Milwaukee County Stadium was originally built as a home for the Milwaukee Brewers of the minor league American Association, replacing the outdated and deteriorating Borchert Field. Both locations would be influenced by the future Milwaukee County freeway system, as Borchert Field's footprint would be cleared to make way for Interstate 43, with County Stadium located southwest of the interchange with the Stadium Freeway and Interstate 94.
Several locations around the city, including the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis were considered before the city settled on the defunct site of the Story Quarry, on the west side of Milwaukee near the Story Hill neighborhood. County Stadium was the first ballpark in the United States financed with public funds. Construction began in October 1950 and, hampered by steel shortages during the Korean War, was completed in 1953. Construction cost was $5.9 million, with the bonds paid off in 1964.
The city of Milwaukee also hoped to use the new facility to attract a Major League Baseball franchise (the city had been considered a potential relocation target for years), and in this respect their efforts were immediately successful. In fact, the minor league Brewers would never get a chance to play at the new stadium.
Even before it was completed, the new "Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium" drew the interest of major league clubs. The St. Louis Browns, who had played in Milwaukee in 1901, the inaugural season of the American League, applied for permission to relocate back to the city they had left half a century before. The Boston Braves, the parent club of the Brewers, blocked the proposed move. The Braves had long been struggling at the gate in Boston, and rumors of them relocating had been floating for some time. The move to keep Milwaukee available as a new home indicated to many observers that the Braves would move to Milwaukee themselves.
Three weeks before the beginning of the 1953 season, and right before the new stadium was ready to open, the Braves made it official, applying for permission to relocate. The other National League owners agreed, with the team becoming the Milwaukee Braves. The Braves' first regular season home game was on April 14 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Bill Bruton hit a 10th inning home run to win the game (3-2) in dramatic style. In their first season in Milwaukee, the Braves set the National League attendance record of 1.8 million. The first published issue of Sports Illustrated on August 16, 1954, featured County Stadium and batter Eddie Mathews on its cover.
On July 12, 1955, County Stadium hosted the 22nd All-Star Game. The National League won, 6–5, on a 12th-inning home run by Stan Musial. The Braves hosted back-to-back World Series in 1957 and 1958, both against the New York Yankees. The Braves defeated the Yankees in seven games in 1957, but the Yankees returned the favor the next year.
The stadium continued to be the National League's top draw until 1959 when the Dodgers, who had moved to Los Angeles two years before, overtook the Braves (both in the stands and on the field). In the early 1960s attendance fell, along with the Braves' standings, amid an unstable ownership situation. The Milwaukee Braves used the stadium through the 1965 season when new owners, seeking a larger television market, moved the team to Atlanta.
In an effort to return Major League Baseball to Milwaukee after the departure of the Braves, local businessman and minority Braves owner Bud Selig brought other teams to play at County Stadium, beginning with a 1967 exhibition game between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The exhibition game attracted more than 51,000 spectators, so Selig's group contracted with Sox owner Arthur Allyn to host nine Chicago White Sox home games at County Stadium in 1968.
Selig's experiment was highly successful – those nine games drew 264,297 fans. Those games took place on May 15 vs. the California Angels, May 28 vs. the Baltimore Orioles, June 17 vs. the Cleveland Indians, June 24 vs. the Minnesota Twins, July 11 vs. the New York Yankees, July 22 vs. the Oakland A's, August 2 vs. Washington Senators, August 8 vs. the Boston Red Sox, and August 26 vs. the Detroit Tigers. In Chicago that season, the Sox drew 539,478 fans to their remaining 58 home dates. In just a handful of games, the Milwaukee crowds accounted for nearly one-third of the total attendance at White Sox games. In light of this success, Selig and Allyn agreed that County Stadium would host Sox home games again the next season.
In 1969, the Sox schedule in Milwaukee was expanded to include 11 home games (one against every other franchise in the American League at the time). Although those games were attended by slightly fewer fans (198,211 fans, for an average of 18,019) they represented a greater percentage of the total White Sox attendance than the previous year – over one-third of the fans who went to Sox home games in 1969 did so at County Stadium (in the remaining 59 home dates in Chicago, the Sox drew 391,335 for an average of 6,632 per game). Those games took place on April 23 vs. the California Angels, May 22 vs. Detroit Tigers, May 28 vs. the New York Yankees, June 11 vs. the Cleveland Indians, June 16 vs. the Seattle Pilots (who eventually became the Brewers the next season), July 2 vs. the Minnesota Twins, July 7 vs. the Oakland A's, August 6 vs. the Washington Senators, August 13 vs. the Boston Red Sox, September 1 vs. the Baltimore Orioles, and September 26 vs. the Kansas City Royals.
Despite the attendance success of the White Sox games, Selig was unable to attract an expansion team in the 1969 expansion. However, one of the teams founded in that expansion would later work in Selig's favor.
