The cement that made Milwaukee famous

Joanne Kluessendorf, Donald G. Mikulic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


During the late nineteenth century, a major natural cement industry was established in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, employing argillaceous dolomite strata of the Devonian Milwaukee Formation. This cement rapidly became one of the leading brands in the United States, being shipped as far away as Colorado and serving as a standard for federal government projects. Eminent local scientist I. A. Lapham (1851) was the first to notice a similarity between the Milwaukee rock and hydraulic limestone used in the famous Louisville, Kentucky, natural cement industry. However no attempt was made to develop these deposits until 1876, when a local manufacturer of cement pipe, Joseph Berthelet, started the Milwaukee Cement Company. Following its early success, the company began to invest considerable capital to expand and modernize its operations. By 1888, it had erected what was then the largest single cement mill in the U. S., and several company employees received patents for innovative equipment used in its operation. The great success of the Milwaukee Cement Company inspired several unsuccessful attempts by rivals to establish local operations, and other firms utilized some of its patented equipment in their own plants. Almost as swiftly as it grew, the Milwaukee Cement Company began to decline at the dawn of the twentieth century, ceasing operation by 1909. This decline was due, in part, to geological conditions at their quarries. Usable Milwaukee Formation strata were only about 30 feet thick and could be quarried only in a limited area at the company's site along the Milwaukee River. What originally seemed like unlimited reserves had been depleted rapidly, and the company was forced to develop more expensive underground mines. More importantly, however, Portland cement was becoming increasingly less expensive because of the increased use of rotary kilns. Although known for nearly a century, the use of this superior cement skyrocketed after 1900, and the market for natural cement largely disappeared.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAbstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America
PublisherGeological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States (USA)
ISBN (Print)0016-7592
StatePublished - 2008


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