With another Green Bay Packer football season behind them and winter tightening its grip on the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s sports fans can now focus their frostbitten thoughts on warmer things, the upcoming baseball season. It is an exciting prospect that the newly energized Milwaukee Brewers could be returning to playoff contention in the very near future after a long absence. Last year 2,211,023 fans passed through the Miller Park turnstiles and the Brewers are expecting even better attendance in the coming season. The enthusiasm that is building again for Milwaukee baseball is a testament to the fans of Milwaukee who are among the best in Major League Baseball. But this is nothing new Milwaukee has always had a history of backing their teams. One only has to return to 1953 and the Miracle in Milwaukee, The Milwaukee Braves, to see where it all began.
On March 13th 1953 Lou Perini announced his intentions to move the Boston Braves to Milwaukee and was given the OK March 18th by Major League Baseball. At long last, Milwaukee had a Major League Baseball Team. The home opener was scheduled for April 14th, not leaving a lot of time to get things ready. It was pandemonium but Milwaukee was ready for the challenge and to embrace its new team. Very soon, people would be descending on the newly built Milwaukee County stadium. On opening day, ready or not, they came… by plane, by train, long lines of automobiles, on foot and also by Bus. Chartered Buses for large groups and for the every day citizenry of Milwaukee, the soon to be familiar Cream and Orange colored Transport Company Buses with their Red and Blue Pennants waving in the breeze, signaling that they indeed were taking their passengers some place special.
The city of Milwaukee has always had an excellent transit system. Modern comfortable equipment, reasonable prices with enough routes to get you anywhere in the city with ease. Baseball games were no exception and today you can still find special stadium routes during the Baseball season, taking scores of fans to and from the games. This long successful service of the Stadium Special Buses began in earnest in 1953. The Transport company, like every one else, had to hit the ground running to be ready in time for the Inaugural Milwaukee Braves opener.
The Transport company used several routes around the city to get fans to the stadium. A schedule from 1958 shows 5 routes in use at the time:
Route 90 Wisconsin Avenue
Route 91 Capitol Sherman
Route 92 Oklahoma South 27th Street
Route 93 National South 70th street
Route 94 Lisbon Wauwatosa
A recent discovery by this author is a Transport Company photo, which according to the documentation written on the photo’s reverse, shows a 1200 Series bus posed on 37th Street between Wells Street and Wisconsin Avenue to advertise the new Route 90 Braves Baseball Special started in 1953. It goes on to say that the actual fare charged in 1953 was 35 cents for a round trip correcting the sign in the front window which stated 15 CENTS CASH FARE ONLY The Route Window Sign showing the word STADIUM is of also worth noting in that it is printed on a white background. More on this and the fare prices later.
The focal point of this photo is the Sign on the front of the Bus. I finally have found the photographic provenance for a sign that I knew had existed for a number of years, but I had no information of it’s age, usage, or if even if it had any ties with the Milwaukee Transport Company. That is until now. Being a collector of both Milwaukee Transit Memorabilia and Milwaukee Baseball Memorabilia, this was a ‘Holy Grail’ discovery for me, tying two of my favorite collections together. Both the photograph itself and the actual sign used on the buses are fantastic collectibles in their own right but together they open that rare and special window into our past. The early days of Major League Baseball in Milwaukee and how we got there.
THE SIGN / Physical Inspection and Observations
The sign (artifact) itself has a royal blue background with red, white, blue and yellow detailing on hard board and is 30 inches high by 48 inches long. There is no doubt with the photographic evidence shown in the Transport company photo that the artifact’s artwork matches that of the sign in the photo. Some slight variations exist, I believe, due to the sign in the photo being a prototype, made especially for the photo shoot. The white highlighting for the Tomahawk’s handle wrappings and the painted shadow of the tomahawk’s head appear too distinctive to be part of the screening process and suggests that they may have been added to enhance the photograph, but this is speculation on my part. The ‘mounting bolts’ in the photo are dead on with the location of holes in the actual artifact. Pointed corners could have been easily damaged and the mounting of the bottom of the sign over the bumper was probably neither desirable or legal in actual usage. I believe that the rounding off of the corners of the artifact and the notches in the base could very well be changes made as the sign was put into actual production and use. Both the rounded corners and the notches have been painted and the paint matches perfectly, so the cuts appear to be original and not done later. 2 other variations are the absence of the white outline border in BASEBALL SPECIAL on the artifact but shown in the photo. Also, the artifact has red highlighting around the word Braves that is not in the photo. These changes actually seem to enhance the look of the artwork. The white outline border around BASEBALL SPECIAL was hardly noticeable next to the yellow, the colors being complimentary but the red highlights on the word Braves make the word stand out much better from its blue background. This sign saw heavy use, bolt damage around the holes is evident, scratches, cracks and splits are also present. The blue paint appears to have been touched up below the words BASEBALL SPECIAL. There is even street tar and gravel near the base probably kicked up from the tires as the bus drove down city streets. Some tack holes are present around the top border of the artifact probably due it being mounted by a previous owner. Even after 53 years, the colors of this sign are quite striking and beautiful and must have garnered a lot of attention when the bus traveled the streets of Milwaukee.
