Zoological Society of Milwaukee County: Records, 1910-2000

Scope and Content Note

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee County collection was established with two donations of records to the Archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. An initial accession in 1989 established the Society as the Zoological Society's archive. The majority of the records received at that time dated from the 1970s, although some items dated to as early as the zoological society's beginning. These records are a disparate assortment apparently related only by the fact that they had been retired to storage. Thus, this donation included material as varied as 1911 form letters and monthly bank statements from the 1970s and 1980s. Several key record types such as annual reports were missing or incomplete, however, and summary financial records are sparse prior to 1975. Also, due to inconsistent filing practices, similar material was often located in several places in the collection. (Not all of this duplication could be corrected in the Archives.) The second donation consisted of additional minutes and records from the files of publicist Patty Harrington. These public relations files date from the 1990s, a period not covered by any material in the first donation.

Although incomplete in some aspects, the collection provides good documentation of the society's operations and fundraising during in the 1960s and 1970s, although earlier records tend to be less complete. Researchers should keep in mind the fact that the collection represents the records of the zoological society, a private organization, not the zoo itself, which is an agency of Milwaukee County government.


The CONSTITUTIONS AND BY-LAWS contain the original constitution and the articles of incorporation dating from 1910, when the Washington Park Zoological Society was organized, and various revisions through 1984. Also related to basic organization is a 1987 organizational chart and lists of officers, members of the board, and committee chairs.

The HISTORICAL MATERIALS series consists of photocopied clippings, handwritten notes gathered for a history project that appears not to have been published, and several short histories by society officers Walter Kroening and Otto Kuehn. The notes are recorded on standardized data forms, and they synthesize information extracted from meeting minutes of the Zoological Society's board dating from 1910 through the 1970s. Interfiled with the notes are photocopies of news stories. No references to correspondence or other zoo records appear in the note files. The history project also searched reports of the Milwaukee Park Commission, the Milwaukee Common Council, and the Milwaukee County Board for information about the zoo. The county board reports were not retained here, as they are indexed and widely available.

GOVERNANCE AND POLICY RECORDS document the formation of administrative policy by the board of directors and by various committees of the society, and by the zoo committee of the Park Commission. The board minutes begin with a handwritten volume from 1910, but the remaining minutes are typed. Although the agenda varied over time, each monthly meeting generally included treasurer's reports of receipts and expenditures, reports of the animals acquired and purchase costs, information on animal deaths, and lists of new members. From 1931 to 1935, 1944 to 1947 and 1973 to 1977 the animal reports can be found in the SUBJECT FILES rather than the minutes. Additionally, some treasurer's reports are filed in the FINANCIAL RECORDS while others are part of the board minutes. Occasional committee minutes may be found with the board minutes, although most committee minutes are part of the committee records. The zoological society began publishing an annual report early in its history, but of these early reports, the collection includes only those from 1919 to 1928. It is unfortunate that the file is incomplete because these reports, like the board of directors' minutes, are a basic historical source containing directors' reports, financial statements, inventories of the animal collection, lists of members, and photographs. Publication of the annual report ended with a handsome volume in 1928. Thereafter, the annual report was a typed document filed with the minutes of the October annual meeting. In 1964 board member Walter Kroening reinstituted a published annual report. These reports contained much the same information as the earlier reports, although in subsequent years the report was sometimes biennial and occasionally even triennial. The 1974-1977 report was entitled “Operating Review and Report.”

The original donation of zoo records included incomplete, disordered files of CORRESPONDENCE created by various officers of the board of the society, with the largest identifiable section pertaining to board member Walter Koening's tenure as board member, president, and executive director. Because of its disorder, all of the correspondence has been combined into one chronological file regardless of provenance. The early correspondence, approximately 1911-1918, derives from the responsibilities of Paul L. Biersach, treasurer, and Frank P. Schumacher, secretary, with isolated items from president Otto L. Kuehn. There is virtually no documentation from the zoo director during this period. This early correspondence deals with themes that will be repeated throughout the society's history: fundraising, membership, and acquisition of animals. The correspondence concerning animals, perhaps the most important part of the collection, offers insights into the manner in which the animals were acquired and some of the attendant issues, but it represents the acquisition of only a small portion of the total zoological collection.

