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Odd Wisconsin Archive

"1929 Favorable for Milwaukee"

That was the headline atop the final section of Industrial Milwaukee, an annual review of business trends and statistics about Wisconsin's largest city that ran from 1919 to 1929. The anonymous writer went on,

"Industry still has its ups and downs and good years will still be followed by years not so good. In the aggregate, 1929 was a high year for Milwaukee industry. A few lines made phenomenal records. Next year the showing may not be quite as outstanding. The record shows, however, that industrial Milwaukee is going ahead at a rate greater than the average for the whole country. The steady growth of the past may be slowed up by a few months of business recession, but recessions have happened before and after each one there comes a period of renewed growth."

The author had no way of knowing that what he termed elsewhere, "the recession in business which began to be felt early in the fall," was, in fact, the greatest crisis that modern capitalism would face.

Industrial Milwaukee gives the best short account of the city at its zenith. It details in statistical tables and concise prose how banking and all the major industries performed year-to-year during the Roaring Twenties. These dry facts were contained behind fabulous full-color covers which reflected changing trends in graphic design, from lingering Art Nouveau touches in this woman weaving to a bold and stark modernism in this abstract skyscraper. The factory as an ambiguous symbol of progress is captured perfectly on the 1920 cover and the idealized proletarian in the 1921 image.

Alas, by the time the words quoted above were written, the die had been cast. Milwaukee's economy soon plunged into chaos along with the rest of the nation's, and it would be more than a decade before such optimism would be voiced again by the captains of industry.

View pictures of Milwaukee in the 1920s at Wisconsin Historical Images, and read original documents about Wisconsin during the Depression at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

:: Posted in Curiosities on April 13, 2008

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