wisconsin man of some prominence, whose name is withheld, shows how the scheme is operated. The man in question received a letter some months ago, presumably from a relative with a Spanish name, stating that he was on his deathbed, and that he desired to apprise his kinsman of the fact that he had considerable property in Spain. The letter went on to say that the dying man had a daughter in Madrid, a student in a convent there, and that the daughter and the Wisconsin man were the sole heirs. Later the gullible gentleman in Wisconsin learned of the death of the mythical kinsman and was told that all of the papers substantiating his claim, together with the will of deceased, were in a trunk in a hotel in London and that to secure their release and a settlement of the claim in the Spanish courts he would have to forward $600. The Badger lost no time. He was in a hurry to get the fortune. A few days later he awoke and, after telegraphic correspondence with Washington, learned that he had been “buncoed.” The wires were again set in motion and the registered letter carrying the real money of the Wisconsin man was intercepted, and the sender will receive it back as soon as the red tape of the department necessary in such cases is unraveled.