Correspondence of the 1920s is fragmentary. The files of the 1930s were largely created by secretary-treasurer Albert Biersach of the Milwaukee Wildlife Protective Society and perhaps a relative of the former treasurer. Director Edward Heller figures in some exchanges here, particularly telegrams and correspondence concerning the acquisition of Alaskan game animals. The 1940 correspondence includes interesting details on the care and feeding of a pair of giraffes during their transport to Milwaukee from Kenya. (Ernest Untermann, the director during this period, is also documented in a separately catalogued collection held by the Historical Society.) The immediate post-war correspondence documents director George Speidel with many exchanges concerning animals, relations with other zoological societies, and management issues such as the cost of animal insurance. Speidel's representation becomes less consistent during the 1950s while Otto Kuehn and his successors as president of the board of directors become more prominent. Kuehn was a very active officer and honorary board member, and he sometimes used business travel as collecting opportunities for the zoo. Documentation of Speidel's strong leadership includes several letters written from his 1962 African safari. The correspondence of the 1970s is limited also, and most derives from responsibilities exercised by Walter Kroening.

The SUBJECT FILES unite correspondence, memoranda, and other types of documentation that is focused around a single topic. The subjects vary widely.

The FACILITIES AND EXHIBITS series consists of blueprints and plans, correspondence, contracts, and fundraising files. The focus is on remodeling and improvements made during the 1970s, in particular the cheetah propagation unit, the Children's Zoo, the Humboldt Penquin Exhibit, and the winter quarters building. There are also detailed records on the construction of the Educational Center. Many of these files reveal additional responsibilities of Walter Kroening as he drew several of the plans. Files and photographs of the Humboldt exhibit and Monkey Jungle illustrate design techniques used in the fabrication of a few of the naturalistic habitats for which the Milwaukee Zoo is renown. Files included here under the heading “new zoo planning” represent planning for the fundraising campaign for the new zoo rather than planning for the design and construction of the new facility. Of special interest here are the individual fundraising appeals aimed at individual corporate leaders that were drafted by the consultant, Claire Richardson and Associates.

The series of PUBLICATIONS AND PUBLICITY documents the Society's longtime concern with publicity and outreach. The alphabetically-arranged file of zoo publications may be a colllection gathered by Kroening because of his position as newsletter and annual report editor. His newsletter, Animal Talk, is complete from its beginning in 1963 through 1980. Other newsletters, which are less complete, include early titles such as Our Friends at the Zoo, Washington Park Zoo Newsletter, and the Milwaukee Zoo News, as well as the more recent title, Alive. Also included is a collection of guides and brochures, souvenir postcards, maps, and fundraising and membership materials. Of the more scholarly Bulletin of the Washington Park Zoological Society, which was edited by director Edmund Heller, there are only three issues; these date from 1931 to 1933. Further evidence of the society's focus on outreach is documented by a large number of photocopied clipping scrapbooks and loose clippings that date from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s. Over the years, the zoo received extensive coverage from the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel, and many of the images in the clippings are also represented elsewhere in the collection by photographic prints. The more recent public relations efforts are documented by two different sets of press releases together with evidence of the resulting news coverage. It is thought that the first set which is entitled “summaries” was prepared by the zoo's advertising agency and that the second version is an in-house compilation.

The FINANCIAL RECORDS of the Zoological Society contain only a few document types of a summary nature such as journals, ledgers, and financial and operating statements. Those that are included date primarily from the 1970s. For the early period the annual reports and the monthly treasurer's reports are as a result the best overall financial source. Files of paid bills and checks, which would have been discarded had summary records existed, have been retained and weeded. For the 1920s and 1930s the checks and paid bills are not solely of financial value because they contain details about the zoo's animal acquisitions: costs and information about transport and shipping. Information about animals can also be found in the animal fund records dating from the mid-1950s through the 1970s.

The VISUAL MATERIALS include photographs, transparencies, negatives, films and videorecordings. The photographs, transparencies, and negatives are divided into two subseries: animals and general views. The animal file is alphabetically arranged by species, and many of the zoo's most famous animals --including Samson the gorilla --are included. Some species photographs peripherally document animal habitats at both the Washington Park Zoo and the Milwaukee County Zoo. The miscellaneous subjects include images of activities, exhibits and grounds, personnel, and the Washington Park facility. Several photographs of television personality Marlin Perkins are included.

The films and videorecordings are a random assortment including home movies of a visit to Washington Park Zoo (circa 1950-1951), animals being unloaded at the Pfister Hotel for a Platterpus Society dinner, and off-the-air recordings of several news stories. Zoo-opolis, a film produced for children, includes footage of animals, zookeepers, behind-the-scenes shots of feeding, and interviews with director Gilbert Boese. Also included are 1/2" open reel videorecordings probably of the zoo and zoo related events. Titles for these recordings were taken from labels on the videorecording boxes. The Society does not currently have the equipment needed to view the 1/2" open reel videorecordings.