Milwaukee Public Museum

Milwaukee Public Museum
Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) is a natural and human history museum located in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. The museum was chartered in 1882 and opened to the public in 1884; it is a not-for-profit organization operated by the Milwaukee Public Museum, Inc.[1] MPM has three floors of exhibits and the first IMAX Theater in Wisconsin. Admission is free to residents of Milwaukee County on Mondays and to Milwaukee County jurors at all times. The current museum president is Jay Williams. The museum hosts about one million visitors each year.



The German-English Academy

MPM was among a half-a-dozen major American museums that were established in the late nineteenth century. Although it was officially chartered in 1882, its existence reaches back to 1851, to the founding of the German-English Academy in Milwaukee.[2] The Academy's principal, Peter Engelmann encouraged student field trips, many of which collected various specimens—organic, geological and archaeological in nature—which were kept at the Academy. Later, alumni and others donated various specimens of historical and ethnological interest to the collection.

By 1857, interest in the Academy's collection had grown to such an extent that Englemann organized a natural history society to manage and expand the collection. Eventually, the collection, which had come to be informally called "The Museum", grew to exceed the Academy's ability to accommodate it. August Stirn, a city alderman and member of the national history society, obtained legislation from the state legislature for the City of Milwaukee to accept the collection and take the measures necessary to establish "a free public museum".[2]

Early years

First floor lobby

The newly-formed Board of Trustees hired Carl Doerflinger to be the museum's first director and rented space to place its exhibits. The Milwaukee Public Museum opened to the public on May 24, 1884. Doerflinger placed emphasis on using MPM's exhibits for study and research as well as for public education, until he resigned in 1888. He also urged the city to purchase land on which a building could be constructed to house both the museum and the Milwaukee Public Library; the new building was completed in 1898.[2]

In 1890, Carl Akeley, a taxidermist and biologist noted as the "father of modern taxidermy" completed the first complete museum habitat diorama in the world, depicting a muskrat colony.

Henry L. Ward, hired as MPM's fourth director in 1902; previously, the museum had focused solely on the natural sciences: this was changed when Ward began the creation of a History Museum.[2] To further this goal, Samuel A. Barrett, the recipient of the first doctorate in anthropology awarded by the University of California, to head an anthropology-history department.

Barrett later succeeded Ward and led the museum through the Great Depression of the 1930s. Barrett made use of the Works Progress Administration and other New Deal programs to keep the museum running and to create employment beyond the previous basic staff.

Modern history

Construction on the building currently housing MPM was begun in 1960 and completed in 1962. The new site was a block north of the old Museum-Library building, which continued to house exhibits until 1966.[2]

After a controversy over new admittance fees imposed on non-city resident visitors led to the jurisdiction of the museum to be transferred away from the City of Milwaukee and to Milwaukee County.

In 2006, charges were filed against former museum chief financial officer Terry Gaouette, following the revelation that the museum was several million dollars in the red, a fact that allegedly had been hidden for years via illegal money transfers.[3] Gaouette pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of falsifying a financial report [4], and his CPA license was restored in 2010.


The Milwaukee Public Museum houses both permanent and traveling exhibits.

Permanent exhibits

Streets of Old Milwaukee

The first major exhibit in the current Museum to be completed was "Streets of Old Milwaukee", which opened in January 1965. It is one of the more popular exhibits in MPM, and it is estimated that several million people have visited it since its completion.[5]

Currently, MPM holds seventeen permanent exhibits:[6]

