The City of Mosinee was originally known as Little Bull Falls and probably named from the roaring falls and rocky river passage on which it was situated.
The community’s origins are usually traced back to the establishment of its first major business — a sawmill — opened by John L. Moore in 1836. Through the course of the following two decades, the mill changed hands, eventually ending up under the capable sole ownership of Joseph Dessert. In the mid 1800’s, lumbering was the major industry in central Wisconsin and highly profitable. Estimates report that, during this period, each year over 125 million feet of manufactured lumber was produced by 20 area sawmills and floated down the Wisconsin River by the efforts of some 2,500 strong men to be marketed in the “lower” country. The floating of large rafts made up of logs and or lumber down the Wisconsin River was a common site and a frequently dangerous occupation. Stories abound of the mishaps and miracles of such log “cribs” shooting the dangerous rapids known as Little Bull Falls, but the overall rate of success was high and business was prosperous.
Soon after the establishment of the sawmill, supporting businesses sprang up. A boarding house, grocery store, saloon, tannery, gristmill, and blacksmith shop were all opened. Yet, for many years, transportation to the area remained a significant difficulty. Due to the community’s initial growth primarily on the western side of the Wisconsin River, the building and maintenance of bridges connecting Mosinee to the eastern side of the river was of vital importance. From the completion of the first bridge over the falls in 1856, time has seen their evolution from sturdy wooden structures through heavy ironwork to their current concrete lanes. downtown
Early on, merchandise for Mosinee businesses had to be floated in on log rafts destined for the sawmill or hauled in by heavy wagon teams which then hauled out lumber on return trips. It was not until the arrival of the “iron horse” in 1875 that the freight transportation situation significantly improved.
Handling over 9,000 carloads per year in the early 1990’s, the Soo-Line Railroad continues to provide important freight transportation service to Mosinee, Knowlton and adjoining areas.
Little Bull Falls actually became known as Mosinee on July 22, 1857 when a post office branch was opened and the name Mosinee chosen for its official designation. The name Mosinee is thought to have originated from the name of a local Indian Chief and/or the Indian name for the particular bend in the “Great River” known as “Moose Knee”. It is reported that the man selected to serve as the first postmaster objected to using the name Little Bull Falls on mail, feeling that it was too vulgar a name for the ladies to use in preparing their correspondence – hence the choice of a more acceptable name – Mosinee. When the Post Office was moved to the West side of the river, the name was also applied to the township. In 1889, when the village was incorporated, it retained the name of Mosinee. Mr. Joseph Dessert, who had recommended the name, became the village’s first President as well as its foremost businessman. Learn more about Mosinee’s History.
Today life in Mosinee remains connected to the river, as one of its major industries Wausau Paper Corporation depends on the river’s power and water supply for its operations. The river also provides a beautiful, scenic setting for Mosinee and excellent recreational activities all year long.
The Mosinee Mill celebrates 100 years! Discover the history of the mill from 1911 – 2011.
View this video below of Mosinee and the surrounding area from the late 1940’s through the 1970’s, by Jack Altenburg. Courtesy of John Altenburgh.