Cream City brick is a cream or light yellow-colored brick made from a clay found around Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the Menomonee River Valley and on the western banks of Lake Michigan. These bricks were one of the most common building materials used in Milwaukee during the mid and late 1800s, giving the city the nickname "Cream City" and the bricks the name "Cream City bricks".
Cream City bricks are made from a red clay containing elevated amounts of lime and sulfur; this clay is common in regions of Wisconsin, especially near Milwaukee. When the bricks are fired, they become creamy-yellow in color.
Although light-colored when first made, Cream City bricks are porous, causing them to absorb dirt and other pollutants; this tends to make structures constructed out of them dark-colored as time passes. Once Cream City bricks absorb pollutants, they are difficult to clean, a problem with which restoration experts in Milwaukee have been faced since the 1970s. Initially, sandblasting was attempted; however, it not only proved to be ineffective, but damaged the bricks. Currently, chemical washes are accepted as the most effective method of cleaning Cream City bricks. The historic Trimborn Farmhouse in Greendale, Wisconsin is an example of brick that has been cleaned to reveal its original color.
Cream City bricks are well-known for their durability; many buildings constructed with them in the 1800s still stand today. An example of the durability of Cream City brick is Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was built more than 125 years ago. However, since there were numerous brickmakers in the area, brick quality varied and some of the bricks were not manufactured properly: the Big Sable Point Lighthouse was constructed of Cream City brick, but it had degraded so much in 35 years that it had to be encased in iron plating.
Because the regional headquarters of the United States Lighthouse Board responsible for building lighthouses around Lake Michigan was located in Milwaukee, many of them are built with Cream City bricks, including Kenosha Southport Lighthouse, the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, the McGulpin Point Light, the Old Mackinac Point Light, and many others.