The bindery is built on heritage.
The building that houses The Bindery Project, was once home to Wisconsin Book Bindery, a local, family-owned business for over 50 years.
Wisconsin Book Bindery was founded in 1957, and was one of several Hertzberg-family book centers that thrived throughout the Midwest during the early 20th Century.
The hertzbergs: four generations of binding
A passion for fine binding and book repair had been passed down through the generations: Oakland Hertzberg, Wisconsin Book Bindery's founder, was the grandson of Ernst Hertzberg, who immigrated to Chicago from Germany and founded Monastery Hill Bindery there in 1868. The Hertzberg sons and grandsons were nationally-renowned master binders: their work is still held in some of the country's top archives today.
During decades of service to the local community, Oakland Hertzberg and the Wisconsin Book Bindery re-bound text books for Milwaukee Public Schools, provided overflow binding services for the Milwaukee Public Library, bound dissertations, theses and course books for Alverno College, UWM, and Marquette University, and crafted archives for The Milwaukee Business Journal and other regional newspapers.
Oakland himself worked into his early 80s, doing fine leather binding and repair on countless sentimental volumes for local families. He even provided regular educational tours of the bindery to children and students learning about the importance of books in our city.
After Oakland Hertzberg passed away in 2005, Wisconsin Book Bindery was operated by his children, Bob Hertzberg and Nancy Hertzberg Mack. The business never updated to digital technology, continuing to use turn-of-the-century equipment, even as clients and contracts slowed. When the business officially closed in 2012, the fate of the bindery building and its historic equipment remained unclear.
The Bay View neighborhood was booming with new real estate and business opportunities. Nancy faced constant pressure from condominium developers to sell and make way for the bulldozer. Instead, in the midst of offers-to-buy, Nancy continued to run a small-scale, "hobby bindery" on site, solo. She remained steadfastly in place, until retirement age neared, and selling off the property for condominiums seemed imminent.
In 2016 The Bindery Project was born as founder, Zachary Lifton, and a team of collaborators recognized the importance of preserving the historic site and its equipment: celebrating Wisconsin Book Bindery's contribution to Milwaukee's book culture by helping it evolve into the future.
Working with Nancy Hertzberg Mack to transition the business into a new phase of life, The Bindery Project now elevates its own heritage by saving the site, telling its story, and reopening the doors to the next generation of those working with words in Wisconsin.
We are proud to be a locally owned and operated Wisconsin Benefit Corporation: a mission and values-driven organization focused on public good.