42 Interesting Facts About Wisconsin

Last updated on July 27th, 2020

Wisconsin is the 20th most populous and the 23rd most extensive of the 50 states of the United States. It is located in the north-central United States, in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. The state attained statehood on May 29, 1848, becoming the 30th state to join the union. Its four bordering states are Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota. See the complete list of the 50 states and their borders here. Wisconsin (nicknamed: America’s Dairyland, Badger State, Cheese State) has 72 counties. The state’s capital is Madison. The postal abbreviation for Wisconsin is WI. With these 42 facts about Wisconsin, let us learn about its history, geography, economy, people, culture, wildlife and more. 

Ginseng roots. Wisconsin fact file.
Ginseng roots

1. Ginseng producer

Known as the Marathon County, Wisconsin produces the entire ginseng grown in the United States, which accounts for roughly 10% of the world’s supply. The State even holds an international festival every September where people get a chance to look at the process more closely and sample drinks and foods that contain the product.[1]

2. The badger state

The state symbol of Wisconsin, the badger, does not refer to the animal as most people think. Rather, it refers to the lead miners of the 1820s who traveled for work and even dug tunnels to find somewhere to sleep and stay warm—in the same way as a badger. The UW-Madison Wisconsin Badgers is marked to celebrate the game day. It’s the mascot of the state’s biggest university as well.[2]

Wisconsin on the map

3. Margarine was prohibited

Wisconsin prohibited the sale and use of margarine starting from 1895 to 1967. Although the ban has since been lifted, there are still some restrictions that remain on margarine. Today, it is still illegal for restaurants to serve their customers margarine in place of butter unless the customer requests for it.[3]

4. The state’s name comes from

The Wisconsin River is said to be the name behind the state’s name. The river used to be referred to as Meskousing by the aboriginal Algonquian-speaking tribes. Jacques Marquette, a French explorer, first recorded the name in 1673. With time, the word turned into Ouisconsin, Wiskonsan before it finally took the current spelling and pronunciation forms. Linguists suspect the original name could have been taken from a Miami word “meskonsing” which loosely translates to “this river meanders through something red” or “it lies red. This likely refers to the sandstone formations found in the river.[15]

5. The largest wooly mammoth

The largest wooly mammal to have ever been excavated was discovered in Kenosha. Today Milwaukee Public Museum has a replica of this which you can watch at any time.[11]

6. Its highest natural point

There are no tall physical features in Wisconsin. The fact that the highest natural point in the state is a hill and not a mountain says a lot about it. Timm’s Hill has a height of 1,951 feet. Because Wisconsin has mostly glaciated terrain, it doesn’t boast many craggy peaks. To make up for leveling the landscape, glaciations have left behind some of the most breathtaking valleys, prairies, fertile farm fields, and rolling hills. Timm’s Hill can be found on Highway 13 close to Ogema. Entry is free for all.[9]

Fresh cranberry.

7. Cranberries and sweet corn

Famed for her dairy production, Wisconsin is the no.1 exporter of cranberries, sweet corn, ginseng, and second-largest exporter of whey in the United States.[17]

8. Dairy products are produced in plenty

Wisconsin is America’s undisputed Dairy land. It is the no.1 producer of cheese in the US, and ranks second in terms of the best milk producers. 90% of milk originating from Wisconsin is used for making cheese. Wisconsin boasts the largest dairy cattle per square kilometer than any other state. Unsurprisingly, Wisconsin is the only American state offering a Master Cheese maker program.[13,4]

9. Belmont and then Madison

Madison was not the original capital of the state. Rather, the original was Belmont. It was founded in 1836 at the time that Wisconsin wasn’t a state yet but a territory. There is a historic park to the western side of Belmont Mound State Park where you can see a lodging house and Council House for the legislators at that time.

Wisconsin with other bordering states.
Wisconsin (in red) with other bordering states. Facts about Wisconsin.

