Wisconsin InfoLink: an almanac of Wisconsin facts and resources.
100 Basic Things You Should Know About Wisconsin
Compiled by Ron Larson
Abrahamson, Shirley – The chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, she was sworn-in as Wisconsin’s first woman Supreme Court justice in 1976.
America’s Dairyland – A nickname for the state, Wisconsin was the long-time leader in the country in milk production. It continues to be the nation’s leader in cheese production.
American Players Theater – A theater company located in Spring Green, 40 miles northwest of Madison. Founded in 1979, APT offers primarily Shakespeare, but includes works ranging from the Greeks to British comedies. The performances are held in an outdoor amphitheater.
Apostle Islands – An archipelago in Lake Superior off the northern coast of Wisconsin. Early French explorers referred to the islands as the “Twelve Apostles” even though there are more than 20 islands in the group.
Assembly – The lower house of the Legislature, the assembly is comprised of 99 members. The members are called representatives and are elected to two-year terms. Each senate district is comprised of three assembly districts.
Aztalan – Located east of Madison near Lake Mills, this park consists of ruins of a prehistoric Indian village and a terraced pyramidal mound. The site was surveyed in 1837 and given the name Aztalan with the belief the cultural remains might be those of the Aztecs.
Badger – The state animal. Chosen for the early lead miners in southwest Wisconsin who would dig in the side of a hill and live underground, much like a badger. The University of Wisconsin is known as the Badgers and Wisconsin is often called the Badger State.
Baraboo Range – (Baraboo Bluffs or Baraboo Hills) The range, located in Sauk County, is twenty-five miles in length and up to five miles in width. The hills, reaching a height of 800 feet, are a remnant of an ancient quartzite mountain range.
Barneveld – A small village in Iowa County about 25 miles west of Madison. Much of the community was destroyed on June 8, 1984, when a tornado struck in the early morning hours, killing nine people.
Bascom Hall – The building at the top of Bascom Hill in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Opened in 1859, the building was first known as the main edifice and then University Hall. The name was changed to Bascom Hall in 1920 after John Bascom, university president from 1874 until 1887. A fire in 1916 destroyed the dome.
Black Hawk – a Sauk Indian chief who lived in Illinois but was moved to Iowa as a result of a treaty. Struggling to raise crops, Black Hawk led one-thousand of his people back to their ancestral lands, causing the militia to chase them into Wisconsin. Many battles took place in Wisconsin during the Black Hawk war, including the Battle of Wisconsin Heights and the Battle of Bad Axe in 1832. Black Hawk was taken prisoner and died in 1838. (Abraham Lincoln was the leader of the New Salem (Ill.) militia, called out in response to Black Hawk’s movements. He did not see any action and was mustered out in July, returning to New Salem in time for the August elections)
Blue Mounds – Two majestic hills in western Dane County and eastern Iowa County. The site of Blue Mounds State Park and the location of the first permanent European settler, Ebenezer Brigham, in Dane County.
Bucky Badger – The mascot of the University of Wisconsin.
Camp Randall – Home of the University of Wisconsin Badgers football team. The stadium, located between Regent Street, Breese Terrace, University and Randall avenues, can seat over 76,000 fans. In the mid-1850s, the land was used for the state fair and for horse races. During the Civil War, Wisconsin soldiers were trained and the location was named Camp Randall in honor of Governor Alexander Randall. The first football game was held on the property in 1895.
Capitol – The construction of the building was started in 1906 and completed in 1917. It is the third capitol building in Madison, and the fourth overall (Wisconsin’s first capitol building was in Belmont). The second capitol in Madison was destroyed by a fire on February 27, 1904. The current state capitol went through an eleven-year renovation ending in 2001 at a cost of $140 million. The statue that stands atop the dome is named “Wisconsin.”
Casino gambling – Indian casinos appeared in Wisconsin starting in 1991 after Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulating Act in 1988, allowing tribes to offer casino gaming after negotiating agreements with the state.
Census – The 2000 census for the state of Wisconsin was 5,363,675, a 9.6% increase over the 1990 population.
Cheese – Wisconsin is the country’s top cheese producing state, accounting for 24.4 percent of U.S. cheese production (2.19 billion pounds) in the year 2000. People from Wisconsin are fondly, or disparagingly, called “cheeseheads.”
Chequamegon National Forest – National forest in northern Wisconsin, created in 1936, contains 1,031,022 acres.
Circus World Museum – A historical attraction in Baraboo owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Circus World Museum, 45 minutes north of Madison, is known for its collections, programs and performances. The museum opened in 1959 on the site that served as the winter quarters for the Ringling Brothers Circus. The Ringling Brothers gave their first circus performance in Baraboo in 1884.
