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Milwaukee, Wisconsin (U.S.)

Milwaukee County

Last modified: 2018-07-25 by rick wyatt
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[Milwaukee, Wisconsin flag] 2:3 and 3:5 (official) image(s) by permission of David B. Martucci
image(s) from American City Flags, Raven 9-10 (2002-2003), courtesy of the North American Vexillological Association, which retains copyright.



See also:


Current Flag

Text and image(s) from American City Flags, Raven 9-10 (2002-2003), courtesy of the North American Vexillological Association, which retains copyright. Image(s) from American City Flags by permission of David B. Martucci.

Design

Milwaukee’s flag has a field of medium blue. In the center is a large white gear, with black detail lines, its center divided into open quadrants showing the blue field. On a field of 2 by 3 units, the gear’s diameter at the outside edges of its “teeth” is 1.125 units. In the upper hoist quadrant is the head of a Native American chief in profile looking toward the fly. His face is red, he wears a war bonnet of white feathers tipped in red, and his collar is white. The lower hoist quadrant shows what is intended to be a Service Flag, with three horizontal stripes of red, white, red. On the white stripe are two five-pointed stars, one blue (toward the hoist) and one gold (toward the fly). In the upper fly quadrant is an inverted black equilateral triangle bordered in white, with an ancient lamp in gold in its center. The triangle serves as a base for the bust of a male figure in white. The lower fly quadrant does not have a self-contained image, but has the top half of a factory with three smokestacks in use that forms a part of a horizontal depiction of important elements in the city’s history. This display extends about 2 units across the field, slightly more to the fly side than the hoist side.

Adjacent to the factory on the hoist side is the tower of Milwaukee’s city hall superimposed over the very center of the gear, flying a small U.S. flag. To the hoist side of city hall is the city’s former sports arena, and next to that, the county stadium. These figures are all black with white detail. To the fly side of the factory is a ship out of water, seen directly in front of its stern and more to the foreground, so the bottom of the hull appears lower than the rest of the scene; its hoist side is white; its fly side, red, with a white anchor hauled up. It has a single tall red mast with a white pennant bearing a red M, reaching to the top of the gear, so that the entire figure measures about 1.25 units in height.

Beyond the ship toward the fly, the city silhouette in black and white continues, showing a home, a church, and a school. Below the city scene are three wavy horizontal lines that appear to go behind the ship; black on the hoist side, and white on the fly side. Over the home, church, and school buildings are three white seagulls in flight, one above the other. At either end of this panorama are two vertical images. On the hoist side is a stylized stalk of barley in gold edged in red, about 1.125 units tall, and one-half unit from the hoist. On the fly side is 1846, in red numerals edged in gold, about .875 units in total height, and one-half unit from the fly’s edge. Below all this, running horizontally across the bottom of the flag for a distance of 2.5 units, is MILWAUKEE, in red letters edged in gold, the “M” twice the height of the other letters.
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

Symbolism

The city describes the flag’s symbolism:
In the center the City Hall, seat of local government, is superimposed on a giant gear, representing the industrial nature of Milwaukee. The gear in turn is divided into four quadrants bearing symbols of the City’s Indian origin, her culture and libraries, her military service, and her great manufacturing.

The plumes of smoke from her factories lead the eye to a great ship seen in profile [frontal] and riding the waves of blue Lake Michigan. This stands for the city’s great stature as a port, not only of the Great Lakes but now of the world.

The three buildings to the right remind us of Milwaukee’s greatest treasure, her homes, her churches, and schools.

The date 1846 marks Milwaukee’s incorporation as a city, and it is balanced on the left by a stylized stalk of barley, symbolic of our city’s best known industry [beer]. Next to the golden grain is our great new stadium pointing to the fame recently won by Milwaukee in the world of baseball and to her long history as a sports-loving community. Finally there is the Arena, home not only of sports and other entertainment, but of the many great conventions that are held yearly in ‘the best governed big city in America.’

John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

Selection

In February 1950, Alderman Fred Meyer expressed the need for an official city flag for use in Civic Progress Week to be held in April of that year. It was decided that the art commission (now the arts board) would make design recommendations to the common council for the final selection. The art commission held a citywide contest with a $75 prize for first place, $50 for second, and $25 for third. Over 150 entries were submitted; in addition to the three top prize winners, three received honorable mentions.
Adopted 21 September 1954 (official)
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

Designer

No one design from the contest was entirely satisfactory, so Alderman Fred Steffan, a member of the art commission, incorporated elements from several of the winning designs.
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

More about the Flag

The small flag in the lower hoist quadrant appears at first glance to be a house flag for a shipping company, but in fact is supposed to depict a World War II service flag, which was usually oriented vertically, with a white field and wide red border. Blue stars indicated a family member in service; gold stars signified that the service person had died in the line of duty.

In late 2001, the common council conducted another contest for a new flag, believing that the current flag might be outdated. After reviewing all 104 designs, the arts board recommended in December 2001 that the common council not adopt any of them.
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003


Discussion about a proposed new flag

In 2001, Milwaukee devised a contest to attract designs for a new flag.  At least 105 designs were submitted, and posted on the web for comment (no longer available). 

From: www.jsonline.com/news/metro/dec01/6354.asp

Banner bore: Designs for new city flag fail to capture spirit of Milwaukee, arts board decides
By TOM HELD
of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: Dec. 18, 2001
Members of the Milwaukee Arts Board perused and shrugged, hemmed and hawed, and found none of the prospective designs presented to them Tuesday suitable for a new city flag. The board settled on five designs that it will forward to the Common Council as the finalists in a contest that started with 105 entries, but it voted unanimously to recommend none of the above. Seeking a design that will express the future, the board took a page from the past in waving off all the designs.

