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What Milwaukee looked like in the 1880s Through these Stunning Historical Photos

Milwaukee’s rapid industrialization following the Civil War had positive and negative effects. Despite working harder and for longer hours, people received little pay. There was a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

Most industries, including iron mills, meatpacking plants, and others, had poor working conditions and low wages. During the 1880s, the lowest-paid workers worked ten-hour days, six days a week, for $1.25. Milwaukee had a small labor movement before 1865, but the labor movement took off after the war when the Knights of Labor union began heavily organizing in the area. Union membership was half the city’s blue-collar workforce in 1886. At the time, the union’s main concern was the eight-hour workday. Milwaukee’s employers generally refused to reduce their workday at the same wage. The city was closed down in May due to strikes and lockouts. One thousand strikers marched on the Milwaukee Iron Company on May 4 to shut it down. To protect the mill, Governor Jeremiah Rusk called out the local militia. During a strike in Milwaukee in May of 1886, state-sponsored militia shots killed striking workers. Workers condemned the action throughout the city, many of whom belonged to a national labor union, the Knights of Labor. This movement led to the formation of the People’s Party of Wisconsin. Socialists in the city reluctantly joined forces with the People’s Party. In the 1886 elections, the Party won many seats, including one in Congress. After the Socialists left the Party, the Democrats and Republicans joined forces against the People’s Party. Over the next few years, the Party disintegrated.

These stunning photos will take you back to the 1880s in Milwaukee. Also check, Milwaukee in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1890s.
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#1 National Soldiers’ Home. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1887

National Soldiers' Home. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1887

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#2 Forest Home Avenue. This hotel was situated on what was originally a plank road between Milwaukee and Muskego, 1880

Forest Home Avenue. This hotel was situated on what was originally a plank road between Milwaukee and Muskego, 1880

It was designed after the Federal style by the architect John Francis Rague and erected in 1849 for John Layton and his son Frederick. The hotel was operated by Victor Schuette between about 1875-1885. Five men with horses and carriages stand outside the building.

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#3 Independent Hose Company Number Three, at the Northside Engine House on Milwaukee (Seventh) Avenue, 1887

Independent Hose Company Number Three, at the Northside Engine House on Milwaukee (Seventh) Avenue, 1887

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#4 Newhall House, 1880

Newhall House, 1880

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#5 Gettelman Brewery, 1880

Gettelman Brewery, 1880

The brewery was built by George Schweickhart after he came to the city in 1856. He purchased three acres of land on the then Watertown Plank road, now just off the present State Street, and built the first structure.

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#6 Kleinsteuber Machine Shop, 1880

Kleinsteuber Machine Shop, 1880

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#7 Front of music hall along the road, with a horse and carriage team in front of the entrance, 1880

Front of music hall along the road, with a horse and carriage team in front of the entrance, 1880

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#8 P.H. Best Brewing Company, 1880

P.H. Best Brewing Company, 1880

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#9 The Plankinton House is in the near foreground across the street, 1880

The Plankinton House is in the near foreground across the street, 1880

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#10 Elevated view of corner of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Streets, 1880

Elevated view of corner of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Streets, 1880

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#11 St. James Church, 1880

St. James Church, 1880

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#12 Chamber of Commerce at Broad and Michigan Streets, 1885

Chamber of Commerce at Broad and Michigan Streets, 1885

The building is the center of the image, with a telephone pole to the right, a large fence in front of the building, and a cart next to a street.

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#13 General Labor Strike at Allis Reliance Works, 1886

General Labor Strike at Allis Reliance Works, 1886

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#14 Corner of 706 North Jefferson Street; from a booklet of collotype views published by the photographer, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1889.

Corner of 706 North Jefferson Street; from a booklet of collotype views published by the photographer, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1889.

The building has a turret with a rounded roof. At the street corner a man is standing by a water cart pulled by horses, while pedestrians stand nearby.

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#15 Exterior of Schlitz Brewing Company with two men and a boy in suits and hats in the foreground, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1888.

Exterior of Schlitz Brewing Company with two men and a boy in suits and hats in the foreground, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1888.

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#16 A parade for President Grover Cleveland’s Milwaukee visit during his Goodwill Tour, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 1887.

A parade for President Grover Cleveland's Milwaukee visit during his Goodwill Tour, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 1887.

