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Basic Information


Wisconsin is a U.S. State located in the upper Midwest, between the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers on the west and Lake Michigan on the east. Its climate is known for long chilly winters and pleasant temperate summers. Much of the northern part of the state is dominated by pine forests. The central part of the state has rich farmland . Although much of the state's natural features were carved out by the last Ice Age, the southwestern corner lies in the Driftless Zone, which remained unglaciated, and is marked by picturesque bluffs carved by rivers flowing from the glaciers.


The name of the state was derived from the name given by the Algonquin tribes of the area to the river flowing from the northern forests to the Mississippi. The French explorer Jacques Marquette recorded the name as Meskousing; later transcribed as Ouisconsin and ultimately anglicized as Wisconsin. Like many place names derived from Indian words, the meaning has become obscure, but one theory is that its a Miami word meaning "It lies red", referring to the red limestone riverbanks of the Wisconsin Dells.

The first known humans in Wisconsin were Paleo-Indians who arrived around 10,000 BC. They were primarily hunters who hunted Mastadon and Mammoths. When the last glaciers began to retreat from the area around 7000 BC, the Plano cultures dominated the region. By about 500 BC, the culture had begun to shift from hunting to agriculture and a rise of more permanent settlements, art and pottery, as well as the construction of Effigy Mounds. Around AD 1050, the Mississipian culture had expanded into Wisconsin and built a large settlement at Aztalan. The primary tribes in Wisconsin at the time the first Europeans arrived were the Ojibwa, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, and Fox.

The first European to reach what is now Wisconsin was the French explorer Jean Nicolet who founded a colony at the site of the present city of Green Bay in 1634. For much of the next century and a half, the region was mostly settled by French fur traders. A battle near the western shore of Lake Winnebego in 1730 between French settlers and the local Fox Indians was said to give the name to Butte des Morts, the "Hill of the Dead", a large burial mound in the area. The mound had been in use as a burial site long before the battle, but the battle gave the site its name.

The British took control of Wisconsin in 1763 during the French and Indian War. Even after the United States acquired acquired the territory after the American Revolution, the British retained a military presence and control of the local fur trade until the War of 1812. When they were finally forced to withdraw by the Treaty of Ghent, the British burned Fort MacKay, a fort the Americans had build which they had seized during the war, rather than hand it back. Not that we're still bitter about it; just sayin' is all.

In 1784 the Northwest Ordinance established for the region north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi to be organized for settlement. Revisions to the Ordinance in 1785 and 1787 developed specifics for how the land was to be organized and the establishment of government. Among the important provisions of the ordinances was that slavery would not be permitted in the territories north of the Ohio and that one section (1 sq. mile) out of every township (a square region six miles to a side) would be set aside for schools.

Attempts by the U.S. Government to resettle several Indian tribes led by Chief Black Hawk in Iowa led to the Black Hawk Indian War in the 1830s. Battles between U.S. soldiers and Black Hawk's people raged across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois until Black Hawk was decisively defeated in the Bad Axe Massacre on August 1-2. 1832.

The removal of the Indians from southwestern Wisconisn led to the Great Wisconsin Lead Rush. Rich lead deposits drew miners from all over the country to dig for the "grey gold". The miners became known as "badgers" which ultimately led to the state's nickname, "The Badger State". (A miner from the 1830s is one of the figures depicted on the Wisconsin State Flag).

When Wisconsin was officially organized as a territory, it was originally proposed to place the capitol in the town of Belmont, in the mining region, which was the most heavily-populated area at the time. Political dickering and dealmaking by a land speculator named James Doty persuaded the territorial legislature to build a new capitol midway between the mining region around Mineral Point and the territory's other main population center of Milwaukee. The new city, located on the ithsmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona on land owned and surveyed by Doty, was called Madison. Wisconsin became the 30th state on May 29, 1848.

Wisconsin was a strongly anti-slavery state. A meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin on February 28, 1854 calling for a new political party to oppose slavery is considered by many to be the start of the Republican Party. The State sent several volunteer regiments comprising over 90,000 men to fight during the American Civil War.

