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Milwaukee, Wisconsin (U.S.)

Milwaukee County

Last modified: 2018-02-12 by rick wyatt
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[Milwaukee, Wisconsin flag] image by Randy Young, 6 March 2001

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Description of the flag

City Hall (center) represents good government, flanked by church, industry, school and recreation. The industrial gear bears symbols of Native American origin, culture and military service. The ship represents Milwaukee's port -- 1846 is the year of incorporation."
Steve Stringfellow, 15 June 2000

Milwaukee has a sketchy history at best when it comes to picking designs for its flag. In the 1950s, when it was determined that Milwaukee was one of only four cities with populations over 500,000 without a flag, the city held a contest. The winner: former Ald. Fred Steffan, who cobbled together elements from some of the better entries. That resulted in the current flag, a collection of symbols representing the port (a boat), beer (a stalk of barley), manufacturing (a gear and smokestacks) and sports and entertainment (the now-replaced County Stadium), on a blue field. It also features an Indian head, a tiny version of the city's Civil War flag, and a church steeple.
Source; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Phil Nelson, 2 December 2002

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). 


Banner bore: Designs for new city flag fail to capture spirit of Milwaukee, arts board decides
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." - 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 010 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. - The People's Flag of Milwaukee website

More detailed explanations by the designer can be read here:

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. - 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
Vexinews, 17 June 2017