Milwaukee County Zoo
Each year the Milwaukee County Zoo attracts over one million visitors to see the 330 species of animals in its care. The Milwaukee County Zoo, located on Bluemound Road, was officially opened in 1961 and was developed out of a desire in the 1950s to modernize and expand Milwaukee’s original zoo, located in the former
Washington Park area.
The first zoo in Milwaukee, originally located in the Washington Park area, formerly known as West Park, grew out of Colonel Gustave Pabst’s (son of the owner of Pabst Brewery) and Louis Auer’s desire to create a deer park like those they had enjoyed in Germany. After delighting visitors with a one-acre paddock where the deer could be observed, management soon planned for other animals to be included. By the turn of the century West Park officially rebranded as the Washington Park Zoo and began receiving other animals. By 1915, the zoo was home to 800 animals, including sea lions and zebras.
Part of this growth was fueled by funding from the Zoological Society, which was founded in 1910. The group paved roads, added a bandshell to provide entertainment, and added “Monkey Island.” In 1937, ownership of the zoo was transferred to the County government, which partnered with the Zoological Society to develop a care and expansion plan. The Zoological Society began advocating for new zoo facilities in the late 1930s. In 1947, the County Park Commission purchased 200 acres on Bluemound Road for a new zoo—finally opening the present-day location to the public on Mother’s Day 1961.
The Milwaukee County Zoo was innovative for its time, forgoing the jail-cell like cages of the previous Washington Park Zoo for bar-less enclosures and glass walls that allowed visitors a more intimate experience. The Zoo’s commitment to conservation and education through experience continues today, as described in their mission - “To inspire public understanding, support, and participation in global conservation of animal species and their natural environment by creating a unifying bond between our visitors and the living earth.”