On October 8, 1871, Wisconsin suffered the deadliest fire in United States history when the Peshtigo Fire burned 1,875 square miles (4,850 kmĀ²) of forestland around the timber industry town of Peshtigo. Between 1,200 and 2,500 people died in the conflagration.

Around the Turn of the Century, a Wisconsin congressman named Robert La Follett became a leading voice in the Progressive wing of the Republican Party. He became a national figure and an influential voice fighting for issues such as woman's suffrage, worker's rights and trying to limit the power of the big railroads. He created a close co-operation between the State Government and the University of Wisconsin which became known as the Wisconsin Idea. Although nicknamed "Fighting Bob", La Follett was strongly anti-war and vigorously opposed America's entry into World War I.

Early in the 20th Century, the Socialist Party of America had a strong base in Milwaukee, and the city actually elected four Socialist mayors between 1910 and 1960. The Milwaukee socialists were sometimes dismissively called "sewer socialists" by more radical members of the party because they emphasized civic improvement and public works over Marxist social theory.

On the other end of the political scale, Wisconsin also elected Joseph McCarthy to the U.S. Senate, the man who personified the Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s.

Other notable Wisconsin politicians include Senator William Proxmire, an influential Democrat who in the 1970s and 1980s attacked government waste and spending; Governor Tommy Thompson, a Republican who sponsored the influential "Wisconsin Works" or "W2" welfare reform program in the 1990s; and Senator Russ Feingold, a leading voice in Campaign Finance Reform and an opponent of the Iraq War and the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act.

During the 1980s, the right-wing militia group Posse Comitatus had a presence in Northern Wisconsin. Although the organization has lain low in the decades since then, it's members are still around, lending their views to other organizations.

An important ecological concern in recent years has been Chronic Wasting Disease, a degenerative condition similar to Mad Cow Disease, that has threatened the state's deer population. There have been unverified claims of CWD being passed on to humans.

Industry and Commerce

Wisconsin is probably best known as the Dairy State. It is the country's leading producer of cheese and is second only to California in the production of milk and butter. It is also a leading producer of corn for silage, cranberries and believe it or not, ginseng. The Door Peninsula region is known for it's cherries, and other crops grown in the state include potatoes, oats and tobacco.

But Wisconsin doesn't just mean cheese, it also means beer. Milwaukee formerly boasted several major breweries, including Schlitz, Pabst and Miller. The state is also home to numerous smaller breweries and microbreweries.

The timber of the Wisconsin North Woods feeds the paper industry, which has many plants in northern Wisconsin, especially in the Fox River Valley running from Lake Winnebego to Green Bay.

Tourism is also a major state industry with many out-of-state vacationers coming to enjoy hunting, fishing and camping in Wisconsin's forests.

Other major Wisconsin companies include:

  • Oscar Meyer — maker of hot dogs, cold cuts and other meat products
  • Johnsonville Foods — maker of the best bratwurst on the planet
  • Kohler Company — a major manufacturer of bathroom fixtures and small engines
  • Harley-Davidson — One of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers in the country
  • Kimberly-Clark — manufacturer of Kleenex and other paper products

Professional Sports

In professional sports, Wisconsin boasts a legendary football team, a less-than-legendary baseball team and a basketball team which has occasionally reached greatness.

  • Green Bay Packers — Lambeau Field, Green Bay (American Football) In the 1960s, legendary coach Vince Lombardi led the Packers to win two Super Bowls and forever sanctified the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field.
  • Milwaukee Brewers — Miller Park, Milwaukee (Baseball); Formerly located at County Stadium; Miller Park is a domed stadium built during the late 1990s
  • Milwaukee Bucks — Bradley Center, Milwaukee (Basketball) one-time home of Kareem Abdul-Jabar
  • Wisconsin Badgers — various collegiate teams of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The football team is a leading member of the Big Ten football conference
  • Milwaukee Braves — Baseball team formerly based at County Stadium in Milwaukee until it moved to Atlanta. Hank Aaron, Jr. played for the team in both cities.

Wisconsin Cities

Wisconsin Places of Interest and Events

See Also


Game and Story Use

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