Not discouraged, Selig instead bought the Seattle Pilots out of bankruptcy court. The Pilots had been a 1969 expansion team. The Seattle franchise had serious stadium and financial issues. In the spring of 1970, Milwaukee had baseball again, and County Stadium had a new tenant.
The new Milwaukee Brewers, named for the American Association club for which County Stadium was originally built over 20 years earlier, called it home from 1970 to 2000. The sale occurred during spring training for 1970, and happened so fast that Selig could not get new uniforms made. Instead, they ripped the Pilots insignia off the pre-existing uniforms, and the Brewers adopted the Pilots' blue, white, and yellow instead of the red and navy blue that Selig originally wanted.
On July 15, 1975, County Stadium hosted its second All-Star Game. As in 1955, the National League beat the American League, this time 6–3. With an attendance of 51,480, it was the largest crowd at the stadium at that time. The Brewers were represented by George Scott and Hank Aaron, who had recently returned to Milwaukee in a trade with the Braves.
Aaron spent the last two years of his career in Milwaukee and in the American League, where the designated hitter position allowed him to extend his playing days. Aaron hit his final home run at County Stadium, giving him a career total of 755, establishing at the time the career home run record he first took from Babe Ruth in 1974. Aaron's final home run took place in the 7th inning with a solo shot off California Angels right-hander Dick Drago on July 20, 1976, a game that the Brewers would win 6–2.
By the 1990s, County Stadium was considered outdated, lacking the amenities (most notably luxury boxes) that generated additional revenue for teams. On July 11, 1992, Selig announced plans for a publicly financed replacement to be built adjacent to County Stadium, opening in time for the 1994 season. In the meantime, a demonstration luxury box was built in the stadium in order to demonstrate the viability of one to local politicians and the city's larger corporations.
The new stadium funding plan proved to be extremely controversial, and it was not until 1996 that groundbreaking began on the new stadium, by now named Miller Park as part of a sponsorship deal with nearby Miller Brewing Company. Miller Park's most distinctive new feature was a retractable roof, deemed essential to drawing fans during the cool and unpredictable Wisconsin spring. At the time of the groundbreaking, Miller Park was scheduled to open in 2000, making 1999 the final season in County Stadium.
The Brewers opened the 1999 season intending to bid farewell to their old park. On July 14, three construction workers at the Miller Park site were killed in the collapse of the site's "Big Blue" crane while attempting to install a 400-ton roof panel. A good part of the construction site was also damaged as a result. Cleanup and an investigation delayed the closing of County Stadium to the 2000 season. There was some talk of having the Brewers move into Miller Park in the middle of 2000, but it was determined that too many corners would have to be cut in order for it to be ready at that time.
The final major league game at County Stadium was on Thursday, September 28; Warren Spahn threw out the first pitch to Del Crandall, and also in attendance were Willie Davis, Hank Aaron, and Robin Yount. After the last game, demolition immediately began. It was demolished on February 21, 2001. Although most of the stadium site is now covered with parking for Miller Park, the site of the old infield was converted into a Little League park, and is now called Helfaer Field. On a picnic concourse next to the playing field of Helfaer Field, there is an outline of where home plate was at County Stadium and also a bronze marker in the nearby parking lot marking where Hank Aaron's 755th career home run landed.
The National Football League's Green Bay Packers played two to four home games per year at Milwaukee County Stadium from 1953 to 1994, after using Wisconsin State Fair Park in nearby West Allis from 1934 through 1951 and Marquette Stadium in 1952. The Packers compiled a 76–47–3 (.615) regular season record at County Stadium over 42 seasons. It hosted at least one pre-season game annually during this time as well (except 1983), including the Upper Midwest Shrine Game. Financial considerations prompted the Packers to move some of their games to Milwaukee starting with the 1933 season, with one game played at Borchert Field. By 1995, multiple renovations to Lambeau Field made it more lucrative for the Packers to play their full home slate in Green Bay again for the first time since 1932. Former Milwaukee ticket holders were offered tickets at Lambeau to one pre-season game and games 2 and 5 of the regular season schedule, in what is referred to as the "Gold package."
Ironically, County Stadium was partly responsible for Lambeau Field's existence. County Stadium was built not only to lure major league baseball to Milwaukee, but also to lure the Packers to Milwaukee full-time. As originally constructed, County Stadium was double the size of the Packers' then-home, City Stadium, leading the NFL to give the Packers an ultimatum—build a bigger stadium or move to Milwaukee. Green Bay responded with a referendum that resulted in a new City Stadium, which opened in September 1957. After eight seasons, the venue was renamed "Lambeau Field" shortly after the death of team founder Curly Lambeau in 1965.