Cities – The largest city in Wisconsin is Milwaukee, with a population (2000 census) of 596,974, followed by Madison (208,054); Green Bay (102,313); Kenosha (90,352); Racine (81,855); Appleton (70,087); Waukesha (64,825); Oshkosh (62,916); Eau Claire (61,704); West Allis (61,254).
Congressional Districts – Wisconsin has eight congressional districts. The state lost one seat as a result of the 2000 census figures. Madison and Dane County are in the second congressional district, represented by Tammy Baldwin.
Counties – There are 72 counties in Wisconsin.
Cranberries – Cranberries are a native fruit to Wisconsin, though commercial production of the crop in Wisconsin did not begin until the 1860s. Today, cranberries are Wisconsin’s leading fruit crop in terms of acreage (over 15,000 acres) and value (in excess of $64 million).
Dahmer, Jeffrey – Admitted to killing seventeen boys and men in Milwaukee in 1991. Police discovered skulls and other body parts in his apartment, creating the most nauseating crime scene in Wisconsin history. Dahmer was killed by another prisoner in 1994.
Dairy – For years, Wisconsin led the nation in the production of dairy products, thus earning the name “America’s Dairyland.” In recent years, Wisconsin was surpassed by California in the number of dairy cows, milk production and butter production. Wisconsin, however, continues to lead the nation in the production of cheese. The formation of the Wisconsin Dairyman’s Association in 1872 marked the start of commercial dairying as a serious farm enterprise in Wisconsin. By 1915, Wisconsin was the leading dairy state in the nation.
Derleth, August – Born in Sauk City in 1909, Derleth is one of the best known authors from Wisconsin, having written more than 150 books.
Devils Lake – A glacier-made lake in Sauk County, it is surrounded by sheer cliffs as high as 650 feet. The lake is the center of a state park, Devils Lake State Park, that is a favorite for cliff climbers, hikers and campers.
Dewey, Nelson – The first governor of the state of Wisconsin (1848).
Dodge, Henry – The first governor of the Wisconsin Territory (1836).
Door County – A county located on the peninsula in northeast Wisconsin bordered by Lake Michigan and Green Bay (the body of water, not the city). Known for its picturesque villages and bays, cherries and fall foliage.
Earth Day – Celebrated on April 22, Earth Day was created by then-Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970.
Experimental Aircraft Association – An organization devoted to recreational aviation in Oshkosh, approximately 75 miles northeast of Madison. It also manages an aviation museum. The EAA is the sponsor of the annual fly-in AirVenture in July. The seven day event attracts around 800,000 people and more than 12,000 aircraft. The control tower becomes the world’s busiest during the AirVenture.
Feingold, Russ – Wisconsin’s junior senator, first elected in 1992. Rhodes scholar. Best known for his work with Senator John McCain in the campaign finace reform legislation.
Flag Day – The first observance of Flag Day in the U.S. took place in Wisconsin in 1885, at Waubeka in Ozaukee County by Bernard J. Cigrand, a teacher at Stony Hill School. Cigrand campaigned to have June 14 a national remembrance day.
Fortune 500 – Fortune 500 companies based in Wisconsin, and their 2004 ranking, are: Johnson Controls, Inc. (79); Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. (115); Manpower Inc. (160); Kohl’s Corp. (189); American Family Insurance (313); Harley-Davidson (355); WPS Resources (395); Roundy’s (398); Rockwell Automation (421); Wisconsin Energy Corp. (427).
Gein, Ed – Wisconsin’s most bizarre killer. He was found guilty of two murders in the Plainfield area in 1957 but also admitted to robbing graves, taking heads and body parts home where he made masks and lamp shades from the human skin. Gein’s crimes became the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller movie, “Psycho.” Gein was declared insane and spent the rest of his life in state hospitals. He died in 1984 at the age of seventy-seven.
Green Bay – Wisconsin’s oldest community with the first farm being cleared and planted in 1745. A center for the paper industry and the home of the Packers.
Green Bay Packers – Founded in 1919, the storied franchise joined the National Football League in 1921. The Packers have won 12 league titles, including three Super Bowls. The Packers play at Lambeau Field, named after their founder and long-time coach, Curly Lambeau.
Green Lake – The lake, located in Green Lake County approximately one and a half hours northeast of Madison, is the deepest inland lake in Wisconsin, with a depth of 237 feet. The lake was created by glaciation.
