Milwaukee's first suburbs: A re-interpretation of suburban incorporation in nineteenth-century Milwaukee County

Christopher Mark Miller, Marquette University


This dissertation argues that suburban incorporation is best understood as the result of efforts made by a series of local leaders. The literature on suburbanization has heretofore presented suburbanization as a process whereby a city-centered elite moves to outlying territory, bringing the industry and residents of the city with them. Using the case study of Milwaukee County, this work argues that the creation of suburbs was a process that was undertaken by people with strong ties to their communities, and who had led these communities over a long period of time. The dissertation consists of six case studies of "Milwaukee's first suburbs" to reach this conclusion. While the conclusions are specific to Milwaukee, the interpretive scheme can be applied more generally. One significant problem with the majority of the literature on suburban history is that it cannot be directly compared to this work, because very few works have considered the question: "What came before suburban incorporation?" The examples of Bay View, Whitefish Bay, Wauwatosa, South Milwaukee, North Milwaukee, and West Allis demonstrate that there is far more continuity in suburban history than the literature has suggested. This finding is significant because it argues that Milwaukee's early suburbs were not created by individuals fleeing the city, but rather by individuals trying to shape and control the massive economic and demographic change taking place around them. It asks suburban historians to reconsider their models of urban and suburban growth. It asks urban historians to reconsider how metropolitan areas are created. Finally, it suggests that historians should understand suburbanization as a process that is parallel to--and not a result of--urbanization.

Recommended Citation

Miller, Christopher Mark, "Milwaukee's first suburbs: A re-interpretation of suburban incorporation in nineteenth-century Milwaukee County" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263804.