Wisconsin History Timeline
Important Dates, Events, and Milestones
Offers a chronological timeline of important dates, events, and milestones in Wisconsin history.
The people living in Wisconsin belong to a broad group of Native Americans, mainly tribes who speak Algonquian and Sioux. They include the Menominee,
Kickapoo, Miami, Winnebago, Dakota, and Iowa. Later in the century, other groups enter Wisconsin, including the Fox, Sac, Potawatomi, and Chippewa.
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.
1634 - Jean Nicolet: First known European to reach Wisconsin. Sought Northwest Passage.
1654-59 - Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medart Chouart des Groseilliers: First of the fur traders in Wisconsin.
1661 - Father Rene Menard: First missionary to Wisconsin Indians.
1665 - Father Claude Allouez founded mission at La Pointe.
1666 - Nicholas Perrot opened fur trade with Wisconsin Indians.
1672 - Father Allouez and Father Louis Andre built St. Francois Xavier mission at De Pere.
1673 - Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette discovered Mississippi River.
1678 - Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut (Duluth) explored western end of Lake Superior.
1685 - Perrot made Commandant of the West.
1690–1820 - Roman Catholic missionaries established the mission of St. Ignace de Michilimackinac, at Mackinac (now Michigan). The mission was the center for traders going to and from what is now Wisconsin.
- 1690 - Perrot discovered lead mines in Wisconsin and Iowa.
1701-38 - Fox Indian Wars.
1755 - Wisconsin Indians, under Charles Langlade, helped defeat British General Braddock.
1763 - Treaty of Paris. Wisconsin became part of British colonial territory.
1761 - Fort at Green Bay accepted by English.
- Conspiracy of Pontiac.
- Two Englishmen killed by Indians at Muscoda.
1764 - Charles Langlade settled at Green Bay. First permanent settlement.
1766 - Jonathan Carver visited Wisconsin seeking Northwest Passage.
1774 - Quebec Act makes Wisconsin a part of Province of Quebec.
1781 - Traditional date of settlement at Prairie du Chien.
1783 - Following the Treaty of Paris, the United States takes ownership of the Wisconsin Region.
- Wisconsin officially became part of the US Northwest Territory, but British fur traders effectively controlled the region until 1816.
- Under Ordinance of 1787, Wisconsin was made part of the Northwest Territory. The governing units for the Wisconsin area prior to statehood were:
- 1787-1800 - Northwest Territory.
- 1800-1809 - Indiana Territory.
- 1809-1818 - Illinois Territory.
- 1818-1836 - Michigan Territory.
- 1836-1848 - Wisconsin Territory.
1795 - Jacques Vieau established trading posts at Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Sheboygan. Made headquarters at Milwaukee.
- William Henry Harrison's treaty with Indians at St. Louis.
- United States extinguished Indian title to lead region (a cause of Black Hawk War).
1814 - Fort Shelby built at Prairie du Chien. Captured by English and name changed to Fort McKay.
1815 - War with England concluded. Fort McKay abandoned by British.
- The establishment of Fort Howard at Green Bay and Fort Shelby rebuilt at Prairie du Chien (renamed Fort Crawford) at Prairie du Chien opens the region to settlement.
- Astor's American Fur Company began operations in Wisconsin.
- Solomon Juneau bought trading post of Jacques Vieau at Milwaukee.
- The Wisconsin area was included in the Michigan Territory.
- The territorial governor of Michigan created the first two Wisconsin counties, Brown and Crawford.
1820s - High prices for lead attracted settlers to the mines of southern Wisconsin. The Michigan 1820 census lists residents of what is now Wisconsin.
- Rev. Jedediah Morse preached first Protestant sermon in Wisconsin at Fort Howard (Green Bay)
- July 9. Henry Schoolcraft, James Duane Doty, Lewis Cass made exploration trip through Wisconsin.
- New York Indians (Oneida, Stockbridge, Munsee and Brothertown) moved to Wisconsin.
- First mining leases in southwest Wisconsin.
1825 - Indian Treaty established tribal boundaries.
1826-27 - Winnebago Indian War. Surrender of Chief Red Bird.
