Milwaukee: A City Built on Water

By John Gurda

Hardcover: $28.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-865-2

244 pages, 5 maps 7 x 9


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Paddle through the watery history of the Midwest's Cream City.

The success and survival of Milwaukee lies in the rivers that meander through its streets and the great lake at its shore. The area's earliest inhabitants recognized the value of an abundant, clean water supply for food and transportation. Settlers, shipbuilders, and city leaders used the same waters to travel greater distances, power million-dollar industries, and even have a bit of fun.

In Milwaukee: A City Built on Water, celebrated historian John Gurda expands on his popular Milwaukee Public Television documentary, relating the mucky history of the waters that gave Milwaukee life--and occasionally threatened the city through erosion, invasive species, and water-borne diseases.

Telling tales of brewers, brickmakers, ecologists, and engineers, Gurda explores the city's complicated connection with its most precious resource and greatest challenge. You'll meet the generations of people, from a Potawatomi chief to fur traders and fishermen, who settled on the small spit of land known as Jones Island; learn how Milwaukee's unique water composition creates its distinct cream-colored bricks; visit Wisconsin's first waterparks; and see how city leaders transformed the Milwaukee River--once described as a "vast sewer" with an "odorous tide"--into today's lively and lovely Riverwalk.

The book features historical images and the contemporary photography of Christopher Winters.

Milwaukee: A City Built on Water is Gurda's second history book published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Find his first, Cream City Chronicles, here. Also, find more Gurda history, published by the Milwaukee County Historical Society and now distributed through the Society Press, in our new fall 2018 catalog!

John Gurda is a Milwaukee-born writer and historian who has been studying his hometown since 1972. He is the author of twenty-one books, including histories of Milwaukee-area neighborhoods, churches, and industries. He is also a photographer, lecturer, and local history columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gurda is an eight-time winner of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Award of Merit. The common thread in all his work is understanding history as "why things are the way they are."

Gurda wrote, co-produced, and hosted Milwaukee: A City Built on Water, a one-hour documentary broadcast on Milwaukee Public Television in 2015.