Economic opportunity, immigration and the environment are among the topics covered in a museum exhibit exploring the Jewish community in the history of scrap metal recycling now on display at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

The exhibit, “Scrap Yard:  Innovators of Recycling,” was developed in 2019 by the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore.  This fall the exhibit took up a new home in Wisconsin and will be on display there until the end of January 2022.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland developed the exhibit to examine the role the Jewish community played in developing the scrap metal recycling industry in the United States. 

It is a story that intertwines the role of new immigrants, entrepreneurship and ongoing conservation efforts.  Dating back to the 1800s, waves of European immigrants, many of them Jewish, along with some native-born Americans, made a living as scrap peddlers. They would collect discarded metal, fabric, animal hides and other material to be reused and resold. The exhibit traces these origins of scrap metal recycling to the thriving industry it is today. Topics covered in the exhibit include the types of materials that are recycled, the role of scrap metal recycling during times of war, the stories of individual entrepreneurs, and the depiction of scrap metal recycling in our popular culture. 

Now at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, the scrap metal exhibit includes additions that delve into the local stories and information about the scrap business in Wisconsin. 

This Wisconsin-focused section was curated by the Jewish Museum Milwaukee especially for this exhibit. It presents a wealth of material and resources examining the history of scrap metal recycling and its growth and development as an industry. The exhibit gathers into one place information about the process of scrap metal recycling, its development with the growth of our nation and how the business has changed. The establishment of the exhibit in Milwaukee was funded by local scrap and recycling businesses and Wisconsin Humanities which provides grants to support local public cultural programs. The Jewish Museum Milwaukee is an affiliate of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. 

The Milwaukee exhibit has been augmented with a number of public presentations delving deeper into some of the themes of the exhibit. Two such programs are scheduled before the exhibit closes. On December 15, the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works will host a virtual presentation on the hows and whys of recycling in “Recycle for Good with Department of Public Works.” On January 26, the museum will host a program exploring scrap yards in popular culture, “Scrapping Stereotypes: Perceptions of Industry in Pop Culture.”  Both of these programs will be virtual presentations for which people can register online at the museum’s website.  

For environmental and economic reasons, scrap metal recycling remains a vitally important industry today. 

To help educate the public about the importance of the industry and its history, the Jewish Museum of Maryland was awarded grants from The Institute for Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities to make the original exhibit possible. Additional contributors include companies and individuals in the recycling industry.  ScrapWare Corporation, which provides software to the scrap metal recycling industry, was proud to contribute to this educational effort as an exhibit sponsor. ScrapWare’s software plays an important role in helping scrap metal recycling companies improve efficiency and profitability. 

The Maryland in-person exhibit closed in April 2020, but the online version includes all of the content, illustrations, resources and more items, such as Educator’s Guides that can be used as a classroom resource. The online exhibit can be found at

To read more about the exhibit on display in Milwaukee, visit

ScrapWare Corp., of Rockville, MD, has been providing software to the scrap metal recycling industry for over 30 years.  ScrapWare uses an Oracle database to provide a cloud-based software solution to manage all aspects of a recycling business.  With numerous modules, extensive technical support, remote installation and online training, ScrapWare helps recycling companies with compliance, efficiency and profitability. Check out ScrapWare’s website, read the user testimonials, and see its offerings for your recycling software solution.