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Waukesha, Wisconsin
City and county seat
City of Waukesha
The Old Waukesha County Courthouse, the First Baptist Church of Waukesha, the Andrew Frame House, the Waukesha Post office, and the Milwaukee and Madison Railway Depot.
Location of Waukesha in Waukesha County, Wisconsin
Location of Waukesha in Waukesha County, Wisconsin
Country United States
State Wisconsin
County Waukesha
Area
 • City and county seat 25.80 sq mi (66.83 km2)
 • Land 25.53 sq mi (66.12 km2)
 • Water 0.27 sq mi (0.70 km2)  1.04%
Population
 (2020)
 • City and county seat 71,991
 • Estimate 
(2021)
72,299
 • Density 2,831.92/sq mi (1,093.39/km2)
 • Metro
1,760,268
  The population figure given for the metropolitan area is for the Milwaukee metropolitan area, which includes Waukesha
Time zone UTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (Central)
ZIP Codes
53186-53189
Area code(s) 262
FIPS code 55-84250

Waukesha is a city in and the county seat of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, United States. It is part of the Milwaukee metropolitan area. Its population was 70,718 at the 2010 census. The city is adjacent to the Village of Waukesha.

History

The area that Waukesha now encompasses was first settled by European-Americans in 1834, with Morris D. Cutler as its first settler. When the first settlers arrived, there was nothing but dense virgin forest and wild prairie. The settlers laid out farms, constructed roads, erected government buildings and established post routes.

Waukesha was a New England settlement. The original founders of Waukesha consisted entirely of settlers from New England, particularly Connecticut, rural Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, as well some from upstate New York who were born to parents who had migrated to that region from New England shortly after the American Revolution. These people were "Yankee" settlers, that is to say they were descended from the English Puritans who settled New England in the 1600s. They were part of a wave of New England farmers who headed west into what was then the wilds of the Northwest Territory during the early 1800s. Most of them arrived as a result of the completion of the Erie Canal as well as the end of the Black Hawk War. When they arrived in what is now Waukesha County there was nothing but dense virgin forest and wild prairie, the New Englanders laid out farms, constructed roads, erected government buildings and established post routes. They brought with them many of their Yankee New England values, such as a passion for education, establishing many schools as well as staunch support for abolitionism. They were mostly members of the Congregationalist Church though some were Episcopalian. Due to the second Great Awakening some of them had converted to Methodism and some had become Baptists before moving to what is now Waukesha County. Waukesha, like much of Wisconsin, would be culturally very continuous with early New England culture for most of its early history.

By 1846, the area was incorporated as the village of Prairieville. On February 8, 1847, the village changed its name to "Waukesha," and in 1896, incorporated as a city. The first appointed mayor of the newly incorporated city of Waukesha was John Brehm, who served from January to April, 1896.

Waukesha's name

Over the years, many believed, incorrectly, that the origin of the name of the city was an Algonquian word meaning "fox" or "little foxes," though it is actually an Anglicization of the Ojibwe proper name Waagoshag or the Potawatomi name Wau-tsha. Wau-tsha (sometimes written as Wauk-tsha or Wauke-tsha) was the leader of the local tribe at the time of the first European settlement of the area. This is confirmed by accounts of Increase A. Lapham, an early settler and historian of the region. According to Lapham, the word for "fox" was pishtaka. Cutler also told visitors about Wau-tsha, who was described as "tall and athletic, proud in his bearing, dignified and friendly."

"Spring City"

Richard Sears
Sears & Roebuck founder Richard W. Sears spent his last years on his farm near Waukesha.

Matthew Laflin, an early pioneer of Chicago, Illinois, provided the capital and enterprise that laid the foundation for Waukesha as a famous Wisconsin watering resort and was the proprietor of the grand resort, the Fountain Spring House. Waukesha was once known for its extremely clean and good-tasting spring water and was called a "spa town." This earned the city the nicknames, "Spring City," and, "Saratoga of the West."

According to author Kristine Adams Wendt, in 1868, Colonel Richard Dunbar, a sufferer of diabetes, chanced upon the medicinal properties of what he later named the Bethesda Spring while viewing a parcel of land recently purchased by his sister. Testimonials found in a Dunbar brochure of 1873 proclaimed the miraculous benefits.

Wendt reports that by 1872, "area newspapers carried accounts of a community ill equipped to handle its new popularity among the suffering multitudes. The semi-weekly Wisconsin (Milwaukee) of July 31, 1872, reported 'that fully 500 visitors are quartered in hotels and scattered in private families here, seeking benefit from the marvelous waters...'"

