Kenosha's Lost Industries: Photographs and Corporate Materials, 1850s-1990s

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From the 1850s to the 1970s abundant water, a lake port, and railroad corridors crossing Kenosha and Kenosha County, Wisconsin impacted the growth of industry. Kenosha’s development was essentially connected to its strategic location on the western shore of Lake Michigan and in the urban corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago. Kenosha manufacturers gained access to cheap midwestern natural resources of iron, copper, wood, coal and water. These simple facts were the primary cause of Kenosha County’s industrialization. Larger markets were created as products reached more remote places.

Kenosha County industries enabled tens of thousands of immigrants from around the world to come to the area, adding their skills to the workforce and enriching society with their remarkable ethnic diversity. Minorities also found employment here. Their presence and contributions in the automobile industry during the 1950s were rarely documented in Wisconsin employment histories.

Kenosha’s industrialization allowed inexpensive production of wagons, tanned leather, bicycles, foundry products and machine tools. The natural groundwork was laid for the production of automobile, rail, and transportation components such as industrial wire and tools. For nearly a hundred years this work, accompanied by rapid population growth, created and supported the manufacture of products and commodities demanded by American workers and the world market.

Kenosha and the United States literally grew up together. The city became a major manufacturing center intertwined with regional, national and international economies. The once stable industrial base, which strengthened the southeast Wisconsin region and Kenosha’s local economy, is now changing, weakening, or disappearing altogether. Kenosha is losing, and has lost, over a century of its industrial legacy.



This project was funded, in part, through a 2011 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant. The grants provided financial support to digitize and make available online local library resources. For more information about LSTA grants in Wisconsin, contact the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Division for Libraries and Technology or visit the LSTA grant Web site at

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