Harley-Davidson – The motorcycle company, based in Milwaukee, is named after its 1903 founders, William Harley and the Davidson brothers (Walter, William and Arthur). The company made a dramatic turn-around in the mid-1980s to where it now controls about half of the larger motorcycle market in the U.S.
Hoard, William – Wisconsin’s sixteenth govenor, Hoard is best known for his efforts to promote dairy farming in the late 19th century through his publications and organizations.
Holy Hill – A religious shrine in the form of a castle-like church and monastery in Washington County northwest of Milwaukee. A monk from Quebec was miraculously cured on this spot in the mid-1800s. The church, built on top of the hill, can be seen for miles.
Horicon Marsh – Located one hour northeast of Madison, it is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the country. The marsh is home to more than 260 kinds of birds and is well-known for the large flocks of migrating Canada geese. Horicon Marsh is a state wildlife area and national wildlife refuge.
Houdini, Harry – The escape artist and magician was a resident of Appleton after his family emigrated from Hungary. His original name was Erik Weisz.
House on the Rock – Located on highway 23 north of Dodgeville, the House of the Rock is built on an outcropping. Built as a private home, it has been turned into one of the top tourist attractions in the state. The site includes other buildings that house an assortment of oddities.
Ice Age Trail – A trail following the glacial remnants of the last ice age. It links together many scenic and recreational areas, including Horicon Marsh, Devils Lake State Park and the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The trail will eventually cover 830 miles through Wisconsin.
Immigrant groups – The largest ethnic group to settle in Wisconsin in the 19th century was the Germans, followed by Yankees (American settlers of British decent), Norwegians, Polish, Irish, Welsh and Swiss.
Indian tribes – There are 11 Indian tribal governments in Wisconsin, Bad River, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Menominee, Oneida, Potawatomi, Red Cliff, St. Croix, Sokaogon and Stockbridge-Munsee. The 2000 population of Wisconsin Indians is 47,228.
Interstate highways – Three interstate highways, 39, 90 and 94, pass through Madison, though, for the most part, they share the same road. 90 and 94 are east-west highways, though they appear north-south as they pass Madison. From Madison, 94 goes east to Milwaukee and then to Chicago and goes west from Madison to Minneapolis; 90 goes east to Chicago via Rockford, and west to La Crosse; 39 passes Madison as it heads north from Beloit, reaching Merrill north of Wausau. The other interstate highway in Wisconsin is 43 between Beloit and Green Bay, via Milwaukee.
Kohl, Herb – Wisconsin’s senior senator, first elected in 1988. Owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Kohl Center in Madison is named after the senator in honor of his $25 million donation to have it built. His family started the Kohl’s retail businesses. (The Kohl family sold their retail business in 1978 to BATUS, which in turn sold the food store chain to A&P in 1983, keeping the department store chain)
La Follette, Robert – A very important figure in Wisconsin politics. Elected as a congressman, governor and U.S. Senator, La Follette is synonomous with the term “progressive.” Ran in the 1924 presidential election as a third-party candidate. His wife, Belle, was noted for various progressive causes.
Lake Winnebago – This is Wisconsin’s largest lake with an area of over 137,000 acres or 215 square miles. It is in the eastern part of the state with Fond du Lac at its southern end and Neenah and Menasha near the northern shore, a length of about 30 miles. It is 10 miles at its widest. The Fox River runs through the lake.
Lapham, Increase – He is called Wisconsin’s first scholar and ecologist and published the first geological survey of the state in 1844. He also wrote Antiquities of Wisconsin in 1855, a book which focused on the state’s Indian mounds. He was instrumental in the creation of the National Weather Service.
Lead mining – Several lead discoveries were made in the 1820’s in southeastern Wisconsin, leading to the settling of many communities, including Mineral Point, Shullsburg, Hazel Green, Benton and Platteville. The first major wave of European settlers to Wisconsin consisted mostly of lead miners and prospectors. Miners would dig holes in the hillsides to retrieve surface ore or for shelter, bringing the comparison to badgers digging in the ground, hence the nickname “Badger State.”
Leopold, Aldo – A faculty member of the University of Wisconsin from 1933 until 1948, Leopold was a leading conservationist and naturalist. His best-known writing is the “Sand County Almanac,” published in 1949, a year after his death.
Lottery – Wisconsin voters passed a referendum allowing pari-mutuel betting and lotteries in 1987, with the first Wisconsin lottery being played in 1989. The revenue generated by the lottery goes toward property tax relief.
Marquette and Jolliet – Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet were early French explorers of Wisconsin. In 1673, they became the first non-native people to explore the upper Mississippi River. Marquette was also a Jesuit missionary working among the Huron and Ottawa Indians in northern Wisconsin.
