This Vintage T-Shirt Collection Shines a Light on Milwaukee’s History

History is in style.

The story of Max David Knowlton-Sachner’s life is best told through T-shirts – his collection of about 75 vintage Milwaukee T-shirts, to be exact.

Knowlton-Sachner, a DJ and lifelong Milwaukeean, has been collecting T-shirts since he was about 12 years old. His collection started with a gift from his neighbor, Paul Finger, frontman of late ’80s Milwaukee punk band Wild Kingdom.

“I was too young to go to his shows, but he kind of took me under his wing when I was a little kid,” says Knowlton-Sachner. “And it wasn’t until we had already become good friends that I found out that he was the singer of this really cool band that everyone loved.”

From then on, Knowlton-Sachner documented his life and the city around him through the shirts he collected. His Dinosaur Dash shirts remind him of visiting the Milwaukee Public Museum with his dad. His Oriental Drugs shirts remind him of that long-gone pharmacy which once ruled the East Side. His AIDS Walk Wisconsin shirt reminds him of coming home from volunteering to be told that his uncle had AIDS himself.

That’s the common thread through every shirt in his collection – each is a piece of his history, and of Milwaukee’s history, that is worth remembering.

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s August issue

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Jude is an editorial intern at Milwaukee Magazine. He is a rising sophomore at Northwestern University studying journalism, gender and sexuality studies and theatre.