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#17 Gottfredsen and Son Brewery, 1880

Gottfredsen and Son Brewery, 1880

The location is on Milwaukee Avenue at Middle Street. The driver of the one-horse wagon is Conrad Hansis and the driver of the two-horse wagon is John Kriegsman. Jacob G. Gottfredsen was born in Denmark in 1821 and located in Kenosha in 1846. He started a brewery in 1858 which was run in his own name until 1877, when he admitted his son to the partnership. In 1890 they leased their buildings to the E. Grieshach Brewing Company of which Frederick J. Gottfredsen was president.

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#18 Green Mountain House, 1881

Green Mountain House, 1881

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#19 Milwaukee and Main Street, 1882

Milwaukee and Main Street, 1882

W. Milwaukee St. taken from the Milwaukee St. bridge showing unpaved streets, horses and buggies; Sea Side Oyster House; W. C. Holmes, Merchant, Tailor; John Griffiths' Hardware; ads for King's Book Store and News Depot, and the Daily Recorder.

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#20 Hawks Inn, Delafield, 1884

Hawks Inn, Delafield, 1884

The Greek Revival building has two-stories. The windows are shuttered. Four-sided columns support the second floor porch. Three men can be seen on the porch. The inn was originally located on Genesee Street has been moved to Wells Street in Delafield.

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#21 Crowds fill a Milwaukee street as a band plays at a Sängerfest competition, 1886

Crowds fill a Milwaukee street as a band plays at a Sängerfest competition, 1886

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#22 A brass band plays in a boxed-off area outdoors, while crowds gather around at a Sängerfest competition, 1886

A brass band plays in a boxed-off area outdoors, while crowds gather around at a Sängerfest competition, 1886

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#23 UW Football Team, 1889

UW Football Team, 1889

The Football Team 1889. (Back) Longenman, Sheldon, Clark, Sumner, Ackert, Brumder, McNaught. (Seated) Soope, Brooks, Kerr, Capt. Mayers, Prail, Bruce. (Front) Blackburn.

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#24 The first Post Office established in Somers Township was in (Pike) the George Willis Tavern, which by 1934 was the Elmer Maxwell home, 1880s

The first Post Office established in Somers Township was in (Pike) the George Willis Tavern, which by 1934 was the Elmer Maxwell home, 1880s

This office also served Southport until 1840. It was located on Green Bay Road and 60th Street. "Uncle Billy Smith" carried the mail by horse over the Green Bay Trail from Southport to Milwaukee.

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#25 Iron Brigade Reunion, 1880

Iron Brigade Reunion, 1880

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#26 Dane Place, 1880

Dane Place, 1880

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#27 West Water Street seen from Grand Avenue, 1880

West Water Street seen from Grand Avenue, 1880

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#28 Brumder Building, 1880

Brumder Building, 1880

Brumder and his family lived on the second floor. As noted in the caption, George Brumder is pictured at right in the doorway at ground level. His wife, Henriette, is standing at left at the top of the stairway on the side of the building. Two signboards are standing on the wooden sidewalk near the corner. A sign along the top of the building reads: Germania Commercial, Book, and Job Printing. There is a small carriage at lower right.

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#29 Elevated group portrait of the veterans of the First Wisconsin Calvary, 1880s

Elevated group portrait of the veterans of the First Wisconsin Calvary, 1880s

They are standing in rows in the street. Horses with wagons are behind them, and a crowd is on the sidewalk in front of storefronts decorated with bunting and flags.

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#30 Elevated View with St. Mary’s Convent, 1881

Elevated View with St. Mary's Convent, 1881

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#31 National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1881

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1881

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#32 Newhall House Rotunda, 1881

Newhall House Rotunda, 1881

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#33 Red Star Yeast & Products Co., 1882

Red Star Yeast & Products Co., 1882

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#34 Women switchboard operators at the sole Milwaukee telephone exchange, 1883

Women switchboard operators at the sole Milwaukee telephone exchange, 1883

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#35 Telephone Building on Broadway Street, 1883

Telephone Building on Broadway Street, 1883

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#36 Matthias Stein Residence, 1884

Matthias Stein Residence, 1884

Subheading states the center building to be the oldest house in Milwaukee, and built by Matthias Stein in January 1838. The home is only two stories tall, with taller buildings on each side separated by fenced alleyways.

