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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Oak Creek [brief history]

Definition: Oak Creek is located south of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee County. The area was populated by the Potawatomi and Menominee Indians until the mid 1830s, when the US government forced them off their land.

Like many of Milwaukee’s suburbs at the time, Oak Creek was mainly an agricultural center with many farms spread across the area. The railroad connecting Milwaukee and Chicago began running in 1855 and brought much commerce to the emerging village.

Besides farming, major local businesses included the United States Glue Company, American Tar Products, and the Lake Side Distillery. When the dairy industry began to dominate the state’s agriculture, many creameries and cheese houses were built as well.

In 1956, General Motor’s AC Spark Plug was built in town. NASA selected the plant to participate in America’s space program for the guidance and navigation systems onboard the Apollo aircrafts in 1962. Today, the company is not affiliated with GM, but is known as the Delphi Engine and Energy Management Systems.

Popular NFL star John “The Tooz” Matuszak (1950-1989) was a longtime resident of Oak Creek before being drafted as the number one overall pick in the 1973 NFL draft.  After his football career ended, he could frequently be seen in popular movies and television shows.

Unfortunately, Oak Creek also lays claim to tragedy. On September 6, 1985, 31 people lost their lives as a Midwest Airlines jetliner crashed into a nature preserve shortly after takeoff.

[Source: WHS Library-Archives staff, 2009]

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