The Minnesota Vikings (15 times) were the Packers' most frequent foe at County Stadium, as the Packers would traditionally host at least one divisional rival from the NFC Central in Milwaukee each season. Only once, however, did the Packers play their ancient arch-rivals, the Chicago Bears, in a regular-season game in Milwaukee, defeating the Bears 20–3 in 1974. (The Packers and Bears played preseason games at County Stadium every year from 1959 to 1973, and again in 1975 and 1984.) On November 26, 1989, a County Stadium record crowd of 55,892 saw the Packers beat the Vikings, 20–19. The Packers' final game at County Stadium was a 21–17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on December 18, 1994; with fourteen seconds left, the winning 9-yard touchdown run was scored by quarterback Brett Favre.
The Packers hosted one NFL playoff game at County Stadium, in 1967, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 28–7 in the Western Conference championship game. It was the first year that the NFL playoffs expanded to a four teams, and Green Bay had home field advantage for both rounds, then awarded by rotation. Each subsequent playoff game has been played at Lambeau Field, starting with the Ice Bowl the following week against the Dallas Cowboys.
Unlike most publicly funded stadiums built in the 20th century, County Stadium was built primarily for baseball. It was thus somewhat problematic as a football venue. The playing surface was just barely large enough to fit a football field. The football field itself ran parallel with the first base line. The south end zone spilled onto the warning track in right field, while the north end zone spilled onto foul territory on the third-base side. Only the bare minimum adjustments were made to accommodate the Packers. Both teams occupied the east sideline on the outfield side, separated by a piece of tape. At its height, it seated less than 56,000 for football—just over the NFL's minimum seating capacity—and many seats had obstructed views or were far from the field. Over the years, upgrades and seat expansion almost exclusively benefited the Braves and later the Brewers.
Season ticket prices (three games) for the first football season in 1953 were $5.00, $3.80, and $2.50. The average price in the final year of 1994 was $25.61 per game.
Most of the home games of the Marquette University football team (7 of 9) in 1957 and 1958 were moved from Marquette Stadium to the larger County Stadium. The final home game on November 9, 1957 against Penn State drew less than 4,800 to County Stadium. Marquette football returned to Marquette Stadium in 1959 for its final two seasons.
The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee football team played home games at County Stadium 1968–1971. It was one of multiple home venues for the Panthers after their on-campus stadium, Pearse Field, was razed for new development following the 1967 season.
County Stadium was also a popular home for concerts throughout its history. Bob Hope performed for fans during a Braves doubleheader in 1960.
County Stadium also hosted the Kool Jazz Festival every year from 1976 through 1980.
In 1975, The Rolling Stones played a concert with The Eagles and Rufus. Following the concert, the Brewers complained that the fans destroyed the field. The damage was, in fact, less than that which typically occurred during Green Bay Packers football games.
Also in 1975, Pink Floyd performed at County Stadium. An urban legend has sprung up around this show – according to legend, the dark and brooding clouds parted and revealed a brilliant moon just as the band was launching into the line "I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." Pink Floyd returned to County Stadium in 1977, drawing an estimated 60,000. For a third and final time, the band returned on September 30, 1987, on the A Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour.
In 1978, the Grand Slam Jam brought in Heart, Journey, Cheap Trick & Ted Nugent. Other sold out concerts at County Stadium in 1978 were The Eagles on their Hotel California Tour, with the Steve Miller Band and Pablo Cruise and Jefferson Starship.
September 5, 1981 saw the World Series of Rock make an appearance, starring REO Speedwagon, April Wine, Blackfoot, and the Michael Stanley Band. The second World Series of Rock took place on May 28, 1982 and featured Foreigner, .38 Special (band), Triumph, Loverboy, and Quarterflash.
Paul McCartney played to sellout crowds in 1993, as did Billy Joel and Elton John during their "Piano Men" tour in 1994.
Other musical stars who performed at County Stadium included Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby Stills & Nash, Fleetwood Mac, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Loggins, Peter Frampton, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, B.B. King, Emmylou Harris, Nancy Wilson, The Staple Singers, Archie Bell and the Drells, Frankie Avalon, the Hollywood Argyles, Johnny and The Hurricanes, James Brown, The Famous Flames, Lobo, Bread, Andy Kim, Gary Puckett, Rare Earth & The Honeycombs.
Jehovah's Witnesses held an annual convention (including well known annual themes such as: "Good News for all Nations" and 'Peace on Earth") in the Stadium during the 1960s and 1970s, drawing as many as 57,000 people at a time. They later opted to utilize an "Assembly Hall", which is constructed for the same purpose as the Stadium.
Billy Graham's 1979 Wisconsin Crusade was also held at the Stadium.
Portions of the last three seasons (1995–1997) of the American television series Coach were filmed at County Stadium. The series starred Craig T. Nelson as Hayden Fox, coach of the Orlando Breakers (a fictional NFL expansion team), from whose office window County Stadium can be recognized.
