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What Made Milwaukee Famous?

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Baby begged me not to go so many times before
She says love and happiness can't live behind those swinging doors
Now she's gone and I'm to blame, too late I finally see
What's made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me.

The song 'What Made Milwaukee Famous?' was a hit for a number of artists including Rod Stewart and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was the song that re-launched the former rock 'n' roll pianist as a country music star.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sits on the banks of Lake Michigan. Since it was founded as a fur trading-post in 1818 it has grown to a city of over half a million inhabitants.

So what exactly is Milwaukee famous for?


The city of Milwaukee takes great stock in its summer festivals which run all the way from June to September.

Summerfest claims to be the largest music festival in the world, with one million people coming to watch a wide range of acts over a week at the end of June and beginning of July.

Other festivals include:

  • Riversplash
  • Pridefest
  • The Wisconsin State Fair
  • Lakeside Festival of Arts
  • Irish Fest
  • Indian Summer
  • Bastille Days
  • Polish Fest
  • The Great Circus Parade
  • German Fest
  • Festa Italiana
  • Arab World Fest
  • African World Festival
  • Mexican Fiesta

Milwaukee Mile

The Milwaukee Mile claims to be the oldest-operating motor-racing circuit in the world. Its first race was on 11 September, 1903, and was won by William Jones. He also took the lap record, with a 72-second lap (50mph).

Like many circuits in the United States, it is oval-shaped, in this case (as you might be able to guess), it is a mile-long oval. Until 1953 it was a dirt track, then it was paved for the 1954 season.

Because it has been in existence for more than half the duration of the country, Americans are rather fond of the circuit. It is the only track to hold races for the three major American series: NASCAR, the Indy Racing League, and the Champ Car World Series. The lap times for the IRL and Champ Car series are in the 20-second region.


Harley-Davidson is probably the most iconic motorbike brand in the world. In 1901 William Harley designed a small engine for a pedal bike and, together with his friend Arthur Davidson, started a company that is still going strong over a century later.

Throughout the years there have been countless models, but from the 1920s the majority of Harley-Davidson bikes have had the same identifiable features. They have sported a big, low-revving, air-cooled V-twin engine, connected to the fat back wheel by a belt transmission. Many models have had long, swept back handlebars.

The company is not known for technological evolution, and perhaps this is why they are so popular. When the Japanese and Italians are forcing more and more upgrades into their bikes to try and make them faster or better, many bikers turn to Harleys for an alternative.

While its iconic status as part of America's heritage may be a major reason for buying them, another is that the factory produces an almost endless supply of parts for buyers wanting to customise their bikes. Many models have iconic names, which is good because the company's model designations are a confusing string of letters which don't inspire the imagination. One 2006 model was designated the FLHTCUSE. These are some of the best-known models that Harley have produced:

  • Flathead - A model from the 1930s and 1940s. The name describes the design of the cylinder heads.
  • Knucklehead - An engine design from the 1930s and 1940s, again the name comes from the design of the cylinder heads. Likewise Panhead (1940s and 1950s) and the Shovelhead (1960s onwards)
  • Sportster - Two models that provide an entry into the world of Harley. The smaller (833cc) engined bike is the slowest and least sporty in the range. They also don't have pillion seats so they are strictly no passengers.
  • Electra Glide - A series of massive touring bikes with all kinds of accessories behind a big screen and faring. Variations on the Electra Glide include the even more loaded Ultra Glide.
  • Road King - A more laid back Glide without the big screen and bodywork.
  • Softtail - Bikes that look like they have rear suspension.
  • Fat Boy - Huge rear tyre, huge bike, swept back handlebars. Doesn't turn very well but looks cool.
  • V-Rod - The V-Rod series are Harley's attempts to join the late 20th Century. Released in 2002, it featured an all-new liquid-cooled V-Twin engine that made well over a hundred BHP. To top it all, it could turn corners as well. The V-Rod range has expanded to include the Night Rod and the Street Rod.

Behind companies like McDonalds and Microsoft, Milwaukee's Harley-Davidson is one of America's most famous and recognisable brands.

Happy Days

Happy Days was one of the longest running US sitcoms of all time. It was set in the Milwaukee of the 1950s. The show was centred around the Cunninghams: a respectable, middle-class, all-American family. Howard was a shop-owner and member of the local lodge. Marion, his wife was a mildly-eccentric housewife and mother. There were three kids named Chuck, Richie and Joanie. During the second season Chuck vanished and was never spoken of again.

Much of the series focused on the slightly-nerdy Richie, played by future award-winning director Ron Howard, and his friends Ralph and Potsie. The undoubted star of the show was Arthur Fonzarelli AKA 'The Fonz' (Henry Winkler), a mechanic who was possibly the coolest character ever to grace the small screen. He rode a Triumph Bonneville motorbike, which was rather surprising in the home of America's largest bike manufacturers. His cousin Chachi arrived in the fourth season and became infatuated with Joanie.

As the seasons went on some of the show's main stars left, including Ron Howard. New characters came in, such as Marion's nephew Roger, but the show had lost its way. Fans say that the moment they knew the writers were out of ideas and the show was heading downhill was when 'The Fonz' jumped over a shark tank on water skis. The phrase 'Jumping the Shark' has become part of popular culture, a 'Jumping the Shark moment' is when a show starts losing the plot. The phrase was popularised by the website of the same name.

The show, which lasted for ten years, owed its success to its emphasis on strong family values and the sense of nostalgia that it generated. It launched the careers of quite a few people including Robin Williams and Suzy Quatro. Happy Days spawned four spin-offs: Blansky's Beauties, Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley and Joanie Loves Chachi. It also had its own cartoon series, based loosely on Scooby-Doo, let's speak of that no more.

Happy Days is instantly recognisable to multiple generations on both sides of the Atlantic. The band Weezer, also from Wisconsin, superimposed themselves into the show for their video for 'Buddy Holly'. Citro├źn had the same idea when they used the show's footage and theme song for a car commercial.


If you really want to look at what made Milwaukee famous, you have to head towards the chiller cabinet and pull out a cold one. At one time, the city's four big breweries: Blatz, Pabst, Schlitz and Miller Brewing Companies, were in the world's top ten beer manufactures. Milwaukee was the world's beer capital.

Various factors have been suggested for the reason why the city's beer makers were more successful than any other cities. It had a plentiful supply of ice from the lakes and wood from the forests, but these are not enough to justify its huge grip on the industry. The more accepted theory is that, like many other mid-west cities, it had a thriving local industry, but because it had a smaller population the brewers had no choice but to turn to the national market. Together with a lot of good marketing men, they created four major national brands.

It was the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company that came up with the slogan 'The beer that made Milwaukee Famous'. In the 21st Century, only Miller survives, selling beer across the world.

It's late and she's waiting and I know I should go home
But every time I start to leave they play another song
Then someone buys another round and wherever drinks are free
What's made Milwaukee famous has made a fool out of me.

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