Back in 1975, the last time the Common Council attempted to find a new city flag, the winner of a similar design contest had his flag permanently furled. When that contest ended, the flag flying above City Hall remained the one created in 1955, with its symbolic mixture of County Stadium, a stalk of golden barley, the Milwaukee Arena, City Hall and a small replica of the city's Civil War flag. Several members of the arts board said they saw nothing in the current mix of design offerings that they would like to see flying from flagpoles for the next half-century. "In terms of ability of a flag to inspire over a long period of time, none of these carried the day," said board member Paul Krajniak. Peter Goldberg shared the sentiment, saying that none of the eight designs reviewed by the board inspired great feelings of civic pride. "I'd like something exciting and noteworthy, that would speak Milwaukee for a long time," Goldberg said. "I think these weren't very exciting across the board."

As the board members viewed the eight designs, chosen by a selection committee, they appeared unimpressed and uninspired, pointing out the failings of each as they went along. The cog was too Rust Belt; the abstract river never really flowed; and the wreath appeared out of season even in December. The design emulating the Calatrava addition of the Milwaukee Art Museum had some appeal, as did the swooping, reflected letter M under a rising sun. As Goldberg said, "I saw one I wouldn't mind." But in choosing the emblem to represent the romance and pride of Milwaukee, "one I wouldn't mind" isn't worthy of a salute.

Goldberg and Krajniak led the discussion, which ended with the board voting unanimously to send along its five finalists with the stamp of disapproval on all of them.  That puts the issue before the Common Council, which initiated the design contest and will make the final selection. Ald. Michael Murphy, chairman of the arts board, said he expected that one of those five the board chose would become the next city flag. His fellow aldermen have little interest in repeating the pattern set in 1975, Murphy said. But if the aldermen agree that none of the designs in hand is worthy of flying over the city, at least one of the artists is well prepared. "I wouldn't feel that bad, because I have many more ideas," said Patrick Kachellak, who created the stripes and sun banner.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Dec. 19, 2001.
Phil Nelson 19 December 2001

In a radio program, also featuring Ted Kaye from NAVA, Robin Mars proclaimed the flag of Milwaukee "one of the biggest train wrecks in vexillological history", further adding "It's a kitchen sink flag. There's a gigantic gear representing industry, there's a ship recognizing the port, a giant stalk of wheat paying homage to the brewing industry. It's a hot mess". Steve Kods, a graphic designer who wanted to change the flag, said in the same program: "It's really awful. It's a misstep on the city's behalf, to say the least."
www.ted.com - TED, May 2015

Robin Mars' statements stirred up sour comments. Marion Steffan Koch, the designer's daughter, called Mars' comments "an insult to the history of Milwaukee" and her father. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett acknowledged that the flag is a bit outdated, but laughed off Mars' harsh criticism of it.

The "People's Flag of Milwaukee" design contest was organized in May 2016. Professional designers and facilitators engaged hundreds of students in workshops across the city. Months of social media communications invited amateurs and professionals alike to enter their flag designs. The result was over 1,000 stunning entries. Five expert judges gathered on April 23, 2016 and narrowed down the entries to 45 semifinalists and five finalists. Following the announcement of the five finalists at City Hall on May 14, 2016, Milwaukeeans rated each on a 0–10 scale to determine the highest rated entry.

[Proposed Milwaukee, Wisconsin, flag] image by Ivan Sache, 25 August 2016

The results were proclaimed on 14 June 2016, Flag Day. "Sunrise Over the Lake", submitted by Robert Lenz, was proclaimed the People's flag of Milwaukee. The flag is horizontally divided orange-dark blue. In the center is placed a disk, whose upper part, located on the orange stripe, is white, and whose lower part, located on the blue stripe, is lighter blue with two horizontal dark blue stripes.

The meaning of the flag is the following:
"The sun rising over Lake Michigan symbolizes a new day. The light blue bars in its reflection represent the city's three rivers and  founding towns. Gold symbolizes our brewing history and white represents the city united."

The final decision to change the flag is up to the Common Council of Milwaukee.
milwaukeeflag.com/ - The People's Flag of Milwaukee website

More detailed explanations by the designer can be read here: wisconsin.aiga.org

The four finalists are:

  • The M Star, by DeChazier Stokes-Johnson: Four "M's" connect to form a cream-colored star representing Milwaukee on the blue lake, its Native American roots, and unity and signifying the city's bright future
  • Three Rivers, by Cameron Pothier: Milwaukee's three rivers flow from the land into the lake, with a large disc representing the city at the confluence and our brewing history.
  • Golden Arrow by Chanya Hughes: Milwaukee's past, present and future, moving in a positive direction, symbolized through its rivers, brewing history and the lake, with white echoing the art museum.
  • Cream City Star, by Jon Grider: The six points of the star symbolize the three original sections of the city and its three rivers and represent Milwaukee as the "Cream City" and the largest in Wisconsin.
archive.jsonline.com/news - The Journal Sentinel, 14 May 2016

Ivan Sache, 25 August 2016

The Milwaukee People's Flag is shown in use in the cloth and as art on the page at www.instagram.com/mkeflag/.
Vexinews, 17 June 2017