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New Book Provides A Glimpse Into Cudahy's Commercial History

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If you've ever had canned ham, you can thank one of the first meatpacking companies to produce it: the Cudahy Brothers. The company has been in business since 1892, and its founders can be credited with establishing the city as central place for industry and community.

Since the late 1800's, through the pre-and-post World Wars, into the economic boom of the 1950's and through today, plants in addition to the Cudahy Brothers have been churning out everything from rubber and tires to sausages. Yet, the city's commerce has been more diverse than that for quite some time including companies such as Dretzka's Dry Goods (est. 1901), to the small businesses dotting Cudahy today.

Rebecca Roepke, the director of the Cudahy Family Library, and Michelle Gibbs, the library's reference librarian, are well aware of this history. Collecting and pouring through historical materials and photographs from the Cudahy family, local businesses, organizations and Cudahy residents, they compiled it all into a new book called, Cudahy: Snapshots of Commerce.

The book consists of six chapters with two black and white photos on each page, back and front. In the book there are "lots of interesting things to look at, and a little description in each picture. We tried to pack as much information as we could in a small amount of space," notes Gibbs. 

The book dedicates the first two chapters to Patrick Cudahy and his family's effect on the city. "His vision wasn't just to build a factory. He wanted several meat packers from the city of Milwaukee to join him and have a meat packing center," Gibbs explains. "But when they refused to come out and leave Milwaukee, he then envisioned a plan to build a city around his plant."

As far as what the authors want readers to get out of the book, Gibbs says, "it's a jumping off point, if you will. We're hoping that people can look through it, maybe spark some old memories and be inspired to do more research and find out more about the history of their town."

The authors have a book launch and signing reception at the Cudahy Family Library on Monday August 8, 2016 from 4-7PM. 

Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.