McCarthy, Joseph – U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, first elected in 1946 and served until his death in 1957. A controversial figure during the 1950s, the Republican senator accused government officials and others (entertainers, journalists, professors) of being Communists or Communist sympathizers. The term ‘McCarthyism’ comes from his activities during the Cold War.
Meir, Golda – The prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974. Moved to Milwaukee from the Ukraine as a child in 1906. She taught school in Milwaukee before settling in Israel.
Merrimac Ferry – A free car-ferry service maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that crosses the Wisconsin River. It operates 24 hours a day, from mid-April until December.
Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers were formed in 1970 when an organization, led by Allan ‘Bud’ Selig, purchased the Seattle Pilots franchise, moving it to Milwaukee and changing its name. The Brewers appeared in the World Series in 1982, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Selig was named interim baseball commissioner in 1992 and in 1998 was officially proclaimed commissioner. The team was purchased by Los Angeles investor Mark Attanasio in 2004.
Milwaukee Bucks – A franchise of the National Basketball Association, the Bucks were formed in 1968. The team won the NBA title in 1971, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The Bucks are owned by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).
Motto – The motto for the state of Wisconsin is “Forward.”
Muir, John – Immigrated to Wisconsin as a boy with his family from Scotland, settling near Montello (two hours north of Madison) in 1849. Studied for a time in Madison at the University of Wisconsin. Became a leading naturalist in the country and was credited for the establishment of Yosemite and Sequoia national parks.
Nicknames – Wisconsin nicknames include “America’s Dairyland” and “The Badger State.”
Nicolet, Jean – French explorer, believed to have been the first white person to arrive in Wisconsin in 1634.
O’Keeffe, Georgia – Artist born in Sun Prairie in 1887. Left state early in her career. Best known for her colorful close-ups of flowers, desert scenes and bleached animal skulls.
Old Abe – The bald eagle the soldiers of the Eighth Wisconsin Battery carried into 42 battles during the Civil War.
Old World Wisconsin – An outdoor, ethnic museum set on 576 acres outside of Eagle (one hour southeast of Madison), operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
On, Wisconsin! – The school song of the University of Wisconsin, the tune written by William Purdy in 1909 and the words by Carl Beck. It became the official state song in 1959.
Parks – Wisconsin has 48 state parks, 4 state recreation areas, 8 state forests and dozens of state trails. The first state park, Interstate Park, was established in 1900.
Paul, Les – Born Lester Polfus in Waukesha, he is credited as being the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar and the multi-track tape recording. Also was a accomplished musician. Elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Pendarvis – A group of restored Cornish miners’ homes in Mineral Point operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society, one hour southwest of Madison. The homes, built of limestone and timber, are located on Shake Rag Street, named from when the Cornish wives would wave a dishclothe from their doorways to signal the men in the nearby mines that it was dinnertime.
Peshtigo – A small community in northeast Wisconsin, it became part of history on October 8, 1871, during the Peshtigo Fire. The fire, one of the worst natural disasters in history, destroyed the town of Peshtigo and several other villages. Nearly 1,200 people were killed and it destroyed more than $5 million worth of property. The fire occured on the same day as the Chicago Fire.
Prairie du Chien – Wisconsin’s second oldest settlement (1781), it is located on the Mississippi River two hours west of Madison. It was a fur trading center until the 1830s.
Progressive – A movement that began in the late 1890s, led by Robert La Follette, that ushered in important social, political and economic reforms in the state, including worker’s compensation, teachers pensions, direct primary elections, the first successful state income tax in the nation, the establishment of locally based vocational education and the conservation of forests.
Proxmire, William – Was elected to fill the vacancy left by Joseph McCarthy’s death in 1957 and remained in the Senate until 1989. He took a liberal stand on most issues but was widely known for his fiscal conservatism, attacking wasteful government spending through his Golden Fleece award. Proxmire’s fiscal conservatisim extended to his own campaigns, where he would routinely spend less than $1,000 on each election, refusing special interest money. He was well-known for his integrity and fairness. He died in 2005.
Rib Mountain – Rib Mountain, outside of Wausau (3 hours north of Madison), is three miles long and a mile wide and is a remnant of a prehistoric mountain range. It is now the site of Rib Mountain State Park.
Ringling Brothers – The brothers, Al, Otto, Alf, Charles and John, gave their first circus show performance in Baraboo in 1884. Their name was to soon become synonymous with the word circus.
Robin – State bird of Wisconsin.
