A brief history of your UW-Milwaukee

Early days to opening day

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee officially opened its doors and welcomed its first class of students on Sept. 25, 1956, with the merger of two Milwaukee institutions of higher learning: Wisconsin State College, Milwaukee and the local campus of University of Wisconsin-Extension.

However, UWM’s roots extend much deeper, to the Wisconsin State Normal School that was founded in 1885. Located at the corner of 18th and Wells streets, the school offered a two-year education curriculum. The normal school moved to what is now UWM’s Mitchell Hall, at the corner of Kenwood and Downer avenues, in 1909. Two years later, the school absorbed both the Milwaukee School of the Arts and the Wisconsin School of Fine and Applied Arts. University of Wisconsin-Extension took over responsibility for instruction at the site in 1920; in 1927, its name changed to Wisconsin State Teachers College, Milwaukee.

In 1951, after more than a decade as one of America’s top teaching colleges, Wisconsin State Teachers College, Milwaukee expanded its curriculum to offer liberal arts courses. A new university emerged: Wisconsin State College, Milwaukee (aka “Milwaukee State”) before a final merger with University of Wisconsin-Extension after the legislature voted, in 1955, to create a large public university to offer graduate degrees in Wisconsin’s largest city.

The newly merged institutions opened as one, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in the fall of 1956. The new university grew steadily, adding buildings from three other institutions as they were vacated in the 1960s. Three residential towers were built in the 1970s to accommodate growing student enrollment from all corners of Wisconsin.

First Ph.D. to Top Research university

True to its mission, UWM quickly established a solid reputation for graduate education and research – a rare accomplishment for a young university. Faculty awarded UWM’s first doctoral degree (mathematics) in 1966.

Research and entrepreneurship have taken on elevated prominence in the recent decade, as UWM has articulated a commitment to revitalizing the economy of southeastern Wisconsin. Annual research expenditures consistently reach $60 million. The UWM Research Foundation, established in 2006, has helped negotiate 54 license and option agreements and 40 patents and has supported the startup of nine faculty businesses.

Today, as the 50th anniversary of the Graduate School approaches, UWM offers 34 doctoral degree programs and is one of only two top-research universities in Wisconsin, according to a 2015 evaluation from the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education.

Growing footprint, rising profile

The university’s fund-raising profile grew with the establishment of the UWM Foundation in 1974. In 2008, the foundation concluded the Campaign for UWM with more than $125 million pledged. Made in Milwaukee, Shaping the World: The Campaign for UWM, launched in 2012, has raised $35 million to date.

Academic and athletic milestones achieved in the last 15 years have reshaped UWM’s campus and community standing alike: the opening of the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts, and a fourth Sandburg tower, in 2002; a Sweet 16 appearance for men’s basketball in 2005; the new Pavilion athletic complex and Kenilworth Square in 2006; and establishing the new School of Freshwater Sciences and the Zilber School of Public Health in 2010.

Next for UWM is the construction and grand opening of the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship. The building will open in late 2018, bringing together in one cutting-edge structure the interdisciplinary leadership training, ideas challenges and design and product development courses that are the foundation of UWM’s thriving, student-centered entrepreneurial ecosystem. That building will be only the second new academic construction project on UWM’s original East Side campus in 20 years. The other is the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex, which opened Oct. 2, 2015 at the intersection of Kenwood and Maryland avenues.

Strong partnerships, unlimited potential

Making its home in the economic, cultural and commercial heart of the state, UWM enjoys impactful partnerships with more than 4,000 schools, businesses, community groups and other organizations across southeastern Wisconsin. These partnerships helped UWM earn its first community engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2015.

Through these strong partnerships, and leveraging the legacy and expertise of our 180,000 alumni, UWM truly is shaping the world from its beloved Milwaukee hometown. We’re looking ahead to another successful 60 years. Join us.


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