Milwaukee’s “puddlers” were the original residents of Bay View – a company town that sprang up on Milwaukee’s near south side in the 1860s. Captain Eber Brock Ward of Michigan opened his third rolling mill, The Milwaukee Iron Co., in Bay View in 1868 and within a decade, the iron mill was the largest employer in the area with more than 1,500 men. In contrast to the city’s majority German immigrant population, the iron workers were largely immigrants from Great Britain who were experienced miners and iron workers.
The term “puddler” referred to individuals that worked at the steel mill and were responsible for determining when iron or steel was ready to be poured into puddles, and from puddles into various forms such as rails, nails, and tools. Cottages erected by the company for the mill workers became the center of the village. Many of these “puddlers cottages” are still occupied today and are a part of the diverse architecture of the Bay View neighborhood.
Puddler’s Hall, a signature forest green building with maroon trim at 2461 S. St. Clair St., stands proudly as Milwaukee’s second oldest tavern. Built in 1872, it was established as a union hall for the Puddlers and Boilers of the nearby Milwaukee Iron Company – a predecessor to the United Steelworkers International Union. For decades it served as Bay View’s union hall and was also the site of concerts, lectures, meetings, and celebrations.
The original Puddler’s Hall has had many lives over more than a century and a half. From a union meeting house, to a Pabst Brewing Company “tied-house tavern,” to a dance hall (rumored to have a hidden speakeasy and tunnel in the Prohibition years), and on to various taverns.
In honor of the history of the building, the tavern was renamed Puddler’s Hall in 2002 by new owners, who display vintage photos of the founding fathers of the community and detail the history of the workers.
Today Puddler’s Hall reflects Bay View’s quirky, diverse community spirit by hosting the Milwaukee Guitar Club (Tuesdays), Beer Runners Club (Wednesdays) and Table Tennis League (Thursdays).