Zoological Society of Milwaukee County: Records, 1910-2000


1892 Small menagerie of eight deer and an eagle donated to the Milwaukee Park Commission. The menagerie is housed in a barn at West Park, one of the city's first parks. Along with subsequent donations of two bears and several elk, these animals were housed in a barn at the park.
1894 City begins a succession of land purchases to increase the size of the park.
1899 City authorizes expenditure of 2,137 dollars for construction of a herbivorous animal building.
1900 West Park becomes known as Washington Park.
1904 Edward Bean leaves Lincoln Park Zoo to become first professional director of the Washington Park Zoo. The collection includes 75 animals and birds. Bean undertakes an active building program. Deemed a “wizard with animals,” Bean is a showman and a master of public relations.
1904 Deer house constructed and animal collection grows through donations.
1905 Park Commission undertakes a study of Lincoln Park Zoo that would guide early development of the Washington Park Zoo.
1907 Elephant Countess Heinie is added to collection. The elephant's presence enhances public support. Later she is traded to the Barnes Circus.
1909 Charles Stanke becomes animal caretaker. He plays an important role in Washington Park Zoo's success with animal breeding and ultimately becomes chief animal keeper. He also serves as acting director on several occasions.
1910 Washington Park Zoological Society is organized to raise funds for the development of the zoo and the purchase of animals. (No animals are ever purchased with taxpayer dollars.) The Society succeeds the short-lived West Park, 19th Ward, and Milwaukee zoological societies. Otto L. Kuehn becomes the first president. He builds the reputation of the zoo with frequent collecting trips to Europe.
1912 Four polar bear cubs are purchased. The female, Sultana, later gives birth to the first polar bear born in captivity to live to maturity, an event that adds stature to Washington Park among the world zoological community.
1920 Construction of Monkey Island is completed.
1928 Zoologist and writer Edmund Heller is named director after Bean becomes director of the Brookfield Zoo in 1927.
1935 The zoo exhibits 1063 animals valued at 65,307 dollars on 23 acres, although, because of economic conditions, no animals had been acquired during the previous four years. Heller resigns after several black bears are killed during a habitat experiment. Ernest Untermann becomes director.
1940 Ernest Untermann retires after a controversial tenure as director and is succeeded by George L. Waetjen. He launches a membership-fundraising drive. This program's success staves off the necessity of charging admission.
1946 Society presents a ten-year plan to the County Board of Supervisors that calls for relocation to a larger site and development of a modern, naturalistic exhibit facility.
1947 George Speidel, son-in-law of Edward Bean and the head of the Racine Zoo, is appointed director. His career brings additional acclaim to the zoo for its creative and intelligent exhibits. Society begins plans to replace aging animal collection and buildings.
1953 Washington Park Society hands over all of its assets to the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County and goes out of existence.
1954 County purchases 165 acres near the state fairgrounds for the development of a new larger zoo.
1956 Society begins private fundraising campaign to improve animal collection while Milwaukee County underwrites cost of the buildings. In three months over 500,000 dollars is raised.
1958 Construction begins on the first new building, the Monkey House. Milwaukee Journal Company underwrites the cost of the zoo train.
1963 All animals are moved from the Washington Park site ending a process that had lasted three years.
1968 Bisbing Report examines zoo's impact on Milwaukee tourism and names the zoo as Wisconsin's number one tourist attraction.
1971 Society begins fundraising for Children's Zoo.
1973 Education Department is established.
1974 In cooperation with the Milwaukee Public Schools, Society launches Ed-Zoo-Cation Mobile Laboratory.
1975 Zoo Pride is established to coordinate volunteers.
1978 George Speidel retires; Walter Kroening is named executive director to manage the affairs of the board of directors.
1979 Gilbert K. Boese named director.
1981 Otto L. Kuehn Company becomes the first corporate member of the zoological society.
1982 Samson the gorilla, the zoo's most popular attraction, dies at age 33. His sibling, Sambo, had died in 1959.
1984 Zoo purchases Chandar, the White Tiger.
1987 Zoo opens Dairy Complex to educate visitors about the dairy industry.