The rich history of Green Bay, Wisconsin
The city of Green Bay, in Brown County, Wisconsin, started out as a small fur trading post back in 1634 but has grown and flourished over the centuries, to become the successful industrial region it is today.
The city sits at the head of the Green Bay which is part of Lake Michigan, placing the city itself around 177 meters above sea level. It’s the third largest city in Wisconsin, behind Madison and Milwaukee.
Green Bay is perhaps most famous for being the home of the National Football League (NFL) team – the Green Bay Packers. Incidentally, the team got its name from its original sponsors – the Indian Packing Company.
The team was created on 11 August, 1919 by George Calhoun and Earl Lambeau. Earl Lambeau managed to secure $500 for kit from his then employers - the Indian Packing Company - on condition that the team was named after them and the team has played in its home city longer than any other NFL team.
The Packers team competes in the NFL in the National Football Conference (NFC) North division and has a huge and loyal fan base. It is the only major league professional sports team in the country which is community owned and non-profit making.
Aside from sport, Green Bay is largely an industrial city, due to its beginnings in the fur trade and today it features a port on the edge of the bay, paper mills and meatpacking plants, as well as several museums and a University.
How did the city itself first become established?
The history first started when Jean Nicolet was tasked to create an alliance with Native Americans to try to find a shorter route through to China for the fur trade, via Canada. Nicolet set off on his travels in 1634 and landed at Red Banks.
He set up a trading post originally named La Baye or La Baie des Puants (French for "the stinking Bay"). He came across the Winnebago tribe, a people who were native to the area and hunted in the region and he lived with them for around 12 months, and opened up opportunities for trade and commerce before returning to Quebec.
The French stayed away from La Baye during the First Nations and European conflicts, but in 1671 a Jesuit Mission set up there. The town was first officially incorporated in 1754.
The town was taken over by the British in 1761 during the French and Indian War and the French then gave up their lands east of the Mississippi River to the British following their defeat during 1763.
Frenchman Charles de Langlade – known as the "Founder and Father of Wisconsin" – moved to Green Bay in 1765 with his family and they were the first European-Americans to settle in Wisconsin.
He was followed by other families who brought in Canadian and French culture. The town’s name change from the French “La Baye” to the British “Green Bay” was gradual over this time period and was because the water and shoreline took on a green color in the spring time.
The British and the French worked together in the region on the fur trade, and the fur industry really reached its peak during the British rule. Between 1763 and 1780, Green Bay flourished, producing its own food, building cottages and growing its population.
British rule finally ended in Green Bay when the 1783 treaty was signed, ending the American Revolutionary War. In 1825, the building of the Erie Canal was finished, which linked New England to the Great Lakes and saw Green Bay’s status as a trading center really start to grow.
Once the Black Hawk War ended in 1832, settlement really took off in the region, with farmers from across New England arriving in droves. In 1833 the Green Bay Intelligencer started up – the first newspaper for Wisconsin and the actual borough of Green Bay was set up in 1838. At that time the fur trade was still the main commercial industry.
The town had a population of almost 2,000 by 1850 and it became incorporated as the City of Green Bay in 1854.
During this time a large number of immigrants began flocking to the area, from Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Ireland and Holland, all adding to the rich cultural mixture of the region.
Gradually the industry moved away from the fur trade, and once Wisconsin became a state, the main commerce was lumbering, followed by iron in the 1860s and 1870s, and the first paper mill was built in the area in 1865.
The trade growth was really helped by the development of the railroad which was set up in the area in the 1860s. The creation of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad companies meant people and products could be transported across the state. The river was also helping to increase business and trade which led to the growth of the paper industry, and the development of the international port.
Green Bay was also home to a large number of packing companies, including the Indian Packing Company which gave its name to the football team. There was also Acme Packing Company, as well as major meatpacking companies including the Amercian Foods Group, as well as JBS S.A.
Green Bay celebrated its 300-year anniversary in 1934, with a visit from the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and by the 1950s the population was more than 50,000.
Today, the area of Green Bay is still renowned for its paper industry and is sometimes dubbed "Toilet Paper Capital of the World" because of the large amount of paper produced here. Companies including; Fort Howard Paper Company, Hoberg Paper Company and the Northern Paper Company were some of the first in the region and it was this industry which helped Green Bay avoid the impact of the Great Depression in the thirties. Today, major paper producers in the region still include; Procter & Gamble, the Steen-Macek Paper Company and Georgia-Pacific.
From its humble beginnings as a fur trading post, through French and British rule, Green Bay has grown and flourished and combines its strong cultural heritage with its sporting prowess to create today’s strong community.