1828 - Fort Winnebago begun at Portage.
- Heavy settlement began along the Lake Michigan shoreline at the sites of present-day Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha.
- The Michigan Territory 1830 Federal Census lists residents of what is now Wisconsin.
1832 - Black Hawk War.
1833 - Land treaty with Indians cleared southern Wisconsin land titles. First newspaper, Green Bay Intelligencer, established.
- Land offices established at Green Bay and Mineral Point.
- First public road laid out.
1835 - First steamboat arrived at Milwaukee. First bank in Wisconsin opened at Green Bay.
- Discovery of lead results in the creation of the Territory of Wisconsin, which included lands west of the Mississippi River to the Missouri River. Much of the western portion was later transferred to the Iowa Territory, created in 1838. Act creating Territory of Wisconsin signed April 20 by President Andrew Jackson. (Provisions of Ordinance of 1787 made part of the act.)
- Capital located at Belmont
- Henry Dodge appointed governor, July 4, by President Andrew Jackson.
- First session of legislature.
- Madison chosen as permanent capital.
- Madison surveyed and platted.
- First Capitol begun.
- Panic of 1837 – all territorial banks failed.
- Winnebago Indians ceded all claims to land in Wisconsin.
- Imprisonment for debt abolished.
- Territorial legislature met in Madison.
- Milwaukee and Rock River Canal Company chartered.
- First school taxes authorized and levied.
- Many foreigners arrived from Germany and New York.
1841 - James D. Doty appointed governor by President John Tyler.
1842 - C.C. Arndt shot and killed in legislature by James R. Vineyard.
- Nathaniel P. Tallmadge appointed governor.
- Wisconsin Phalanx (a utopian colony) established at Ceresco (Ripon).
- Dodge reappointed governor.
- Mormon settlement at Voree (Burlington).
- Swiss colony came to New Glarus.
- Congress passed enabling act for admission of Wisconsin as state.
- First Constitutional Convention met in Madison.
1847 - Census population 210,546. First Constitution rejected by people. Second Constitutional Convention.
- Wisconsin becomes the nation's 30th state.
- Legislature met June 5. Governor Nelson Dewey inaugurated June 7.
- State university incorporated.
- First telegramreached Milwaukee.
- Large scale German immigration began.
- School code adopted.
- First free, taxsupported, graded school with high school at Kenosha.
- Bond Law for controlling sale of liquor passed.
- State opened the Wisconsin Institute for Education of the Blind at Janesville.
- First railroad train – Milwaukee to Waukesha.
- First state fair at Janesville.
- School for deaf opened at Delavan.
- Prison construction begun at Waupun.
- Impeachment of Judge Levi Hubbell.
- Capital punishment abolished (third state to take action).
- Republican Party named at a meeting in Ripon.
- First class graduated at state university.
- Joshua Glover, fugitive slave, arrested in Racine, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in related matter, declared Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 unconstitutional.
- Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad reached Madison.
- Bashford-Barstow election scandal.
- Legislative report on maladministration of school funds.
- Railroad completed to Prairie du Chien.
- First high school class graduated at Racine.
- Industrial School for Boys opened at Waukesha.
1858 - Legislative investigation of bribery in 1856 Legislature.
1859 - Abraham Lincoln spoke at state fair in Milwaukee.
1861 - Beginning of Civil War. Governor called for volunteers for military service. Bank riot in Milwaukee. Office of county superintendent of schools created.
1861–1865 - Over 90,000 men from Wisconsin served in the Union armed forces during the Civil War.
- Governor Louis P. Harvey drowned. Draft riots.
- Edward G. Ryan's address at Democratic Convention criticized Lincoln's conduct of war.
1864 - Cheese factory started at Ladoga, Fond du Lac County, by Chester Hazen.
1865 - 96,000 Wisconsin soldiers served in Civil War; losses were 12,216.
- First state normal school opened at Platteville.
- Agricultural College at university reorganized under Morrill Act.
1871 - Peshtigo fire burned over much of 6 counties in northeast Wisconsin, resulting in over 1,000 deaths.
1872 - Wisconsin Dairymen's Association organized at Watertown.
