Milwaukee Riverwalk

Demographics

Who Are We?

For starters, we're very friendly. In fact, we were named one of America's friendliest cities in 2017 by Travel & Leisure magazine. We're down-to-earth, hard-working and like to have fun. We're also an ethnic melting pot that celebrates our heritage every summer in a series of lakefront festivals, including German FestIrish FestIndian SummerPolish Fest and Festa Italiana. Though most Milwaukeeans are American by birth, they are proud of their cultural heritage. Thirty-eight percent of Milwaukee residents report having some German ancestry. Other ethnic groups include: African (15 percent), Polish (13 percent), Hispanic (11 percent), Irish (10 percent), English (5 percent), French (4 percent), Italian (4 percent), Asian and Pacific Islander (4 percent), and Native American(1 percent). Racine has a rich ethnic heritage of its own. It was home to the largest Danish settlement in the world outside of Denmark and continues to have a strong Danish community.

We are also a tolerant community. Milwaukee is home to a large and active LGBTQ community that offers support resources and sponsors film festivals and social activities, including PrideFest Milwaukee, an annual three-day celebration held on Milwaukee's lakefront.

Ideal for All Ages & Stages

The Milwaukee Region is an ideal place to start a career, raise a family or enjoy the freedom retirement brings

For the Young

An energetic, but walkable downtown teeming with new apartments, condominiums and restaurants has made Milwaukee a choice destination for young professionals. The city offers affordable housing, professional sports teams, rich cultural offerings, a vibrant music scene (including Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival), and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors (including miles of beaches and a lakefront state park within walking distance of the downtown). The city’s low unemployment rate, its rapidly developing technology clusters, and its premier colleges and universities make it a perfect place to start or grow a career.  

For Families

Excellent schools, a wide variety of safe communities and plenty of kid-friendly activities make Milwaukee a wonderful place to raise a family. In addition to having one of the nation’s largest park systems, the Milwaukee Region has several attractions devoted exclusively to kids (and those who are kids at heart) – The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, the Discovery World + Technology Center and the Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens. Wisconsin public schools consistently rank among the best in the nation and the area offers a variety of religious and private schools as well.   

For Retirees

Given its cold winters, Milwaukee scores surprisingly high as a preferred destination for retirees. One reason is the affordable cost of living. Home prices won’t consume your life savings, dining out is not expensive, and you can even take college classes for free within the University of Wisconsin system (the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, the second-largest in the state, is located just north of downtown Milwaukee). Then, of course, there are all of the outdoor activities – the golf, the tennis courts, the hiking trails, miles of beaches, the symphony, and the opera. The list is endless. And who says you can’t enjoy the winter? You may not be up for the polar-bear plunge, but how about cross-country skiing?

Our History (Short Version)

Native Americans were the first to realize the beauty of Milwaukee's location at the mouths of the Kinnickinnic, Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers. They called it "Milwaukie," which means "where the waters meet." Its natural harbor and lightly wooded bluffs made it a perfect location. By 1817, Milwaukee was already a cosmopolitan village with an estimated 300 people representing a variety of tribes, including the SacFoxChippewaOttawaWinnebagoMenomonee and Potawatomi. They speared fish in the three rivers and grew wild rice in the grassy swamps where Milwaukee's downtown now stands.

One of the first known Europeans to visit the area was Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette, who camped here in 1674. He was soon followed by fur trappers drawn to the area by its wealth of natural resources. Indians and fur trappers kept a cautious distance from each other, but from time to time Native Americans helped fight white men's wars, most notably the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Germans were among the city's first immigrants, and they soon dominated the city. By 1850, one-third of the city's population was German and by the early 1900s, the city was referred to as the "German Athens of America." The city's South Side Polish population was the second largest ethnic group. 

Milwaukee's first African-American church dates back to 1869, but the city's African-American community did not start growing rapidly until after World War I. The first Hispanics arrived in the early 1920s, when local tanneries recruited men from Mexican villages. Milwaukee's economy grew rapidly between 1940 and 1980, and its metropolitan population increased 59 percent, to 1.4 million people.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Milwaukee was one of the leading manufacturing cities in the country. Allis-ChalmersHarnischfegerBriggs & Stratton, Harley-DavidsonA.O. SmithAllen-Bradley and Bucyrus-Erie had made the city famous. The local economy's dependence on manufacturing jobs left it vulnerable to the manufacturing recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when tens of thousands of people lost their jobs as factories closed or moved their operations out of the state.

Since then, Milwaukee has rebuilt its economy, this time with a diversified base and an increased emphasis on exports. It has also become a leader in the development of e-commerce and green technologies. This shift to service-based industries has offered some protection against severe swings in manufacturing cycles. The area's annual unemployment rate has typically outperformed the national average for 20 years. For more information about our next-generation economy, please see Career Opportunities, which starts on page 20, or contact the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (www.mmac.org) and request a copy of the latest Navigate Business MKE. If you're looking for more detailed information about the region's colorful history, visit themakingofmilwaukee.com, which features video history segments assembled by noted historian John Gurda or explore the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee digital humanities project at emke.uwm.edu.