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Superior, Wisconsin
Downtown Superior
Downtown Superior
Location of the city of Superiorin Douglas County, Wisconsin
Location of the city of Superior
in Douglas County, Wisconsin
Superior is located in Wisconsin
Location in Wisconsin
Country United States
State Wisconsin
County Douglas
Incorporated September 6, 1854
 • Total 45.36 sq mi (117.47 km2)
 • Land 36.62 sq mi (94.85 km2)
 • Water 8.74 sq mi (22.63 km2)
 • Total 26,751
 • Density 709.35/sq mi (273.88/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 715 and 534
FIPS code 55-78650

Superior is a city in, and the county seat of, Douglas County in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. The population was 26,751 at the 2020 census. Located at the junction of U.S. Highway 2 and U.S. Highway 53, it is immediately north of, and adjacent to, both the Village of Superior and the Town of Superior. Its neighborhoods include Billings Park, North End, South Superior, Central Park, East End, Allouez, and Itasca. Billings Park, South Superior, East End, and North End each have small business districts.

Superior is at the western end of Lake Superior in northwestern Wisconsin. Bordered by Saint Louis, Superior, and Allouez bays, the city is framed by two rivers: the Nemadji and the Saint Louis. Superior and the neighboring city across the bay, Duluth, Minnesota, form a single metropolitan area called the Twin Ports. They share a harbor that is one of the most important ports on the Great Lakes. Both cities feature museum ships (SS William A. Irvin in Duluth and SS Meteor in Superior), devoted to the local maritime heritage. Superior was the final port of call for SS Edmund Fitzgerald before her sinking on November 10, 1975. It is an industrial city, with ship harbors along two sides, several large rail yards, an oil refinery, and shipyard.


The first-known inhabitants of what is now Douglas County were Mound Builders. These people appeared on the shores of Lake Superior sometime after the latest glacier receded. They mined copper in the Minong Range and at Manitou Falls on the Black River. They pounded this metal into weapons, implements, and ornaments, some of which were later found buried as grave goods in mounds with their dead. Their civilization was eventually overrun by other tribes, mainly of Muskhogean and Iroquois stock, and they disappeared as a distinct culture in late prehistoric American times.

About the time of the European arrival, the Duluth–Superior region transitioned from being predominately Dakota to being predominately Ojibwa/Chippewa (Anishinaabe), one of the many Algonquian language people. Under pressure from the Ojibwa, the Dakota moved west. In the Ojibwa oral history, Spirit Island in the Saint Louis River was their "Sixth Stopping Place," where the northern and southern divisions of the Ojibwa nation came together in their westward migration. The City of Superior in the Ojibwe language is called Gete-oodena, meaning "Old Town." The Lake Superior Chippewa continued to migrate, with many settling to the east toward Madeline Island, the "Seventh Stopping Place." The Mississippi Chippewa migrated toward what is today Brainerd, Minnesota. (The two populations called both the settlements at Bayfield, Wisconsin and Brainerd as Oshki-oodena ("New Town") in the Ojibwe language).

The first-known Europeans to visit the area were French. In 1618, Étienne Brûlé, a voyager for Samuel de Champlain, coasted along the south shore of Lake Superior where he met the Ojibwa. Upon returning to Quebec, he carried back some copper specimens and a glowing account of the region. In 1632, Champlain’s map was made of the area, showing “Lac Superior de Tracy” as Lake Superior and the lower end shore as “Fond du Lac.” Soon after, fur trading companies established posts, while Jesuit missionaries came to convert and learn from the Anishinaabe.

For more than a century, the Hudson's Bay Company, followed by the North West Company in 1787 and later, John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, maintained trading posts with the Anishinaabe, exchanging European tools and goods for their furs and processed leathers. Settlements developed around the trading posts. Many fur traders, the capitalized partners, married high-ranking Ojibwa women; both sides considered such marriages part of building alliances between the cultures. Fur trappers, who lived among the Ojibwa for months at a time and ranged throughout their territory, also married Ojibwa women. Their mixed-race children were called Métis by the French Canadians. Many of the men also entered the fur trade, becoming interpreters and guides as well.

Douglas County was organized at the site of one of the major water highways used by early travelers and voyagers of inland America. This water trail, the Bois Brule–St. Croix River Portage Trail, was the most convenient connecting link between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. The Bois Brule and St. Croix River systems were separated only by a short portage over the Eastern Continental Divide near Solon Springs, Wisconsin. The northward traveler used this water trail reach Lake Superior, while the downstream traveler could use it to go southwest to the Gulf of Mexico, unhindered by portages, by using the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. This waterway was also an important route in the Wisconsin fur trade, particularly when the French War with the Fox Indians closed the more southern routes.

In the nineteenth century, spurred by the prospect of lucrative shipping on the Great Lakes and exploitation of the iron ore industry, businessmen from Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota laid claim to the site which became the city of Superior. They planned to lay out the plots of a great city, and attract new European-American settlers for development of the area.

