The Fox Cities were originally inhabited by several Native American tribes, including the Menominee, Outagamie, and Winnebago, who relied on the abundant resources of the Fox River Valley for sustenance and trade. Some of the first Europeans to explore the region were French fur traders and missionaries in the 17th century. Thanks to the Fox River, the fur trade flourished, leading to the establishment of a trading post by the Grignon family in 1790 near present-day Kaukauna. Dutch, German, Polish, and Irish immigrants were soon to follow.
In the early 19th century, the Fox Cities saw significant development with the arrival of settlers. Lawrence University, one of the nation's first coeducational colleges, was founded in Appleton in 1847, marking a milestone in education. The completion of the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway in 1856, connecting the Fox River to the Mississippi River, further facilitated transportation and trade, propelling the region's growth.
Industrialization played a pivotal role in shaping the Fox Cities' identity. Paper production emerged as a dominant industry during the late 19th century, capitalizing on the region's vast timber resources and the Fox River's hydroelectric power. Companies like Kimberly-Clark Corporation, founded in Neenah in 1872, became global leaders in the paper industry, driving economic prosperity and employment opportunities in the area. Over time, the Fox Cities have continued to hold strong in manufacturing while also becoming home to a variety of other industries such as healthcare and technology.
In the last few decades, the Fox Cities region has seen great urbanization and diversification within its communities. The riverbanks have been transformed into recreational areas while former paper and saw mills are now condos, hotels, restaurants, public trails, and more.
Today the Fox Cities are known for their vibrant arts scene, strong community spirit, and beautiful natural surroundings. The history of the region is celebrated through various museums, historic sites, and events, ensuring that the legacy of the Fox Cities remains alive and cherished by its residents and visitors alike. With a lasting commitment to both celebrating history and embracing progress, the Fox Cities will continue to be a collection of communities known for fostering innovation, originality, and endless opportunity.
All photos on this page courtesy of History Museum at the Castle