Although Sheboygan and Milwaukee are only 55 minutes apart by car today, the two cities on the west coast of Lake Michigan remained largely separate in 1900 when they both competed to become the industrial capital of Wisconsin. Through the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the industrialization process in both cities was shaped by an increase in Jewish immigration to the region.
Today the largest Jewish communities in Wisconsin exist in the cities with the highest populations. This, however, was not always the case. Around 1900, there were many new and budding Jewish communities across the state in places like Sheboygan, La Crosse, and Eau Claire. There were also smaller, rural communities emerging like the Arpin Settlement in Wood County.
The first Russian Jews arrived in Sheboygan in the 1880s. Like many other immigrants, they often followed their “landsleit” (fellow townsmen) to settlements in the new world, with the result that many of Sheboygan’s Jewish immigrants came from a relatively small area east of Vilna and north of Minsk in current-day Belarus. They settled on the northwest side of Sheboygan, in a neighborhood bounded by 13th and 15th Streets, Geele Avenue on the north, and Bluff Avenue on the south.