The movie Major League was shot at County Stadium during the summer of 1988. Even though the movie was about the Cleveland Indians, producers cast Milwaukee Brewers radio announcer Bob Uecker in the movie, with signage for local channels WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) and WCGV (Channel 24) not covered up and visible in the film. Announcements were made on local television news programs about the number of extras required for the day's shooting, and capacity crowds turned out for the shooting of the final scenes, which involved the Indians in the final games of a pennant race. Also, in the film, fans in the stands are visible donning T-shirts bearing the name and logo of a local Milwaukee-area (Sussex, Wisconsin) corporation, Quad Graphics.
The World Wrestling Federation held WrestleFest 1988 at County Stadium on July 31, 1988. The event was headlined by Hulk Hogan defeating André the Giant in a steel cage match.
Due to the large seating capacity, in July 1953 the new stadium hosted the Ice Capades for nine consecutive nights.
There was a chalet and giant beer mug, originally at right-center field and later at left, where mascot Bernie Brewer would "dunk" himself whenever a Brewers player hit a home run. The chalet is now stored at Lakefront Brewery, a Milwaukee microbrewery, and can be seen on brewery tours. County Stadium also gave rise to the Sausage Race, during which several anthropomorphized sausages participate in an initially fictional race to home plate between the sixth and seventh innings. Whoever finished first was the "wiener" and whoever finished last was the "wurst".
Brats with Secret Stadium Sauce, invented and served at County Stadium, were the favorite ballpark food of sportscaster Bob Costas.
County Stadium has hosted two Baseball All-Star Games, in 1955, when the National League Braves played host (and won 6–5 in 12 innings), and in 1975, when the then American League Brewers played host, and lost, 6–3. It also hosted the World Series in 1957, 1958 and 1982, as well as league playoffs in 1981, and a Green Bay Packers playoff game in 1967.
On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates set a record as he pitched 12 perfect innings only to lose 1–0 to the Braves in the 13th inning.
On April 30, 1961, Willie Mays hit four homers and collected 8 RBI as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Braves, 14–8.
On May 1, 1975, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's RBI record of 2211 by driving in his 2212th run at County Stadium as the Brewers beat the Detroit Tigers, 17-3.
On September 17, 1976, County Stadium hosted a "Salute to Hank Aaron" in which Aaron was honored.
On October 3, 1976, in the final game of his career, Aaron singled in his final at-bat for hit number 3,771. The hit drove in a run and set the Major League Baseball career RBI record of 2,297. In this final game, Aaron also set Major League records for that time with career game 3,298 and career at-bat 12,364. The Brewers lost to the Detroit Tigers, 5-2.
On July 31, 1990, Nolan Ryan won his 300th Major League Baseball game at County Stadium when the Texas Rangers defeated the Brewers 11–3.
On September 14, 1991, Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers hit the only home run to sail over the outfield bleachers and completely out of County Stadium. The blast came off Brewers' pitcher Dan Plesac. The Tigers beat the Brewers, 6-4.
The final game at County Stadium took place on September 28, 2000 in front of a capacity crowd of 56,354. The Brewers closed out their tenure at Milwaukee County Stadium with an 8-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, a ceremony aired in full on both WTMJ Radio and Midwest Sports Channel. Sean Casey of the Reds scored the last run at County Stadium with a single by Juan Castro, and the final hit was a single by the Reds' Michael Tucker. In a closing ceremony led by legendary announcer Bob Uecker, greats from the Milwaukee Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and Green Bay Packers were introduced. Familiar faces such as Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Frank Torre, and Bob Buhl represented the Braves. Willie Wood and Fuzzy Thurston were some of the notable Packers. Brewers greats that came back to salute the fans and the stadium included Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner, Rollie Fingers and the widow of 1982 manager Harvey Kuenn. When Uecker announced what would be the final player introduction in the stadium, he began, "his name is synonymous with the Brewers..." Robin Yount then appeared from the left field fence on another Milwaukee legend, a Harley Davidson motorcycle. This was in honor of Yount's famous entrance during the County Stadium celebration for the Brewers following the 1982 World Series, when Yount rode his Honda XR500 dirt bike (a bike which was not street-legal, but had been nonetheless used by Yount for the entire season) around the warning track, much to the delight of the fans. Following the introductions, Uecker read a short requiem for the old park as the lights were turned off, standard by standard. He closed with a version of this trademark broadcast sign-off "...so-long old friend, and goodnight everybody."
When it opened in 1953 it had 28,111 permanent seats and could hold up to 36,011 people. After an expansion one year later, the seating capacity was increased to 43,394. Subsequent expansions raised the baseball capacity to 53,192 in 1973 until the final game was played on September 28, 2000.
The stadium's final dimensions were symmetrical: