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Green Bay History: More Than Just a Football Team

The history of Green Bay is a fascinating story that includes nearly 10,000 years of Indiginous settlement, French fur trading, farming, shipping, and a papermaking industry that still thrives today. Oh, and of course, the formation of the greatest football team of all time.

Green Bay history goes all the way back to early prehistoric times, when Indigenous tribes like the Winnebago, Menominee, Fox, and Ojibwa, called the area home. They settled near the Fox River since it was an easy gateway to the Great Lakes, which made trading easier. They were also attracted to the rich soil, fish, wild rice, and waterfowl.

These indigenous tribes were the only humans in what is now Green Bay for around 10,000 years. Then, in 1634, a French explorer named Jean Nicolet visited “La Baye Verte'' (“The Green Bay”) and turned it into a fur-trading post. The indigenous people were happy to trade with the French for weapons and cloth, and they lived in relative harmony for about 150 years.

When the war of 1812 drove the French population out of the area, the British took control and built Fort Howard, the first incorporated "borough" in Green Bay. The community started growing quickly as Belgian farmers and Norwegian laborers immigrated to the area in large numbers.

As railroads developed in the late 1800’s, trades like lumber milling and papermaking replaced farming and trading as the main industries. Paper mills helped keep the city of Green Bay above water during The Great Depression, and the industry is still a source of jobs due to large factories owned by Green Bay Packaging, Georgia-Pacific, Procter & Gamble, and others.

In 1919, the Green Bay Packers were founded by Earl "Curly" Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun. The team’s name came from the Indian Packing Company, the meat packing company where Lambeau worked. They sponsored the team’s equipment and uniforms until 1921 when they became part of what we now know as the NFL. The rest, as they say, is history!

Experience Some Green Bay History for Yourself!

If you want to learn more about how the city of Green Bay came to be, you’ll want to visit the Neville Public Museum during your trip. Their permanent “Generations” exhibit takes you through a visual history, from fossils to footballs. You can also explore an incredible archive of historic photographs on their website, some dating all the way back to the 1800’s.

The Brown County Historical Society is another great resource for history buffs! You can tour the Hazelwood Historic House and hear about the Martin family, a prominent family who inhabited the riverside home in the mid-1800’s. The Historical Society also hosts regular “If Tombstones Could Talk” walking cemetery tours for those who want to learn more about the people who made an impact on Greater Green Bay.

Heritage Hill is a living history state park where you can see original buildings from the La Baye Fur Trade era, hospitals, schools, officer’s quarters and more from the original Fort Howard community, a Belgian Farmhouse and even a cheese factory from the late 1800’s, among many others. They also have over 9,000 artifacts on display, including original artwork, books, clothing and furnishings dating from the 17th century to the present.

The National Railroad Museum is a great place to visit to learn more about the history of the trains that ran through Greater Green Bay and beyond. In fact, this museum is one of the oldest and largest train museums in the country. You can see train cars from all different periods throughout history, including the Union Pacific #4017 “Big Boy” locomotive and the Dwight D. Eisenhower, the only A4 Class locomotive in the United States.

Greater Green Bay is also home to several historical markers that you’ll want to be sure to work into your itinerary, including the Jean Nicolet statue at Wequiock Falls and the Zachary Taylor statue at Leicht Memorial Park.

Those unfamiliar with the history of the area might think that Green Bay history centers around the Packers, but that’s just one small part of the very rich and complex story. Next time you visit, make sure to experience it first-hand and find out MORE about what makes Greater Green Bay so great!

Sources:

A Brief History of Green Bay. (n.d.). Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2020, December 10). Green Bay. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Green-Bay-Wisconsin

A Brief History of Green Bay. (n.d.). Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/

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