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#37 Milwaukee Railroad Employees, 1884

Milwaukee Railroad Employees, 1884

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#38 Dr. Hanson’s Thermo Water Cure in Milwuakee, 1885

Dr. Hanson's Thermo Water Cure in Milwuakee, 1885

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#39 Union Depot, 1885

Union Depot, 1885

This depot served the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, the Wisconsin Central, and the Milwaukee Northern Railways. The depot is on the left, and the downtown is in the far distance.

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#40 Several men pose with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway engine #87, built by Schenectady Locomotive Works, 1885. This image was taken near Cherry Street.

Several men pose with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway engine #87, built by Schenectady Locomotive Works, 1885. This image was taken near Cherry Street.

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#41 Milwaukee County Court House, 1885

Milwaukee County Court House, 1885

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#42 River looking north from the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge, 1885

River looking north from the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge, 1885

A pier with a small building and poster boards extends into the water from the bottom of the image. Signs for Callahan's Billiard Hall, Van Houtten's Cocoa, Singer sewing machines, and a theatre are on buildings on the left side of the river.

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#43 Willms Christmas Tree Stand, 1885

Willms Christmas Tree Stand, 1885

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#44 Studio of Panorama Artist, 1885

Studio of Panorama Artist, 1885

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#45 Milwaukee Panorama Artists with Panorama, 1886

Milwaukee Panorama Artists with Panorama, 1886

Group portrait of a group of German panorama painters on a scaffolding in their Milwaukee studio, with The Atlanta Cyclorama as a backdrop. Included in the group are, standing from the top left: Franz Bilberstein (landscapes), August Lohr (supervisor and designer of landscape settings), Herman Michalowski (figures), Feodor von Luerzer (landscapes), Franz Rohrbeck with flag (figures, especially Confederates), Theodor Breidwiser (figures), Johannes Schulz (seated) (figures), and Otto Dinger at the top right (figures). In front of them from the left with large moustache, Albert Richter (figures), Gustav Wendling (figures), Bernhard Schneider (landscapes), Bernhard (Wilhelm?) Schroeder (Schroeter?) (landscapes), and Paul Wilhelmi (figures).

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#46 Early P&H Machine Shop, 1886

Early P&H Machine Shop, 1886

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#47 Allis Reliance Works, 1886

Allis Reliance Works, 1886

Lumber yard with boxcars and factory buildings in the back. Made while factory was under protection of the State Militia during the first general labor strike in Milwaukee.

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#48 Schlitz Palm Garden, 1886

Schlitz Palm Garden, 1886

The east side of the Schlitz Palm Garden at N. 3rd Street, south of W. Wisconsin Avenue. The Schlitz Palm Garden opened on July 3, 1886 and was one of the most popular and opulent in Milwaukee.

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#49 General office of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Company in the Mitchell Building in Milwaukee, 1887

General office of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Company in the Mitchell Building in Milwaukee, 1887

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#50 Lemuel Hull House, 1887

Lemuel Hull House, 1887

Built in 1840 by Lemuel Hull. William Singer was the mason. The basement was made by lowering the hill. There were originally only two stories. First and second levels have a columned porch. A series of four windows line the facade of the top two floors, while the ground level has only two windows and a shuttered door.

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#51 Byron Kilbourn House, 1887

Byron Kilbourn House, 1887

Northwest corner of Grand Avenue and 4th Street. Built in 1854 at a cost of $18,000. The storefronts were added in 1868; the building razed in 1886.

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#52 National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1887. View out of entrance to the National Soldiers Home. Fountain and trees framed by arch with hanging lamp.

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1887. View out of entrance to the National Soldiers Home. Fountain and trees framed by arch with hanging lamp.

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#53 Milwaukee Panorama Artists, 1887

Milwaukee Panorama Artists, 1887

Group portrait of German painters relaxing in the studio of the American Panorama Company, during a break from painting the Jerusalem cyclorama depicting the crucifixion of Christ.

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#54 Pond at Bracken Brae, Country Home of John Johnston, 1888

Pond at Bracken Brae, Country Home of John Johnston, 1888

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#55 Layton Art Gallery, 1888

Layton Art Gallery, 1888

View across street towards the facade of the original Layton Art Gallery building at 758 N. Jefferson Street. Two men stand at the top of the stairs between the columns framing the entrance.

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#56 Chicago & North Western Railway viaduct on the line along the Milwaukee River, 1889

Chicago & North Western Railway viaduct on the line along the Milwaukee River, 1889

The viaduct has two arched passages, and stones and rocks lining the path for the water. Two men stand near the viaduct. One man has a camera and is facing the stonework, the other man is looking out at the viewer. Beyond the viaduct is more water and a grassy area with trees; low shrub and plant life are in the foreground.

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#57 Court House Square, 1889

Court House Square, 1889

Fountain in center, with trees along the border of the small square. A man sits on a bench and children are on the left. The courthouse is visible in the background.

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#58 Mason Street, 1889

Mason Street, 1889

Looking down street toward Lake Michigan, which is visible at the end of the road. The dirt street is lined with trees and houses. On the right stands a man in a hat with a little girl on the sidewalk.

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#59 Formal outdoor group portrait of the 29th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 1889.

Formal outdoor group portrait of the 29th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 1889.

They are posing while lined up on the front steps of the Milwaukee Armory building. Two American flags are wrapped around the columns and one flag is being held by a soldier. Many soldiers have canes and one soldier is in a wheelchair.

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#60 Ninth Street and Grand Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1889.

Ninth Street and Grand Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1889.

House sits behind trees and a lawn. The main house is in the center, and a greenhouse, with a domes roof, branches off the house to the left.

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#61 External view of National Soldiers’ Home with cannon in foreground, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 19, 1887.

External view of National Soldiers' Home with cannon in foreground, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 19, 1887.

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#62 Firefighters stand with steam fire engine in front of fire station at National Soldiers Home, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 19, 1887.

Firefighters stand with steam fire engine in front of fire station at National Soldiers Home, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 19, 1887.

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#63 Group portrait outdoors of the Veterans of Company I, 29th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry at a Grand Army of the Republic reunion, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1887.

Group portrait outdoors of the Veterans of Company I, 29th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry at a Grand Army of the Republic reunion, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1887.

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#64 National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1887.

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1887.

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#65 Exterior view of the old Court House with park in front of it, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

Exterior view of the old Court House with park in front of it, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

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#66 Farmer’s market with horse-drawn vehicles and a man leading a bull, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

Farmer's market with horse-drawn vehicles and a man leading a bull, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

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#67 German Market on the right side of the street in the distance, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

German Market on the right side of the street in the distance, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

Two horse-drawn vehicles in the foreground are heading toward the market. Pedestrians walk on the wooden sidewalk on the left side of the street.

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#68 Elevated view down East Water Street from Wisconsin Avenue, with buildings, people, and street traffic including horse-drawn vehicles and a horse-drawn streetcar, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

Elevated view down East Water Street from Wisconsin Avenue, with buildings, people, and street traffic including horse-drawn vehicles and a horse-drawn streetcar, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

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#69 View along Van Buren Street, looking north from Mason Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

View along Van Buren Street, looking north from Mason Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

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#70 Elevated view of West Water Street from Grand Avenue of horse-drawn vehicles, pedestrians, buildings, storefronts and power lines, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

Elevated view of West Water Street from Grand Avenue of horse-drawn vehicles, pedestrians, buildings, storefronts and power lines, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

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#71 View looking up Grand Avenue from 9th Street toward two horse-drawn wagons and a horse-drawn streetcar on tree-lined street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

View looking up Grand Avenue from 9th Street toward two horse-drawn wagons and a horse-drawn streetcar on tree-lined street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

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#72 Elevated view of buildings and street traffic, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

Elevated view of buildings and street traffic, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1885.

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#73 Up East Water St. from the Kirby House, 1889

Up East Water St. from the Kirby House, 1889

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#74 Albumen print, stereo, no. 934 from the series ‘Milwaukee and Vicinity, 1889

Albumen print, stereo, no. 934 from the series 'Milwaukee and Vicinity, 1889

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#75 From Dome of Exposition Building, looking South, 1880s.

From Dome of Exposition Building, looking South, 1880s.

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#76 Down East Water St. From The Kirby House, 1880s

Down East Water St. From The Kirby House, 1880s

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#77 Circus in Town, corner West Water and Grand Avenue, 1880s

Circus in Town, corner West Water and Grand Avenue, 1880s

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#78 A group of Civil War veterans and their families pose in front of the Milwaukee armory building at the reunion of The Iron Brigade, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 1887.

A group of Civil War veterans and their families pose in front of the Milwaukee armory building at the reunion of The Iron Brigade, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 1887.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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