Marker Logo HMdb.org THE HISTORICAL
MARKER DATABASE
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Milwaukee in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

Historic Milwaukee

East Wisconsin Avenue

 
 
Historic Milwaukee Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, August 3, 2012
1. Historic Milwaukee Marker
Inscription. Milwaukee was a large city in 1859, but large is relative. With 45,000 residents, pigs still roamed the city’s gravel streets. Most of downtown was residential, with the business district clustered at Wisconsin Avenue and the Milwaukee River. But Milwaukee was growing up, and life, health and property insurance was becoming increasingly important.

Northwestern Mutual Insurance was founded when “Northwest” meant “Midwest.” Entrepreneur and promoter John C. Johnson founded the company in 1857 in Janesville. On March 7, 1859, all but one board member voted to move the fledgling company to Milwaukee. Mr. Johnson cast the sole “no” vote. The following morning, all of the company’s assets and records were packed off to Milwaukee in a now-lost black leather-covered trunk.

The single home office employee of the Northwestern Mutual was housed in the office of its first Milwaukee agent, on the southwest corner of Wisconsin and Broadway. As the company grew, it moved—but not far. The next three headquarters were all within one block of that original office.

By 1870, Northwestern Mutual had built its first main office, designed by Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix, on the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Broadway. But even before that, Northwestern celebrated its growing
Historic Milwaukee Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, August 3, 2012
2. Historic Milwaukee Marker
Photos on left: Upper photo – East Wisconsin in 1911, before Northwestern Mutual built its headquarters on the site. Historic Photo Collection / Milwaukee Public Museum.
Lower photo – The Northwestern Mutual headquarters building completed in 1914, now the centerpiece of a complex of home office buildings housing one of the largest and most respected insurance companies in the world. Historic Photo Collection / Milwaukee Public Museum.
success, with a banquet in 1867 at Milwaukee’s elegant Newhall House. Agents were invited, a practice followed annually ever since. Continuing to expand, the company built a headquarters and main office one block south in 1855—at 611 North Broadway. This magnificent Richardsonian Romanesque structure, designed by S.S. Beman of Chicago, still stands as one of Milwaukee’s premier historic buildings.

The company had a national market by the 1890’s, with a growing office force and agents in every state and territory of the continental United States. By 1812, a larger main office was needed. In 1914 the company moved four blocks to its present headquarters at 720 East Wisconsin Avenue.

History now documents the existence of what settlers called Lake Emily located near what is now Wisconsin Avenue and Van Buren Street, but its existence was not widely known. Engineers were surprised to discover it in 1912 during preparations to build the current Northwestern Mutual headquarters building. Over 3,000 fifty-foot-long cedar pilings were needed to support the concrete base of the building, and remain there today.

The neo-classical structure with its 10 massive Corinthian columns was designed by Marshall & Fox of Chicago. It cost $3.1 million in 1914. With its relatively modest eight-story height, the granite edifice reflected the chosen conservative
Historic Milwaukee Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, August 3, 2012
3. Historic Milwaukee Marker
Photo Lower right: Architectural details of the 720 East Wisconsin Avenue neo-classical structure. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Sullivan, Bluffton College
image of the Quiet Company, as Northwestern Mutual has long been known, And it stood in silent contrast to the skyscapers being built by other corporations in the early 1900’s.
 
Location. 43° 2.349′ N, 87° 54.134′ W. Marker is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in Milwaukee County. Marker is at the intersection of East Wisconsin Avenue and North Van Buren Street, on the right when traveling west on East Wisconsin Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 720 E Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee WI 53202, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Brig. Gen. Rufus King’s Home (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Northwestern National Insurance Company (about 500 feet away); a different marker also named Historic Milwaukee (about 500 feet away); a different marker also named Historic Milwaukee (about 600 feet away); Federal Building - U.S. Courthouse (about 700 feet away); a different marker also named Historic Milwaukee (approx. 0.2 miles away); Automatic Temperature Control System (approx. 0.2 miles away); Service Star Legion World War I Memorial (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Milwaukee.
 
Categories. Industry & Commerce
 
Historic Milwaukee Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, August 3, 2012
4. Historic Milwaukee Marker
Photo upper right: Just a tiny corner of the Northwestern Mutual headquarters can be seen in the upper-left hand corner. This photo shows the company’s neighbors – new and used car dealers, an ale house, a drugstore, and Lake Michigan – in 1943. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Historic Milwaukee Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, August 3, 2012
5. Historic Milwaukee Marker
Looking west along Wisconsin Avenue.
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Building image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, August 3, 2012
6. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Building
720 East Wisconsin Avenue
<i>N.W. Mutual Life Insurance Co. Building, Milwaukee, Wis.</i> image. Click for full size.
circa 1935
7. N.W. Mutual Life Insurance Co. Building, Milwaukee, Wis.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 8, 2012, by Paul Fehrenbach of Germantown, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 368 times since then and 37 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on August 8, 2012, by Paul Fehrenbach of Germantown, Wisconsin.   7. submitted on November 16, 2014. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
Paid Advertisement