  • Africa depicts, in four separate dioramas, the savanna and its wildlife, a watering hole, a Masai lion hunt and the wildlife of a bamboo forest.
  • Arctic is a set of dioramas of the natives, both animal and human, of the Arctic.
  • Asia includes depictions of a Japanese garden and a market in Old Delhi, India, as well as collections of Chinese art and other displays from Thailand, Tibet and Myanmar.
  • Bugs Alive! features live specimens of thirteen species of insect, crustacean, arachnid, centipede and millipede from Africa, Australia, Central America and Madagascar.
  • European Village is a recreation of homes and shops from thirty-three European cultures as they might have appeared in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  • Exploring Life on Earth explains the process of life, displays representations of various environments, past and present and allows the visitor to experience the laboratories and collections used by museum scientists.
  • Living Oceans is a large diorama of ocean life, into which the visitor descends through various levels of the ocean, from the shallows into the darker waters inhabited by various species of luminous fish. The exhibit also features a collection of mollusk shells and the historical uses of marine life.
  • North American Indians features a scene from a modern powwow, histories of the relations between Native Americans and Europeans, a diorama of a buffalo hunt and a southwestern pueblo village through which visitors can walk; examples of weavings and beadwork by Wisconsin Woodland Indians are also on display.
  • Pacific Islands contains displays from various Pacific islands, including Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Easter Island.
  • Pre-Columbian Americas contains displays illustrating the origin of the Native Americans, as well as the cultures of various Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Aztecs, Maya and Olmecs, and Central Andean civilizations, such as the Inca.
  • The Puelicher Butterfly Wing allows visitors to walk through a greenhouse-enclosed garden wherein live butterflies fly freely, often landing on the hands or shoulders of the visitors. There are also displayed the pupae of future butterflies.
  • Rain Forest is a 12,000 sq ft (1,100 m2) model of the ecosystem of a tropical rainforest through which visitors can walk.
  • A Sense of Wonder contains more than 1,000 specimens from the museum's collection of six million artifacts, including the skeleton of a humpback whale.
  • South & Middle America contains a diorama of a Guatemalan marketplace and other scenes, ranging from the Maya Lowlands to the Andes.
  • Streets of Old Milwaukee contains models, about three-quarters of life-size, of shops and houses, fully furnished, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of the city's early pioneer businesses, such as Schlitz Beer, Northwestern Mutual and Conrad Schmitt Studios are included. Gottfried Schloemer's first gasoline automobile is also on display here.
  • Temples, Tells & Tombs exhibits ancient civilizations of the Near East, including Assyria, Persia, Cyprus, Egypt and Crete as well as Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Among the many displays are a model of the Temple of Ramesses III and a life-size replica of a Greek hoplite—the only such model in the world.[7] Temples, Tells, and Tombs is closed to make room for the special traveling exhibits, Body Worlds and Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. Tentative plans are being made to reopen the exhibit in late 2012 on the third floor.
  • The Third Planet depicts the concept of plate tectonics and includes dioramas of how the Wisconsin area would have appeared in various geological eras, going as far back as 400 million years when the region was a shallow sea. The exhibit also displays life-size models of various species of dinosaurs.
Special exhibitions

The Milwaukee Public Museum also hosts special travelling exhibitions which are only available for viewing for limited times. One of the most famous, and popular, in recent years was Saint Peter and the Vatican: Legacy of the Popes, a travelling exhibition which made three stops in North America, the last of which was at MPM in early 2006. The exhibition featured 300 works of art from the collections of Vatican museums.[8]

In 2010 the Milwaukee Public Museum hosted Mummies of the World. The exhibit was the largest temporary exhibit and housed over 150 human mummies.[9] Exhibition highlights were a Peruvian child that dates 6,500 years and is one of the best preserved mummies ever found and Baron von Holz from 17th century Germany whose mummified legs still reside in his boots.

The Museum will play host to Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt in the Fall of 2011. The exhibition is organized by National Geographic and Arts and Exhibitions International, with cooperation from the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities and the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM).[10] Many of the exhibits artifacts were discovered underwater in the Mediterranean Sea. Patrons will view two 16ft tall colossal statues along with 150 Egyptian artifacts.[11]

Research and collections

Research and collections at the Milwaukee Public Museum include:

  • the Anthropology Department, which contains approximately 120,000 artifacts.
  • the Botany Department includes a greenhouse on the museum roof. A herbarium collection of over 5,000 specimens was started by the German-English Academy in 1852. It was transferred in 1857 to the Wisconsin Natural History Society and then to the museum in 1883.
  • the Conservation Department.
  • the Geology Department has a large variety of minerals and fossils, along with a research staff.
  • Historical and cultural artifacts including the Dietz typewriter, Dietz bicycle, and Nunnemacher arms collections.
  • Invertebrate zoology.
  • a Photograph Collection including 6,000 images from the Sumner W. Matteson Collection, 8,000 from the Brandon DeCou collection, and photographs of Wisconsin Indians taken by museum staff.
  • a Reference Library containing over 100,000 volumes of natural history interest.
  • the Registration Department to inventory museum collections.
  • Vertebrate zoology.
  • a 14,500-year-old woolly mammoth skeleton donated to the museum. The real bones are too fragile and are preserved for research, but a fiberglass replica set is on display at the museum.[12]



External links

Coordinates: 43°02′27″N 87°55′16″W / 43.040744°N 87.921095°W / 43.040744; -87.921095

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