DATING THE ARTIFACT
The photographic evidence of this sign being attached to a Milwaukee Transport Company Bus tells us that this is indeed a Milwaukee Braves artifact, not their predecessor’s, the Boston Braves. The documentation on the reverse of this photo dates the photo as being taken in 1953, the year the Braves moved to Milwaukee. The artwork on the sign itself depicts an Indian with a full headdress used by the Milwaukee Braves on their uniforms between 1953-1956.
I have reviewed motion picture film documentation that narrows the gap even further, that in fact, makes me conclude that this sign was used only in 1953, before the corporate sponsorship got up to speed and replaced it. Fred Miller as many local people know was very much involved with the Milwaukee Braves. Miller Brewing Company sponsored Team Highlight films from 1953-1961 reproduced on video by Rare Sports Films. Viewing them several times especially the color films from 1954 – ‘Home of the Braves’ and 1955 – ‘Baseball’s Main Street’ you can actually see the Stadium buses arriving at Milwaukee County stadium.
Evidence gathered from these films confirms the dating of the Transport company photograph. Looking at the photo again, the sign in the front window shows the fare to be 15 cents and company documentation on the reverse states that it was in fact, 35 cents for a round trip. Both the 1954 and 1955 films show that the price had increased to 50 cents round trip visible in signage on the buses. A price that lasted at least until 1958. (see 1958 Schedule)
Absent from the front of Stadium Buses filmed in 1954 were these beautiful royal blue signs and in their place was a much smaller standardized framed Miller Brewing Company sponsored advertisement which included the slogan ‘Go Get em Braves’.
Signage was changed again in 1955, again using a smaller framed sign with a different Miller advertisement.
Corporate sponsorship had finally caught up by 1954 and the Hand Painted STADIUM SPECIAL signs were no longer needed.
THE PHOTOGRAPH REVISITED
Repeating the documentation quoted on the reverse of the photo:
“A 1200-series bus is posed on 37th Street between Wells Street and Wisconsin Avenue for advertising the new Rt 90 Braves Baseball Special started in 1953. The actual fare was 35 cents round-trip.”
According to the words written by the Transport Company, this was a staged photo advertising the new Braves Baseball Special. Many elements of this photograph are obviously staged for the publicity shot and not quite in their final state of readiness.
1) Fare prices were estimated at 15 cents on the front window sign, but the actual fare charged was 35 cents when the service began in 1953. 2) The Window STADIUM Route sign was also a prop, the white background with black lettering was a temporary sign made up for the occasion and would never have worked well when backlit for actual nighttime service and be visible. Film documentation in 1954 shows an actual window STADIUM route sign having a red background with white letters, which would show up well at night. 3) The BASEBALL SPECIAL SIGN was attached over the bus’s bumper without a frame and the paint on it was so fresh you can see fingerprints all over it in the photo, either from the installers who had to attach it for the exhibition or from the touch of adoring fans who may have viewed it that day in 1953. 4) Some of the artwork obviously changed by the time the actual sign made it to the street attested to by the artifact that shows actual usage.
Born in the frenzied early days of the inaugural season of the Milwaukee Braves and replaced soon there after by a ‘Major League’ sponsor, Miller Brewing Company, The “BASEBALL SPECIAL” Sign is a testament to how Milwaukee met the challenge and responded both swiftly and artistically to welcome and carry its fans to see their new team. The Sign, together with the accompanying photograph gives us a glimpse into that world of 1953. When Milwaukee first opened it’s City and it’s Heart to it’s Milwaukee Braves.
Paul F. Tenpenny
Milwaukee Baseball History
“Braves Baseball Special -1953”
“My 10 Cents Worth”