10. The oldest city

Green Bay is Wisconsin’s oldest city. Most people think it is Milwaukee or Madison but clearly neither of these is. Green Bay can be traced to a French explorer by the name of Jean Nicolet who began a small trading shop way back in 1634.[8]

11. The busiest control tower on earth

Oshkosh, a small town found on Lake Winnebago to the Northwest of Milwaukee, is prominent for two things: the first is its popular line of children’s clothing, and secondly, the integral place it occupies on the world’s air show circuit. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, which is the largest meeting of aviators in the world, has, since 1970, been held right here every summer. During the event, which takes one week, the Oshkosh control tower is the busiest on earth as close to 15,000 aircrafts land at the airport, plus approximately 500,000 visitors. All of these come here to get a glimpse of the thrilling aerobatic displays and flybys from contemporary and vintage military aircraft.[7]

12. Have fun in water parks

The Wisconsin Dells boasts the most number of water parks in a single area in the whole world.[19]

13. Lakes and lakes and lakes

Wisconsin has more than 15,000 lakes and 13,500 miles (21,700 kilometers) of navigable streams and rivers. Almost 3 percent of Wisconsin’s area—nearly a million acres (405,000 hectares)—is lakes.[6]

The Milwaukee Art museum. Wisconsin fact file.
The Milwaukee Art museum. The wings of this unique building fold and unfold twice daily.

14. One of the largest museums in the US

The Milwaukee Art Museum, abbreviated as MAM, contains close to 30,000 works of art, and is among the largest museums to be found in the US. It used to be partially housed in a structure designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957 as a war memorial. Right from the start, the 2 lower floors were designated for art gallery use. The museum sees more than 400,000 visitors a year.[10]

15. House on the Rock

The widely celebrated House on the Rock, located between Spring Green and Dodgeville cities, is a tourist attraction that was opened in 1959. It consists of architecturally discrete rooms, gardens, shops, and streets, and was designed by Jordan Alex Jr. It sits atop Deer Shelter Rock, which is a rock column approximately 18x21x61(meters).

Electric guitar. Facts about Wisconsin.

16. The Wizard of Waukesha

The electric guitar you see today is popular, thanks to Les Paul, a Wisconsinite. Paul’s exploits and contributions in guitar playing were to earn him a nickname of Wizard of Waukesha. His legacy continues to live on especially with contemporary interpretations of Gibson Les Paul. More companies have followed the fray with Les Paul’s replicas paying homage to the signature design of this guitar maestro.[18]

Harley-Davidson Local Signage. facts about Wisconsin.
Harley-Davidson Local Signage.

17. The Harley Davidson story

William Harley and the Davidson brothers (Walter and Arthur) build their first motorcycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[29]

18. Electricity from water

In 1882 the first hydroelectric plant in the world was built at Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. China, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Russia are the five largest producers of hydropower.[28]

19. Beautiful buildings

Some of the most popular attractions of Wisconsin are the buildings that were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was a native of Wisconsin and one of its most ever prominent citizens.[5]

20. Aviation experiments

The largest experimental aviation event in the world is the EAA Fly-In at Oshkosh.[30]

21. Wisconsin was acquired from France by the US 

The French came to Wisconsin and conquered the fur trade. They used to take beaver furs to Europe where they were in high demand. They controlled Wisconsin until 1783 during the Treaty of Paris. Virginia and Massachusetts originally claimed Wisconsin before becoming an independent state.[16]

22. Gave Birth to the Republican Party

It was in Ripon, Wisconsin that the Republican Party was founded. The idea of the party was conceived during a meeting held at the Little White Schoolhouse on March 20, 1854. The main reason for forming the party was to fight slavery.[12]

Ice cream sundae. interesting facts about Wisconsin.