Senate – The upper house of the Legislature, the Senate is comprised of 33 members, each elected to four-year terms. The 16 senators representing even-numberd districts are elected in the years in which a presidential election occurs. The 17 members who represent odd-numbered districts are elected in the years in which a gubernatorial election is held. Each senate district includes three assembly districts.
Sinsinawa Mound – The home to approximately 800 Sinsinawa Dominican sisters in the rural southwest corner of Wisconsin near Hazel Green. Founded in the mid-19th century by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, Sinsinawa (which means home of the young eagle) is the home base from which the Dominican Sisters minister.
State Fair – Wisconsin’s state fair is held in early August at State Fair Park in West Allis, a suburb west of Milwaukee. Approximately 900,000 people attend the 11-day event. The first state fair was held in Janesville in 1851. Madison also hosted some of the early state fairs on the land where Camp Randall Stadium is now located.
Statehood – May 29, 1848. Wisconsin was the 30th state admitted to the union.
Sterling Hall – The building, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, was bombed as a Vietnam War protest. The bomb, aimed at the Army Mathematics Research Center in Sterling Hall, killed one researcher. Three of the four involved in the bombing were eventually arrested (Karleton Armstrong, Dwight Armstrong and David Fine). The fourth, Leo Burt, has never been found. (Karleton Armstrong is currently a businessman in Madison, operating the State Street restaurant, the Radical Rye, and the beverage cart, Loose Juice)
Summerfest – An 11-day music festival on Milwaukee’s lakefront. Usually occurs in late June and early July.
Taliesin – Frank Lloyd Wright’s legendary home and school for architects in Spring Green, west of Madison. Built in 1911, the home is part of a 600-acre estate.
Thompson, Tommy – Wisconsin’s 42nd governor, serving from January 1987 until February 2001, the longest term in office of any Wisconsin governor. Top events during his tenure include welfare reform, school choice, casino gambling, revenue caps for school districts and economic growth. He resigned to become a member of George W. Bush’s cabinet as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Ten Chimneys – The summer home of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the first couple of the American stage, in Genesee Depot, approximately one hour east of Madison. The three-story, 18-room house, guest cottage and outbuildings are being refurbished by the Ten Chimneys Foundation.
Timms Hill – The highest point in Wisconsin with an elevation of 1,952 feet. It is in Price County in northern Wisconsin.
University of Wisconsin-Madison – Founded in 1848 with the first classes being held on Feb. 5, 1849, the UW-Madison today ranks as one of the prominent public universities in the country. There are over 40,000 students enrolled at the UW-Madison and nearly 20,000 people work for the university. The campus is part of the University of Wisconsin System, a state-wide system of 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year campuses.
University of Wisconsin Extension – The University Extension was established in the early 20th century to assure that campus resources would be available to people throughout Wisconsin. The program was expanded with the Cooperative Extension service by placing agents in every county to provide services for farmers and communities. The Extension continues today to play a vital role in the “Wisconsin Idea.” (see below)
Villa Louis – A two-story Italianate mansion built on the banks of the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien in 1870 by the son of Wisconsin’s first millionaire, Hercules L. Dousman. He arrived in Prairie du Chien in 1824 and made his fortune in the fur trade. The house and grounds are now a historic site operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Wilder, Thornton – Playwright and novelist, was born in Madison. Wilder was catapulted to fame when his novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He received other Pulitzer Prizes for his 1938 play, “Our Town,” and the 1942 theatrical work, “The Skin of Our Teeth.” Died in 1975.
Wisconsin Dells – One hour north of Madison, Wisconsin Dells has become the number one family destination in the state. Water parks, resorts, the Ho-chunk casino and boat rides draw more than three million people each year to the Dells. The natural beauty of the Dells is also evident in the cliffs and sandstone rock formations along the Wisconsin River.
Wisconsin Idea – First articulated in 1912 by Charles R. McCarthy, the founder of the Legislative Reference Bureau, the Wisconsin Idea holds that “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” He also described it as the “close cooperation between the campus and the government to solve problems.” The tradition of the Wisconsin Idea has resulted in the application of University of Wisconsin innovations in a host of fields, ranging from agriculture to government.
Wisconsin River – Wisconsin’s largest interior waterway. The river flows almost the entire length of the state, beginning at Lac Vieux Desert near the Michigan border and emptying in the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien. It forms the northwest border of Dane County, just past Mazomanie.
Wood Violet – State flower of Wisconsin.
Wright, Frank Lloyd – The noted architect was born in Richland Center in 1867. He is widely recognized for his innovative and unique designs. Died in 1959. See also Taliesin.