Milwaukee history – a brief and somewhat disorganized bibliography

In my last post, I remarked that every decade seems to produce a new “important” work on Milwaukee, but I neglected the details. So, for the terminally curious, or those who want to know how far I’m willing to bend my dates to discern a “nearly every decade” regularity, I’ll provide my list of Milwaukee history high points.
Not only am I presenting the list, but I’ve raided two of my favorite internet resources, Google Books and the Internet Archive to link these titles to PDF files of the actual works (when I could find them).
  • 1861 The Chronicles of Milwaukee by A.C. Wheeler. Milwaukee: Jermain & Brightman Publishers. 303 pages.
  • 1871 Milwaukee by Rudolph Koss. Milwaukee: Schnellpressen-Druck des Herold. 473, [1] pages. Four plates. Text in German. Even though receiving favorable reviews in the English press and other Milwaukee histories, the work has never been translated into English.
  • 1881 History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin [Frank A. Flower]

    1881 History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from pre-historic times to the present date… edited and published by A.T. Andreas. Chicago: Western Historical Company.  1996 pages. Numerous illustrations including many engraved portraits. This book shows no author in the text or in the Library of Congress record, but is attributed to Frank A. Flower by contemporary writers, including Jerome Watrous in his 1909 Memoirs of Milwaukee County. At nearly 2000 pages, the book is massive, and has apparently not been scanned by anyone yet, since I could not find a copy on line.  An original 1881 edition will be pricey and usually repaired, as the paper was somewhat fragile, and the first and last signatures usually took quite a beating over the years.  This book was republished in a 2 volume facsimile reprint with an index added by the Milwaukee Genealogical Society (a Whippoorwill Publication), undated but probably 1981.
Not quite as regular, but still issued near the the beginning of each decade (1909+2 and 1922-1) are the following:
  • 1909 Memoirs of Milwaukee County from the earliest historical times down to the present by Jerome Watrous. Madison, Wisconsin: Western Historical Association. Volume 1, 633 pages and Volume 2, 1007 pages in its first iteration. The Milwaukee County public library holds a second version of volume 2 with 1048 pages, and a 151 page “volume deluxe” which reprints certain biographies from Volume 2.  In 1978, Mrs. Sturges W. Bailey created a 67 page Index to volumes 1 and 2 which was published by the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society.
  • 1922 History of Milwaukee, City and County edited by William George Bruce. Chicago: S.J. Clarke. Volume 1 804 pages, Volume 2 831 pages and Volume 3 893 pages. Illustrated with black and white photographs throughout, each book with its own index. William George Bruce was a Milwaukee native, publisher, and prominent local official who was active in civic life all of his adult life. He was proud of his city and took every opportunity to extol its virtues. He also wrote A Short History of Milwaukee 1936, intended to provide school children a brief but rounded history of the city.
  • 1931 History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin by John G. Gregory. Chicago: S.J. Clark. Volume 1 and 2 are sequentially numbered and Volume 3 and 4 are independenty numbered as follows: Volume 1: [i-iv], v-xx, 1-564 pages. Volume 2: [3 unpaginated pages], 565-1349 pages. Volume 3: [1-4], 5-816 pages. Volume 4: [1-4], 5-817 pages. Volume 1 contains the Table of Contents and List of Illustrations for 1 and 2. Volume 2 contains the Index for 1 and 2. Volume 3 and 4 each have their own Index and neither contains a table of contents.  Well illustrated with black and white photographs and engravings. This book is probably still in copyright, so no on-line downloads are available. Volume 1 and 2 are primarily history while volume 3 and 4 are biographies.

