Why is Milwaukee Called "The Cream City"?

Milwaukee's nickname owes itself to the the light colored bricks found throughout the city. Photo credit: f11photo / Shutterstock.com.

Contrary to popular belief, Milwaukee's nickname of "the Cream City" is not related to the dairy industry for which the state of Wisconsin is known for. Instead, the term "Cream City" reflects the cream-colored buildings that are common in the city of Milwaukee. 

The Unique Architecture of Milwaukee

When one thinks about bricks, which color is the most likely to come to mind? More than likely, red is the color that will be thought of, and for good reason. However, bricks do not only come in the color red. 

A trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin can reveal something distinct about its architecture. One will notice the light yellow tint in many of its buildings. Many buildings in Milwaukee are constructed with cream-colored bricks, known as "cream city bricks".

The bricks get their cream tint from the soil. Cream City bricks are made from the local clay found in the Menomonee River Valley and the Greater Milwaukee area. The clay used to manufacture these bricks does not start out with a light yellow hue. The clay is originally red. However, the clay from the Milwaukee area/Menomonee River Valley contains high levels of lime and sulfur. Once these bricks are put through fire in the manufacturing process, the colors change from red to cream/light yellow.

Cream City Bricks

In addition to their light hue, the structure of Cream City bricks makes them famous and sought after. Cream City bricks are well-reputed for being durable. Due to this, these bricks have been highly sought after for construction purposes. Buildings constructed as far back as the 1850s still have their original bricks. For the city of Milwaukee, Cream City bricks are synonymous with the city's image.

While Milwaukee has many buildings that use them, these bricks have been exported to other cities such as Chicago, New York City, and even as far away as Hamburg, Germany.

With the high durability of these bricks, there is also a disadvantage. Cream City bricks have high porosity. This means the bricks will absorb pollutants easily. As the bricks absorb pollutants, they turn darker in color over time. Chemical washing has been used to clean the bricks.


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