The Milwaukee Earthquake of 1947

California isn’t the only place that has trembly ground….  Ok, Ok, so it happens more often there.  But we HAVE had an earthquake in Milwaukee.


In all of recorded history, the Milwaukee area has been at the epicenter of an earthquake only once. This was on May 6, 1947 and luckily was only a short 4.0 magnitude quake, lasting only about 40 seconds. Although no major damage to infrastructure or buildings were reported, several downtown buildings were evacuated by frightened workers.

The sudden jolt threw the pens off of the two seismographs at the Marquette University physics department. The Rev. Joseph Carroll was at the time the head of the Physics Department at the university and it had the only seismographs in the area.

The Milwaukee Sentinel from May 7, 1947 reported:

Mayor Bohn called to see if the City Hall should be evacuated in case of another quake. Inspector Hubert Dax of the Police Department had the same question about the Safety Building.

Both were reassured by Father Carroll, who pointed out that Milwaukee “might not have another quake for 100 years.” He explained:

“The tilt of the rock of the lake shore, which probably caused the quake, will almost certainly not occur in the near future and may never occur again.”

A later quote gave a more interesting history of Wisconsin earthquakes showing how rare this event could be.

Yesterday’s quake is the only one on record in Wisconsin, Father Carroll added, and the only one even rumored in the state before the days of the seismograph was a light one in the 1750s.

Milwaukee Daily News,
May 6, 1947



4 thoughts on “The Milwaukee Earthquake of 1947

  1. As I understand it, the mid west sits a-top a significant fault line. Drawing a line north from Wisconsin would place you roughly in Quebec, a province that is second only to B.C. for seismic activity. My home in Vancouver sits along the long overdue Pacific plate.Predictions of the “big one” saw to it that my kids practised earthquake drills in school, and all Vancouver schools have free standing emergency supply sheds.I’ve felt 3 or 4 quakes in the last 20 years – all minor but alarming when windows rattle or doors sway. This is an interesting place to take a peek at the hundreds of quakes every day.


    1. I think they call our fault like the New Lisbon. It extends down into Missouri (from whence it gets the name).

      We have been contemplating spending a significant amount of time on the Left Coast once we get out of this brick and mortar existence. I’ve not experienced an earthquake so I expect I’ll have some interesting experiences ahead. But such is life — any illusion that the earth is still, or dead, are of course strictly illusions. This big ball we live on is alive in ways we’ll never truly understand.

      Seems as how there was a quake in PQ within the last 6 months that was big enough to make news here. But I’m so helplessly challenged about elapsed time it could easily have been six years. I have no sense at all about the passage of time.



      1. I remember Mt. Saint Helen in Washington state as if it were yesterday.Shady on the year ’81 I believe. That morning I was out on my patio when suddenly the birds were silent. It took a moment to understand why I stopped in my tracks trying to process the odd silence. By nightfall ash began to fall, the next morning ash covered tree branches and warnings blared for those with respiratory problems to stay inside. St. Helen was close to 300 miles away! While not an earthquake, it was a sizeable spanking courtesy mother nature. On clear days we can see Mt. Baker – also in Washington state – sometimes thin puffs of smoke rise from this active volcano.

        We hang by a thread to our little corners of the world, incapable of preventing volcanoes, earthquakes, or mega storms.I don’t know if you have ever visited Yellowstone park – the “super volcano” percolating beneath Old Faithful is thousands of years overdue – that “big one” would prove to be a very bad day.:)


      2. We HAVE been to Yellowstone. They say that if the Yellowstone volcano ever blew it could very well obliterate most life to the East for 1000 miles and change the face and climate of the entire continental U.S.

        We’ll see what happens…. Might depend on how long I live. 🙂


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