The first log cabin in Superior was erected in September 1853 on the banks of the Nemadji River, at the same time that ground was broken for construction of the locks and ship canal at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. This was intended to allow ships to bypass the rapids at that site. Superior was incorporated as a city on September 6, 1854. Around the same time Superior became the seat of newly formed Douglas County. Immediately there was eagerness for a railroad from Lake Superior to the Pacific Coast, and investment flowed in, but then the Panic of 1857 hit, investment slowed, and the population of the new city collapsed from 2500 to 500.

Twenty-five years later the Northern Pacific Railway and other rail lines finally arrived, fulfilling the dream of a rail and water highway from coast to coast. In 1883 General John H. Hammond formed the Land and River Improvement Company, which developed much of West Superior, including the West Superior Iron and Steel plant. Numerous grain, coal and lumber businesses formed in the same period.

Minnesota Block, a.k.a. Board of Trade Building, built 1892

In the Boom Period from 1888 to 1892, Land and River Improvement and others built impressive architect-designed business blocks on Tower Avenue, seeing Superior as the "new Chicago." Many of the investors were from out East, so the buildings received names like the New Jersey Block and the Maryland Block. By 1892, population was 34,000. Then the Panic of 1893 hit, and development slowed again.

Between 1890 and 1920, the city was heavily settled by migrants from the eastern United States as well as immigrants from over 15 countries, including England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 55.65 square miles (144.13 km2), of which, 36.96 square miles (95.73 km2) is land and 18.69 square miles (48.41 km2) is water.46°42′48″N 92°05′16″W / 46.713385°N 92.087746°W / 46.713385; -92.087746) Most of Superior is level with a gradual slope toward Lake Superior.

There are several parks in the city, including the second largest municipal forest in the United States, located in the city's Billings Park neighborhood. Pattison State Park is a short distance south of the city, and contains Big Manitou Falls, the highest waterfall in the state at 165 feet (50 m).



Major highways

The following routes are located within the city of Superior.

  • I-535.svg Interstate 535 – John Blatnik Bridge
  • US 2.svg U.S. Highway 2 – Belknap Street(western portion) E. 2nd Street/US Highway 53 (eastern portion)
  • US 53.svg U.S. Highway 53
  • WIS 35.svg Wisconsin Highway 35 – Tower Avenue
  • WIS 105.svg Wisconsin Highway 105 – Central Avenue


Richard I. Bong Airport (KSUW) serves the city and surrounding communities. Duluth International Airport in Duluth is the nearest commercial airport, with service on three commercial and two cargo airlines, as of December 2018.


  • The Duluth Transit Authority provides Superior and nearby Duluth with fixed-route and dial-a-ride public bus service.


A proposed Amtrak route running between Duluth and the Twin Cities has a planned stop in Superior and is the final stop before arriving in Duluth or the first stop after departing from Duluth. Previously, Superior was served by passenger rail until 1984 at the Superior Union Station.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 11,983
1900 31,091 159.5%
1910 40,384 29.9%
1920 39,671 −1.8%
1930 36,133 −8.9%
1940 35,136 −2.8%
1950 35,325 0.5%
1960 33,563 −5.0%
1970 32,237 −4.0%
1980 29,571 −8.3%
1990 27,134 −8.2%
2000 27,368 0.9%
2010 27,244 −0.5%
2020 26,751 −1.8%
U.S. Decennial Census
2020 census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 27,244 people, 11,670 households, and 6,548 families residing in the city. The population density was 737.1 inhabitants per square mile (284.6/km2). There were 12,328 housing units at an average density of 333.5 per square mile (128.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.5% White, 1.4% African American, 2.6% Native American, 1.2% Asian, 0.2% from other races, and 3.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race were 1.4% of the population.

There were 11,670 households, of which 28.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.2% were married couples living together, 13.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.4% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.9% were non-families. 34.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.84.

The median age in the city was 35.4 years. 21.3% of residents were under the age of 18; 13.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 26% were from 25 to 44; 25.9% were from 45 to 64; and 13.5% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.0% male and 51.0% female.


Superior is the episcopal see of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Superior, and the Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior is the mother church of the diocese. Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, located in the East End of Superior, has been noted for its architecture. Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church is the only congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod located in Superior. It recently moved from its original location on Belknap Street to a new campus on North 28th Street. Pilgrim Lutheran Church is located along Belknap Street near the University of Wisconsin–Superior. Many small churches dot the city's neighborhoods, representing most major denominations.


Douglas County Courthouse

The transportation industry accounts for more than 1,000 jobs. The Twin Ports of Duluth–Superior, the largest in the Great Lakes, welcomes both domestic and foreign vessels. Bulk solids (such as grain) make up much of the tonnage handled by the port, and the silos of such port facilities are visible on the Superior waterfront. In 2004, the port's busiest year since 1979, more than 41.4 million metric tons were shipped out of the port. Burlington Northern Railroad has an operations hub in Superior.

