How well do you know Milwaukee?

No matter how much or how little, we hope you’ll learn something new here with a Milwaukee Trivia series from First Weber’s North Shore Office.

For the next 7 weeks members of the North Shore Office will be testing their wits
on the Who’s Who and the What’s What of Milwaukee’s history. Each week they’ll be closing their Tuesday meeting by answering a few trivia questions for the opportunity to earn some points for their team.

So now it’s your turn. How well do you know Milwaukee?  Read the question below and try to come up with the answer before you continue reading. Make sure to check back weekly for more Milwaukee trivia, and see if you can make the grade ! 
Good Luck…


Question: What harbor improvement completed in 1857 helped Milwaukee become one of the Great Lake’s main ports?


Answer: The “Straight Cut”

Due to Milwaukee’s rapid increase in grain shipping in the mid 1840’s, the original piers located south of “Jones Island” (which at that time was actually a peninsula that stretched southward and not an island at all) were becoming overused, unsafe and unsuited for it’s bulk shipment deliveries, and passengers.  Schooners and steamships were moving north up to the Milwaukee River where the opening was safe.  Indirectly, this move created additional development on the northern side of the harbor which is now Downtown Milwaukee.

Because of this action, the idea of breaching the peninsula at its narrowest point was born. Not only would it shorten the travels for the ship captains, it would also move ”the city’s front door considerably closer to its business district.” Although the “straight cut” came with obvious benefits, it also came along with protest and resistance.  The South Side and Walker’s Point area was an established port and already considered themselves the “city’s front door”.  When Milwaukee was approved to tax its citizens for the straight cut, one South Side assemblyman resigned in protest.

By 1848, Byron Kilbourn, during his first term as Milwaukee’s mayor, was frustrated with the lack of support from Congress for funds and decided to take matters in his own hands when he dug a ditch across the sandbar – hoping that the crude cut would invite nature to naturally carve out a new inlet. Instead, nature ran its course and obliterated the opening in its next storm.

Finally in 1854, with no federal support and heartfelt objections of South Side aldermen, the city of Milwaukee hired private contractors to finish the job. Milwaukee in the end invested nearly $450,000 in the project with an additional $84,000 from the federal government. In 1857, the straight cut was completed and Milwaukee had its Harbor. The Sentinel declared it “the safest, most accessible and roomiest Harbor on all these inland seas”


Congratulations to this weeks winners, Deeken’s Beacons and the Flying Franks for their, edge of the seat, nail biting Tie !!

Dana Witkowski, First Weber North Shore

Information adapted from The Making of Milwaukee, written by John Gurda. 

Creative Commons Milwaukee Harbor photo credit

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