23. Produced the first-ever Ice Cream Sundae

In the 1800s, Ed Bermers was the proprietor of a soda fountain shop in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. At the time, serving soda on Sunday was illegal for religious reasons. A customer by the name George Hallauer came to the shop one Sunday. He wanted a dish of ice cream. He asked to try the sauce on top used for ice cream sodas. That was the birth of the first ice cream sundae, and it cost just a nickel. Today, you can visit the Washington House of Museum located in Two Rivers for an imitation of Bremer’s ice cream.[26]

24. Rope Jump Capital of the World

In 1960, Wally Mohrman invented the rope jump. He was thinking of a winter activity that kids could play. He designed it in a way that kids from grade I to middle school would contend to see who managed to jump a rope most in 10 seconds. It was after this that rope jumping gained world fame. Subsequently, Bloomer got the name of the world’s Rope Jumping Capital.[14]

Group of kindergarten kids friends with arm around, sitting and smiling. Interesting facts about Wisconsin.

25. The First-Ever Kindergarten in the US

Margarethe Schurz, the wife to Carl Schurz, a celebrated German-American statesman, started the first Kindergarten in America. Mrs. Schurz, a German native, learnt about the kindergarten principles from Friedrich Froebel, a fellow German, who created it. In 1856 when the couple moved to Watertown, Wisconsin, she started a kindergarten class in their abode. It later became an integral part of the American public school system.[27]

26. Tons of effigy mounds

Effigy mounds are a common sight in Wisconsin. These raised earth piles were built in the shape of a symbol, animal or other figures. Although Native Americans built them throughout the country, it’s in Wisconsin that they are most common.[20]

Classic vintage typewriter.

27. First Successful Typewriter

Just like what happens with most other inventions, it took the effort of many people to create the typewriter. It is estimated that there were 52 designs before the modern typewriter was arrived at. The first commercially viable typewriter was created in 1868, and at the heart of it was a Wisconsinite named Christopher Latham Sholes. A newspaper printer and editor, Christopher Latham invented the QWERTY keyboard that’s used to date in computers and phones. Therefore, a standard on how we type today was created by a Wisconsinite.[21,22]

28. A Hideaway for many gangsters

Wisconsin isn’t just known for all the nice things. It also has a history of gangsters. They used to like Waukesha County a lot, specifically Oconomowoc. Some notable members included John Dillinger, Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and Bugs Moran.[25]

29. Milwaukee hosts the largest music festival in the world

The Summerfest, held in Milwaukee, attracts some 1 million visitors every year. This made the event to be recognized in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest music festival in the world.[23]

30. The first workman’s compensation

While Wisconsin created the first workman’s compensation and unemployment insurance programs, they’ve been more recently associated with the welfare reform movement.[24]

31. Rare white Buffalo

On August 20, 1994, a white buffalo calf called Miracle was born on a farm in Janesville, Wisconsin. She is believed to be the first white buffalo calf born since 1933.[31]

a rare white buffalo Calf
Miracle was a very rare white buffalo and not to be mistaken with an albino buffalo. Image by Ronald Carlson.

32. The Wisconsin Statue

At the highest point of Capitol building is a statue that honors the Greek goddess. The outstretched arm of the figure symbolizes the Forward motto. People often mistake it as the Forward statue but it is actually named Wisconsin.

33. Oldest and Highest Lighthouse on the Great Lakes

The Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine is the tallest tower still standing on Wisconsin’s Great Lakes. It was constructed in 1880. The tower rises 112 feet over the waters.

Wind Point Lighthouse, Wisconsin.
Interesting facts about Wisconsin. Wind Point Lighthouse. Image credit – Jim Bauer

34. Fox Trot Trail, Appleton

The famous Fox Trot Trail takes you through the riverfront and downtown of Appleton. You can start the adventure at the Houdini Plaza and follow the fox symbol. Expect scenic views of Fox River and numerous historic sites.

35. The Spring City

Waukesha is renowned for natural springs and has plenty of resorts for tourists. The springs started gaining popularity in the 19th Century. Some were said to have medicinal properties. There is a beautiful park to see with spectacular floral gardens on the Fox River.

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