The "healing waters" were so valued that a controversial attempt was made to build a pipeline between the city and Chicago so that they could be enjoyed by visitors to the 1893 Columbian Exposition. According to Time magazine, "[t]he scheme had been conceived by one Charles Welsh who had been given the springs by his uncle, but after several miles of pipe were laid, it was discovered that the cost was too great."

Richard W. Sears, founder of Sears and Roebuck, may have been attracted to Waukesha by the waters. In failing health, Sears retired from business in 1908 and, according to The New York Times, "spent his time on his great farm near Waukesha." In 1914, Sears died in Waukesha of Bright's disease, leaving an estate estimated at $20 million.

In 1956, Helen Moore, who ran a mud bath spa in Waukesha, appeared as a guest on What's My Line.

Over the years, the natural springs have been spoiled by pollution and a number have gone dry. Water drawn from an aquifer reached radium levels exceeding federal standards.

In 2013, Waukesha applied for permission to withdraw water from Lake Michigan. Because Waukesha is outside the lake's basin, the 2008 Great Lakes Compact makes the city ineligible to withdraw water from the lake without approval from the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. As of September, 2015, only Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has consented.

Football history

RobinsonThrowing
Brad Robinson threw the first legal forward pass in Waukesha in 1906.

One of the most important "firsts" in American sports history occurred in Waukesha on September 5, 1906, when Carroll College (now Carroll University) hosted the football team from St. Louis University. SLU halfback Bradbury Robinson threw the first legal forward pass in football history in that game. The Carroll players and local fans were stunned. The visitors went on to win 22–0.

Project Nike

During the Cold War, Waukesha County was the site of three Nike Missile batteries, located in the city of Waukesha and nearby Muskego and Lannon. In the city of Waukesha, the U.S. Army and later the Wisconsin National Guard operated the command and control center from 1956 to 1970 at what is now Hillcrest Park, on Davidson Road. The missile pits existed near the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Hwy 164 – first holding Ajax missiles with conventional warheads and later the nuclear equipped Hercules warhead. The Hercules provided a similar nuclear capability as that of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in World War II. The Midwest Chapter of the Cold War Museum has promoted the preservation of the Hillcrest Park site as a local Cold War museum, honoring Cold War veterans and commemorating America's longest and costliest conflict.

Geography and climate

Waukesha is located near the center of Waukesha County in southeastern Wisconsin, 18 miles (29 km) west of Milwaukee. Waukesha is also located 59 miles (95 km) east of Madison. The city shares borders with City of Brookfield, Town of Brookfield, Genesee, New Berlin, City of Pewaukee, Village of Pewaukee, Town of Delafield and Town of Waukesha.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 25.07 square miles (64.93 km2), of which 24.81 square miles (64.26 km2) is land and 0.26 square miles (0.67 km2) is water.

The city is located on both sides of the Fox River, which starts near Menomonee Falls and flows into the Illinois River.

The Köppen-Geiger climate classification system classifies its climate as humid continental (Dfa).

Climate data for Waukesha, Wisconsin (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 62
(16.7)
66
(18.9)
82
(27.8)
91
(32.8)
101
(38.3)
101
(38.3)
109
(42.8)
102
(38.9)
101
(38.3)
88
(31.1)
78
(25.6)
68
(20)
109
(42.8)
Average high °F (°C) 27.8
(-2.33)
31.9
(-0.06)
43.1
(6.17)
56.4
(13.56)
67.8
(19.89)
78.0
(25.56)
81.9
(27.72)
79.9
(26.61)
72.7
(22.61)
59.8
(15.44)
45.4
(7.44)
31.5
(-0.28)
56.4
(13.56)
Average low °F (°C) 10.7
(-11.83)
14.4
(-9.78)
23.5
(-4.72)
35.0
(1.67)
45.0
(7.22)
54.8
(12.67)
59.8
(15.44)
58.6
(14.78)
49.8
(9.89)
38.3
(3.5)
27.7
(-2.39)
15.4
(-9.22)
36.1
(2.28)
Record low °F (°C) −29
(-33.9)
−28
(-33.3)
−14
(-25.6)
7
(-13.9)
25
(-3.9)
29
(-1.7)
41
(5)
35
(1.7)
25
(-3.9)
7
(-13.9)
−9
(-22.8)
−28
(-33.3)
−29
(-33.9)
Precipitation inches (mm) 1.45
(36.8)
1.42
(36.1)
1.78
(45.2)
3.39
(86.1)
3.49
(88.6)
4.36
(110.7)
3.85
(97.8)
4.58
(116.3)
3.39
(86.1)
2.61
(66.3)
2.48
(63)
1.81
(46)
34.61
(879.1)
Snowfall inches (cm) 12.3
(31.2)
8.6
(21.8)
5.6
(14.2)
1.8
(4.6)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
.1
(0.3)
1.6
(4.1)
10.1
(25.7)
40.0
(101.6)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.2 7.5 7.9 10.7 11.8 10.7 9.4 9.1 8.8 9.4 8.8 9.5 112.8
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 6.8 5.1 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 0 0 .1 1.1 6.2 23.8
Source: NOAA

