Wisconsin became a U.S. territory following the American Revolution and soon after began attracting settlers looking for work in its mining, lumber and dairy industries. It was admitted to the union as the 30th state in 1848.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, Wisconsin was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, with many slaves passing through the state on their way to freedom in Canada. Today, Wisconsin leads the nation in dairy production and is known for the quality of its cheddar cheese–residents even sometimes refer to themselves as “cheeseheads.” Famous Wisconsinites include architect Frank Lloyd Wright, magician Harry Houdini and U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur.
Date of Statehood: May 29, 1848
Population: 5,686,986 (2010)
Size: 65,496 square miles
Nickname(s): Badger State
Tree: Sugar Maple
Flower: Wood Violet
- Wisconsin earned the nickname “Badger State,” not because of its proliferation of badgers, but because its earliest white inhabitants were itinerant lead miners who burrowed into the hills for shelter rather than waste time and resources on a more permanent structure.
- Enraged by the recent passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Alvan Bovay convened a meeting at a schoolhouse in Ripon to create a new political party that would defend against the expansion of slavery. It was during this meeting, on March 20, 1854, that the Republican Party was established.
- The first dairy school in the United States was established at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1890. Although only two students attended the first class, enrollment jumped to 75 within a year after Professor Stephen Babcock developed a test that measured the butterfat content of milk. The “Babcock test” provided an incentive to produce high-quality milk and allowed farmers to be paid accordingly.
- In 1911, Victor Berger became the first Socialist elected to Congress. After winning the election again in 1918, the House of Representatives refused to seat him due to an unresolved legal battle involving his outspoken condemnation of U.S. involvement in World War I. By 1921 the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in his favor and the charges against him were dismissed.
- Each year Milwaukee hosts an 11-day event dubbed the “World’s Largest Music Festival,” which features more than 700 bands on 11 stages along the shore of Lake Michigan. Created by Mayor Henry Maier in 1968, Summerfest attracts around one million attendees.
- In 2011, Wisconsin’s more than 1.2 billion dairy cows produced over three billion gallons of milk.
- In October 1871, Wisconsin was the site of the most destructive forest fire in American history: Twelve hundred people were killed and 2 billion trees burned in what became known as theGreat Peshtigo Fire.