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Monday, July 27, 2009

Historian John Gurda Explores ‘The World of the Brumders’

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This year marks the 170th anniversary of the arrival of Germans in Milwaukee, and last weekend the city celebrated with its 29th annual GermanFest. In the years prior to the First and Second World Wars, before sauerkraut became known as "liberty cabbage" and Germany became part of the Triple Alliance and synonymous with Nazism, Germans in Milwaukee had much to celebrate.

Many of the city's landmarks and industries bear the familiar names of Germans who arrived during the last half of the 19th century: Pfister, Miller and Pabst are among the most famous. Another European immigrant of German descent to arrive in Milwaukee, neither a tanner nor a brewer, was George Brumder. Born in 1839, he came to the United States at the age of 18 and later carved a niche serving the growing population of German immigrants, many of whom spoke little to no English, with his daily German-language newspaper.

His namesake building, known alternatively as the Germania Building, still stands eight stories tall at Plankinton and Wells, and once housed his flourishing German-language publishing business. Brumder, who branched out into the insurance and financial industries, died of a stroke at the age of 71; his obituary was fit to print in TheNew YorkTimes.

Brumder is the subject of a lecture by John Gurda titled "German Milwaukee: The World of the Brumders" at UW-Milwaukee's Golda Meir Library on Thursday, July 30, at 6 p.m. Gurda, lauded local historian of The Making of Milwaukee fame, will discuss Brumder in the context of early Milwaukee's lasting German influence, which ranges from industry to politics to architecture.

In the 1990s, UWM's Golda Meir Library acquired 60 of Brumder's books from two of its former professors. Along with a donation from his descendant, E.J. Brumder, the library is now home to more than 160 early German-language publications. Though a select few of these books can be found at Milwaukee's Central Library, many of these works are rarities, and Thursday's lecture will provide a unique opportunity to view excerpts from this special collection.

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