- Invention of typewriter by C. Latham Sholes.
- The Patrons of Husbandry, an agricultural organization nicknamed the Grangers, elected Governor William R. Taylor.
1874 - Potter Law limiting railroad rates passed.
- Free high school law passed; women eligible for election to school boards.
- State Industrial School for Girls established at Milwaukee. Republicans defeated Grangers.
- Oshkosh almost destroyed by fire.
1876 - Potter Law repealed. Hazel Green cyclone.
1877 - John T. Appleby patented knotter for twine binders.
- Constitution amended to make legislative sessions biennial.
- First hydroelectric plant established at Appleton.
1883 - Major hotel fire at the Newhall House in Milwaukee killed 71. South wing of Capitol extension collapsed; 7 killed. Agricultural Experiment Station established at university.
1885 - Gogebic iron range discoveries made Ashland a major shipping port.
- Strikes related to the 8-hour work day movement at Milwaukee culminate in confrontation with militia at Bay View; 5 killed.
- Agricultural Short Course established at university.
1887 - Marshfield almost destroyed by fire.
- Bennett Law, requiring classroom instruction in English, passed.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court in the "Edgerton Bible case", prohibited reading and prayers from the King James Bible in public schools.
1890 - Stephen M. Babcock invents quick, easy, accurate test for milk butterfat content.
1891 - Bennett Law repealed after bitter opposition from German Protestants and Catholics.
1893 - Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered state treasurer to refund to the state interest on state deposits, which had customarily been retained by treasurers.
1894 - Forest fires in northern and central Wisconsin.
1897 - Corrupt practice act passed.
1898 - Wisconsin sent 5,469 men to fight in Spanish-American War; losses were 134.
- Antipass law prohibited railroads from giving public officials free rides.
- Tax commission created.
- New Richmond tornado.
1900 - Wisconsin's first state park, Interstate near St. Croix Falls, established.
- First Wisconsin-born Governor, Robert M. La Follette, inaugurated.
- Teaching of agriculture introduced into rural schools.
- Legislative Reference Library, which served as a model for other states and the Library of Congress, established – later renamed the Legislative Reference Bureau.
- Primary election law approved by referendum vote.
- State Capitol burned.
- State civil service established; auto license law passed; tuberculosis sanitoria authorized.
- Forestry Board created. Railroad Commission, regulating railroads and subsequently utilities, created.
1907 - Current Capitol begun.
1908 - Income tax amendment adopted.
- Milwaukee elected Emil Seidel first Socialist mayor.
- Eau Claire first Wisconsin city to adopt commission form of government.
1911 - First income tax law; teachers' pension act; vocational schools authorized; Industrial and Highway Commissions created; workmen's compensation act enacted.
1913 - Direct election of Wisconsin's US senators approved.
1915 - Conservation Commission, State Board of Agriculture, and State Board of Education created.
- Capitol completed, cost $7,258,763.
- 120,000 Wisconsin soldiers served in World War I; losses were 3,932.
- Wisconsin first state to meet draft requirements; 584,559 registrations.
1919 - Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) ratified.
1920 - Nineteenth Amendment (women's suffrage) ratified; first state to deliver ratification to Washington.
1921 - Equal rights for women and prohibition laws enacted.
1923 - Military training made optional at university.
- La Follette won Wisconsin's vote for president as Progressive Party candidate.
- Reforestation amendment to state constitution adopted.
1925 - Senator La Follette died on June 18.
1929 - Professor Harry Steenbock of University of Wisconsin patented radiation of Vitamin D. Legislature repealed all Wisconsin laws for state enforcement of Prohibition.
- Forest Products Laboratory erected at Madison.
- Wisconsin becomes the first state to pass an unemployment compensation act.
1933 - Dairy farmers undertook milk strike to protest low prices. Wisconsin voted for repeal of 18th Amendment (Prohibition) to US Constitution.
1934 - Wisconsin Progressive Party formed.
1942 - Governor-elect Loomis died; Supreme Court decided Lieutenant Governor Goodland to serve as acting governor.
1941-45 - Wisconsin enrolled 375,000 for World War II; casualties 7,980.