Husky Energy operates a refinery in Superior. The refinery is located along a pipeline connecting western Canada and the Midwest. On April 26, 2018, there was an explosion at the refinery around 10:00 AM. Douglas County then issued a state of emergency due to heavy smoke. Around 1:00 PM, the county issued evacuation for residents and workers 1 mile (1.6 km) north, 3 miles (4.8 km) east and west, and 10 miles (16 km) south of the refinery. There were 20 initial injuries, and five were transported to the hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. No fatalities were reported.

Growing area manufacturers include FenTech, Inc., which manufactures vinyl doors and windows; Charter NEX Films, a producer of plastic films; Genesis Attachments, manufacturer of shears and grapples; Amsoil, a producer of synthetic motor oil and lubricants; and Crane Song Ltd., a manufacturer of discrete Class A electronics for recording studios. Fraser Shipyards also provides many jobs to local residents. They repower and repair commercial vessels.


Yellowjacket Union of the University of Wisconsin-Superior
Superior has both the first and last Carnegie libraries built in Wisconsin. The first, pictured, was built in 1901 and served as the main library until 1991.

Superior is served by the Superior School District, which has one high school, one middle school, and six elementary schools, with a total enrollment of over 5,000 students. Superior High School enrolls more than 1,500 students. Its mascot is Sparty the Spartan. Over 1,400 students are also enrolled in the Maple School District. Parochial schools include the Catholic Cathedral School, the Protestant-based Maranatha Academy and Twin Ports Baptist School.

The University of Wisconsin–Superior (UWS) is a public liberal arts college. Originally opened as a state Normal School (teacher's college), UWS became part of the University of Wisconsin System in 1971.

Northwood Technical College offers skill development and technical education, with an enrollment of over 2,200.

Notable people

  • James H. Agen, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Wallace W. Andrew, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Morrie Arnovich, MLB All-Star outfielder
  • Dave Bancroft, MLB player and manager, member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame
  • David Francis Barry, photographer of the American West
  • David L. Bazelon, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals
  • Kris Benson, Major League Baseball player
  • Niko Bogojevic, professional wrestler for WWE
  • Richard Bong, Medal of Honor recipient and top flying ace of the U.S. in World War II
  • C.A. Bottolfsen, 17th and 19th Governor of Idaho
  • Charles J. Bouchard, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Dave Bronson, Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska
  • Esther Bubley, photographer
  • Solanus Casey, priest and a "blessed" of the Catholic Church
  • Carl Cashion, MLB player
  • Agnes Charbonneau, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Frank Christopherson Jr., Wisconsin State Representative
  • Paul Clemens, U.S. Army general
  • Charles H. Crownhart, Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court
  • Albert W. Durley, Wisconsin State Representative and lawyer
  • Russ Ennis, MLB player
  • Daniel R. Fitzpatrick, editorial cartoonist
  • William R. Foley, Wisconsin State Representative
  • James B. French, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Bud Grant, head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 1967–1983; 1985, member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • Lawrence M. Hagen, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Ogden H. Hammond, diplomat and New Jersey politician
  • Christine Hoberg, singer-songwriter and music producer
  • William E. Hoehle, Wisconsin State Representative
  • George Hudnall, Wisconsin State Senator
  • Eastman Johnson, artist, co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Doc Kelley, NFL player
  • Bill LaBounty, songwriter/musician
  • Tuffy Leemans, NFL player, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • Irvine L. Lenroot, U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and Judge of the U.S. Court of Customs and Patents Appeals
  • Victor Linley, Wisconsin State Senator
  • Robert J. MacDonald, Michigan State Senator
  • James S. Mace, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Gordon MacQuarrie, journalist and outdoors writer
  • Bruce Mathison, NFL player
  • Edgar G. Mills, Wisconsin State Representative and Senator
  • Thomas Brooks Mills, Wisconsin politician
  • Thomas B. Murray, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Ernie Nevers, member of both College and Pro Football Halls of Fame
  • Marian Nixon, actress
  • Ray J. Nye, Wisconsin State Senator
  • Scott O'Brien, special teams coordinator of the New England Patriots
  • Bob Olson, football player
  • Byron C. Ostby, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Angus B. Rothwell, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin
  • Augustine Francis Schinner, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Superior and Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane
  • Lewis B. Schwellenbach, U.S. Secretary of Labor
  • Frank D. Sheahan, Wisconsin State Representative
  • John Shuster, curler
  • Mike Sislo, NHL
  • Henry Clay Sloan, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Edward Stack, Wisconsin State Representative
  • James S. Stack, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Don Stivers, artist
  • Doug Sutherland, NFL player
  • Tarzan Taylor, NFL player
  • David Tipton, NFL player
  • Leonard Patrick Walsh, United States District Court judge in Washington, D.C.
  • Albert D. Whealdon, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Jarvis White, Wisconsin State Representative
  • Jeffrey Williams, NASA astronaut
  • Oliver E. Williamson, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics

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