The Usinger's story began in Wehen, Germany, where young Fred Usinger, an apprentice sausage maker, learned from the best wurstmachers. He came to Milwaukee in the late 1870s with a pocketful of recipes, $400.00, and a dream. Young Fred went to work for Mrs. Julia Gaertner, a widow who operated a small butcher shop on Third St. Within a year or so, Usinger bought out Mrs. Gaertner, married her niece Louise, and moved into living quarters above the store. The Usinger's Milwaukee business grew, and before long, they were shipping their famous sausage across the country. Regulation of sausage manufacturers and interstate shipping was in its infancy, and Fred believed those regulations were necessary to protect the industry and consumers. Usinger's was one of the first Wisconsin sausage companies to seek and be granted Federal Inspection. The Legacy Lives On: Following the death of company founder Fred Usinger in 1930, his son, Fred Jr., oversaw the family business. It was a difficult time – the country was immersed in depression and then war. During this period, Usinger's Sausage became one of the earliest members of the Better Business Bureau. Frederick Usinger III took over leadership of the company in 1953 and remained at the helm well into the 90's. In 1983, he expanded Usinger's Third St. plant with an addition built on an adjacent vacant parcel once home to the Metropolitan Building. It was the genial Frederick who introduced the elves to the world, and gave Usinger's its current identity. Committed to the city that has always been home, in 1994 Usinger's opened a distribution center in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood. It was during this time of expansion in the 90's that fourth generation siblings Fritz and Debra Usinger assumed control of the day-to-day operations. With an eye on the future, and a respect for the past, Fritz and Debra embraced the opportunity. In 2004, Usinger's moved a portion of production to a new facility next to its Walker's Point distribution center. However, the heart, and soul of Usinger's, will always be the original store on 3rd St. where Fred Usinger formed the company's humble beginnings so long ago. For the Usinger family and company employees, “America’s Finest Sausage” is more than a slogan...it's an ideal...a pledge that they will continue to make only the very best for their customers.
Usinger's produces many kinds of sausages and meats, in many cases using traditional 19th-century recipes. Examples include varieties of bratwurst, salami, kishka, chorizo, liverwurst, beerwurst, bologna, pastroma, frankfurters, summer sausage, blood sausage (Blutwurst), ham and head cheese. It is not uncommon to see a worker from the surrounding restaurants pop in to get Usinger's products for their tables when they urgently need to restock.
Michael Bartlett's 1984 book The Book of Bests decreed, "If we were forced to pick just one "great" hot dog we'd probably go with Usinger's of Milwaukee. Usinger's line of cold cuts reaches heights of quality and flavor rarely achieved in this country." Former New York Times food writer Mimi Sheraton wrote in 1973, "Now, the good news. If ever I decide to move to Milwaukee, it will be because of Usinger's..."
- Bartlett, Michael. The Book of Bests: Exploring the world of quality: A guide to the best things life has to offer Kansas City: Andrews, McMeel & Parker, 1984
- Sheraton, Mimi. "Food/ Made to Be Sold, Not Eaten." New York Sep. 3, 1973, p. 67.