1946 - Wisconsin Progressive Party dissolved and rejoined Republican Party.
1948 - Centennial Year.
1949 - Legislature enacted new formula for distribution of state educational aids and classified school districts for this purpose.
1950 - Wisconsin enrolled 132,000 for the Korean Conflict; 800 casualties.
1951 - First major legislative reapportionment since 1892.
1957 - Legislation prohibited lobbyists from giving anything of value to a state employe.
1958 - Professor Joshua Lederberg, UW geneticist, Nobel prize winner in medicine.
1959 - Gaylord Nelson, first Democratic governor since 1933, inaugurated. Circus World Museum established at Baraboo. Frank Lloyd Wright, architect, died.
1960 - Mrs. Dena Smith elected state treasurer, first woman elected to statewide office in Wisconsin.
1961 - Legislation enacted to initiate longrange program of acquisition and improvement of state recreation facilities (ORAP program). Federal supervision of Menominee Indian tribe terminated on April 29; reservation became 72nd county.
- Selective sales tax and income tax withholding enacted.
- Kohler Company strike which began in 1954, settled.
- John Gronouski, state tax commissioner, appointed US Postmaster General.
- State expenditures from all funds for 1963-64 fiscal year top $1 billion for first time.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court redistricted legislature after legislature and governor failed to agree on a plan.
- Two National Farmers Organization members killed in demonstration at Bonduel stockyard.
- Legislature enacted property tax relief for aged.
- The office of county superintendent of schools abolished, but Cooperative Educational Service Agen-cies (CESAs) created to provide regional services.
- School compulsory attendance age raised to 18.
- All parts of state placed into vocational school districts. County boards reapportioned on population basis.
- State law prevented discrimination in housing.
- The State Capitol, in use since 1917, officially dedicated, after extensive remodeling and cleaning.
1965 - 1966
- Legislature held first full evenyear regular session since 1882.
- Governor Warren P. Knowles called out National Guard to keep order during civil rights demonstrations in Wauwatosa.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Milwaukee Braves baseball team move to Atlanta. Grand jury investigation of illegal lobbying activities in the legislature resulted in 13 indictments.
- Executive branch reorganized along functional lines.
- Ban on colored oleomargarine repealed. Racial rioting in Milwaukee in July-August.
- Marathon marches demonstrate for Milwaukee open housing ordinance.
- Antiwar protests at the University of Wisconsin in Madison culminate in riot with injuries.
- Constitutional amendment permitted the legislature to meet as provided by law rather than once a biennium, resulting in annual sessions.
- Ninety Black students expelled from Wisconsin State University- Oshkosh when December demonstration damaged the administration building.
- Wisconsin's first heart transplant performed at St. Luke's Hospital in Milwaukee; first successful bone marrow transplant performed by team of scientists and surgeons at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
- Selective sales tax became general sales tax.
- On opening day of special legislative session on welfare and urban aids, welfare mothers and UW-Madison students, led by Father James Groppi, took over the Assembly Chamber; National Guard called to protect Capitol. Groppi cited for contempt and jailed; contempt charge upheld by Wisconsin Supreme Court.
- Student strikes at UW in Madison demanded Black studies department; National Guard activated to restore order.
- Congressman Melvin R. Laird appointed US Secretary of Defense.
- Wisconsin's portion of Interstate Highway System completed.
- Army Mathematics Research Building at the UW in Madison bombed by antiwar protestors, resulting in one death.
- "Old Main"at Wisconsin State University- Whitewater burned down in apparent arson.
- First elections to 4-year terms in Wisconsin history for all constitutional officers, based on constitutional amendment ratified in 1967.
- UW scientists, headed by Dr. Har Gobind Khorana, succeeded in the first total synthesis of a gene.
1971 - The legislature, now meeting in regular session throughout the biennium, enacted major shared tax redistribution, merger of University of Wisconsin and State University systems, revision of municipal employe relations laws.
- Legislature enacted comprehensive consumer protection act, lowered the age of majority from 21 to 18, required environmental impact statement for all legislation affecting the environment, repealed railroad full crew law and ratified the unsuccessful "equal rights"amendment to US Constitution.