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 1,456
1870 2,633 80.8%
1880 2,969 12.8%
1890 6,321 112.9%
1900 7,419 17.4%
1910 8,740 17.8%
1920 12,558 43.7%
1930 17,176 36.8%
1940 19,242 12.0%
1950 21,233 10.3%
1960 30,004 41.3%
1970 40,271 34.2%
1980 50,365 25.1%
1990 56,894 13.0%
2000 64,825 13.9%
2010 70,718 9.1%
2019 (est.) 72,299 2.2%
Source: U.S. Census

2019 US Census Bureau ACS estimates


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Racial Makeup of Waukesha (2019)      White alone (88.82%)     Black alone (3.48%)     Native American alone (0.21%)     Asian alone (2.93%)     Pacific Islander alone (0.10%)     Some other race alone (2.07%)     Two or more races (2.39%)


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Racial Makeup of Waukesha treating Hispanics as a Racial Category (2019)
NH=Non-Hispanic      White NH (78.73%)     Black NH (3.40%)     Native American NH (0.11%)     Asian NH (2.81%)     Pacific Islander NH (0.10%)     Other race NH (0.07%)     Two or more races NH (1.88%)     Hispanic Any Race (12.89%)


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Racial Makeup of Hispanics in Waukesha (2019)      White alone (78.27%)     Black alone (0.58%)     Native American alone (0.77%)     Asian alone (0.92%)     Pacific Islander alone (0.01%)     Other race alone (15.54%)     Two or more races (3.92%)

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 70,718 people, 28,295 households, and 17,506 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,850.4 inhabitants per square mile (1,100.5/km2). There were 29,843 housing units at an average density of 1,202.9 per square mile (464.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 88.1% White, 2.3% African American, 0.4% Native American, 3.5% Asian, 3.5% from other races, and 2.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 12.1% of the population.

There were 28,295 households, of which 32.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.9% were married couples living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 38.1% were non-families. 30.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 3.02.

The median age in the city was 34.2 years. 23.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 10.8% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 30.4% were from 25 to 44; 24.7% were from 45 to 64; and 10.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.0% male and 51.0% female.

Transportation

Waukesha County Airport (KUES) and Waukesha Metro Transit serve the city and surrounding communities.

Recognition

  • In 2012 and 2013, Gibson Guitar Corporation selected Waukesha for its "GuitarTown" arts project.
  • In 2012, Money magazine ranked Waukesha one of the "100 Best Places to Live," in the United States.
  • In 2011 and 2012, America’s Promise Alliance ranked Waukesha one of the "100 Best Communities for Young People" in the United States.
  • In 2011, the National Recreation and Park Association granted Waukesha their "Gold Medal Award".
  • In 2011, the Wisconsin Library Association designated Waukesha’s Public Library as the "Wisconsin Library of the Year".

Economy

Top employers

According to Waukesha's 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:

# Employer # of Employees
1 GE Healthcare 2,477
2 Waukesha Memorial Hospital 2,149
3 Waukesha School District 1,800
4 Waukesha County 1,354
5 Cooper Power Systems 1,006
6 Generac Power Systems 759
7 Carroll University 742
8 HUSCO International 685
9 Waukesha Electric Systems 631
10 City of Waukesha 487

Education

Private schools include Mt. Calvary Lutheran School (Pre-K-8) and Trinity Lutheran School (Pre-K-8) of the WELS.

Located on the city's northwest side, the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha, part of the UW system, offers two-year associate degrees. Students have the option of transferring to four-year institutions to complete their undergraduate education. Waukesha County Technical College has a campus located in the downtown area. Waukesha is home to Carroll University, a private Presbyterian university. Opened in 1846, it is the oldest college in the state.

One of the two New Tribes Bible Institute campuses within the United States is located on a large hill in central Waukesha. Operated by New Tribes Mission, the school doubles as the first part of a four-year missionary training program, which includes field training in the U.S.

Notable people

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