Pioneer History of Milwaukee in 4 volumes

Then there are the wild cards, like the James S. Buck books. Buck’s history of Milwaukee in four volumes was published over a period of nearly fifteen years. The first edition of volume I was published in 1876, followed by Volume II in 1881, Volume III in 1884, Volume IV in 1886, and finally, Volume I Revised in 1890. Volumes I and II are titled The Pioneer History of Milwaukee and cover the period from 1833 to 1841 and 1840 to 1846 respectively. Buck was in the habit of including corrections and additional information that he felt belonged in earlier volumes in the next available volume to be printed, which may account for the overlap of dates. Volumes III and IV are titled Milwaukee Under the Charter (referring to charter that established Milwaukee as a city), and cover 1847 to 1853 and 1854 to 1860 respectively. Even though the words “The Pioneer History of Milwaukee” don’t appear on the title pages of Volume III or IV, the entire set us generally referred to under that title. Buck chose to end his history on the verge of the Civil War.
  • 1876 Pioneer History of Milwaukee from the first American settlement in 1833 to 1841, with a topographical description as it appeared in a state of nature, illustrated with a map. Volume I, 1st edition. Milwaukee: Milwaukee News Company. 292, [1 errata] pages.
  • 1881 Pioneer History of Milwaukee, from 1840 to 1846, inclusive. Volume II.  Milwaukee: Symes, Swain & Co. 383 pages.
  • 1884 Milwaukee Under the Charter, from 1847 to 1853, Inclusive. Volume III. Milwaukee: Symes, Swain & Co., Printers. 506 pages. Includes tipped in tissue-paper sheet, 21.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches high, titled: Diagram of the West 1/2 block (7), Third Ward, between Michigan & Huron Streets, as it appeared in 1835-6-7-8.
  • 1886 Milwaukee Under the Charter, from 1854 to 1860, Inclusive. Volume IV. Milwaukee: Swain & Tate. 465 pages.
  • 1890 Pioneer History of Milwaukee from the first American settlement in 1833 to 1841, with a topographical description as it appeared in a state of nature, illustrated with a mapVolume I, 2nd edition. Milwaukee: Swain & Tate. 357, [1] pages. Includes tipped in Map of Milwaukee As It Appeared in 1835 & 6 by The Milwaukee Litho & Engr. Co. While in most cases, collectors prefer to acquire the first edition, in the case of Buck’s Pioneer History, the second edition of Volume I provides substantial new material, including an impassioned defense of the character of Solomon Juneau, necessitated by what the author and many contemporaries felt were aspersions cast on his early residency and character by Flower’s 1881 History of Milwaukee.
I have two final entries in my list of Milwaukee history high points:
  • 1895 History of Milwaukee from its earliest settlement to the year 1895 by Howard Louis Conard. Chicago and New York: American Biographical Publishing Co. This set, together with a third, differently sized volume, was also published under the title History of Milwaukee County from its first settlement to the year 1895 (Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Co.). Although the two volume set probably takes precedence, there is no publication date. The Preface is dated 1895, and that is the date generally cataloged. The two volume set (without the word “County” in the title) was republished by the Higgenson Book Company of Salem, Mass circa 1998. I have only been able to find Volume 1 scanned and available on line.
  • 1948 Milwaukee: The History of a City by Bayrd Still. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin. 638 pages. Though billed as a second printing, the 1965 edition of this book contains enough new material that it could easily have called itself a “revised edition.” In particular, with the exception of two maps, all of the illustrations were changed, the original Preface was replaced, and other changes were made to the text. The collector of Milwaukee histories would probably want both books if only to have all of the illustrations.
I know there are other books about Milwaukee’s history that aren’t included here. I have concentrated on those published in the first century of the city’s existence and that are mentioned in most bibliographies. I would be grateful to know of other books that belong in this fine company, whether they were published near the beginning of a decade or not!


I don’t sell all of the books I write about, but if I have any books for sale of the kind that inspired this article, they would be found here, in my History – Milwaukee and surrounds category.

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9 Responses to Milwaukee history – a brief and somewhat disorganized bibliography

  1. Trisha F says:

    Hopefully those books would still be preserved on the next coming generations. It’s still nice to see such books especially that almost everything today is seen online.

  2. Janeen says:

    Can we view flowers book online since it’s so large?

    • Alice says:

      I haven’t seen that anyone has ever scanned this book in. They might have done, but it would definitely be a project, and I never found an online copy. Sorry about that.

  3. VideoPortal says:

    The Milwaukee Bar Association was founded in 1858. It is the fourth oldest of such organizations in the United States and now has over 2,600 members.

  4. Bob Giese says:

    As usual you go above and beyound on what a book seller needs to provide. Thank you for all your work and your list of important books on Milwaukee History.

  5. Martha says:

    Thanks for this. I am writing a biography of Increase Allen Lapham, have just arrived with him in Milwaukee in 1836 and I’m developing a good list of sources–made better by your blog. If you ever hear of any copies of John G. Gregory’s SOUTHEASTERN WISCONSIN, especially volume 1, let me know. I didn’t know about the Books of Old Milwaukee list. Thanks for that too.

    • Alice says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you’ve found the blog useful. I’ll be in line to get a copy of that biography when it’s finished!

  6. Grace Bottoni says:

    I have an original History of Milwaukee 1881 book. How do I find out its worth. It is missing the hard front and back cover but all pages are accounted for. I appreciate your help. Grace

    • Alice says:

      Congratulations on owning this great book. Condition, of course, is very important in determining value. A book of this title, in the condition you describe (missing both covers) might bring from $40 to $120 on eBay. This particular title often suffered frayed and detached pages near the front and back, and the worse the pages are, the closer to the bottom of the price range it would be. I don’t actually know of any volumes (except mine) currently for sale on the internet, so there’s really no way to judge the “going rate” by looking at similar books for sale.

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