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Business History

Milwaukee Public Library offers many resources for researching historic businesses in the Milwaukee area.

The Humanities Department of the Milwaukee Public Library contains books, magazines, pamphlets, manuscripts and historic photos that can be used in researching the history of a Wisconsin business. The majority of these materials deal with Milwaukee firms.


Explore CountyCat to search for books on the history of specific industries and individual companies. Examples include Badger Breweries: Past and Present, 663.42 K93, and Northwestern Mutual Life: A Century of Trusteeship, 368.W729.


City Directories
Look for the business by name in Milwaukee city directories to determine what years it was in operation, where it was located, and who the proprietor or major operating officers were.

Wisconsin State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 917.75 W81
Use this business directory to explore Wisconsin business listings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Milwaukee Business History Index
The Milwaukee Business History Index lists references to businesses by name in selected books about Milwaukee business history.

Historic Annual Business Reports Index
Indexes the Wisconsin Historic Annual Reports collection, available in the Business and Technology Department at Central Library. The collection includes many mid- to late-20th century publicly traded companies, with an emphasis on Wisconsin-based companies or national firms with subsidiaries in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Corporations (Businesses and Non-Profits) indexes
Online Indexes to incorporation papers and charter documents held at Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison for Domestic Corporations (1848-1945) and Non-Stock Corporations (1889-2001)

Other Collections

Historic Newspapers
Consult this guide to historic newspaper resources at Milwaukee Public Library to identify ways to look for the business or industry in news articles during the relevant time period(s). (See especially the Milwaukee Sentinel Index, 1837-1890, and the 19th Century U.S. Newspapers database for 19th-century businesses and the Milwaukee History Clipping Index for 20th-century businesses.)

Historic Photo Archives
See especially the Historic Photo Collection Index headings under "Business & Industry" and "Occupations & Trades." A more detailed index is available in print form in the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Room at Central Library.

Local History Manuscript Collections
The Local History Manuscript Collections contain manuscripts, diaries, correspondence and other primary source material that focus on life and events in the City of Milwaukee, including some from local businesses.

Local History Pamphlet File
MPL has a wide-ranging collection of pamphlets, brochures and other ephemera from throughout Milwaukee’s history. This index presents the subject headings covered in the Local History Pamphlet File.