- Record highway death toll, 1,168.
- State constitutional amendment adopted permitting bingo. Barbara Thompson first woman to hold the elective office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- The 1954 Menominee Termination Act repealed by Congress. Legislature enacted state ethics code, repealed oleomargarine tax, funded programs for the education of all handicapped children, and established procedures for informal probate of simple estates.
- Legislature enacted comprehensive campaign finance act and strengthened open meetings law.
- Democrats swept all constitutional offices and gained control of both houses of the 1975 Legislature for first time since 1893.
- Kathryn Morrison first woman elected to the state senate.
- Striking teachers fired in Hortonville.
1964-1975 - 165,400 Wisconsinites served in Vietnam; 1,239 were killed.
- Menominee Indians occupied Alexian Brothers Novitiate. Legislature made voter registration easier, established property tax levy limits on local governments,governments, and eliminated statutory distinctions based on sex.
- UW-Madison scientist, Dr. Howard Temin, shared 1975 Nobel Prize in physiology-medicine.
- US District Court ordered integration of Milwaukee public schools. Ice storm damage reached $50.4 million.
- Wisconsin Legislature established a system for compensating crime victims.
- Exxon discovered sulfide zinc and copper deposits in Forest County.
- Shirley S. Abrahamson was appointed first woman on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court declared negative school aids law unconstitutional.
- Governor Patrick J. Lucey appointed Ambassador to Mexico, and Lieutenant Governor Martin Schreiber became "acting governor".
- First state employes union strike lasted 15 days; National Guard ran prisons.
- Constitutional amendments authorized raffle games and revised the structure of the court system by creating a Court of Appeals.
- Legislation enacted included public support of elections campaigns, no-fault divorce, and implied consent law for drunk driving.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court allowed cameras in state courtrooms. Vel Phillips elected secretary of state, first Black constitutional officer.
- Laws enacted included a hazardous waste management program.
- Constitutional amendment removed lieutenant governor from serving as president of the senate.
- Moratorium on tax collections gave state taxpayers a 3-month "vacation"from taxes.
- Shirley S. Abrahamson, became the first woman elected to Wisconsin Supreme Court after serving by appointment for 3 years.
- Legislature established school of veterinary medicine at the UW-Madison.
- Eric Heiden of Madison won five Olympic gold medals for ice speed skating, named winner of the Sullivan Award as best amateur athlete in the country.
- 15,000 Cuban refugees housed for the summer at Fort McCoy.
- Former Governor Lucey ran as independent candidate for US Vice President.
- State revenue shortfall led to 4.4 percent cuts in state spending.
- Laws enacted included specific rights for victims and witnesses of crimes, and mental patient commitment revisions.
- US Supreme Court ruled against Wisconsin's historic open primary.
- Laws enacted included stronger penalties for drunk driving and changes in mining taxes.
- State unemployment hit highest levels since the Great Depression.
- Voters endorsed first statewide referendum in nation calling for a freeze on nuclear weapons.
- Laws enacted included extensions in the fair employment law, an "employes' rightto- know"law pertaining to toxic substances in the workplace, a new public records law, and a historic preservation law.
- Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. acquired by Stroh Brewing Co. of Detroit, all Milwaukee operations closed.
- Continued recession forced adoption of budget including a 10 percent tax surcharge and a pay freeze for state employes.
- Law raising minimum drinking age to 19 passed (effective 7/1/85). In oneday uprising, inmates at Waupun State Prison took 15 hostages, but released them uninjured.
- Laws enacted included a "lemon law"on motor vehicle warranties, changes in child support collection procedures and levels.
- UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine enrolled its first class.
- Most powerful US tornado of 1984 destroyed Barneveld; 9 dead.
- Democratic party chose presidential convention delegates in caucuses rather than by presidential preference primary as a result of the Democratic National Committee rules changes.
- Indian treaty rights to fish and hunt caused controversy.
- First liver transplants in Wisconsin conducted at UW Hospital.
- Laws enacted included a marital property reform act, groundwater protection act, establishment of high school graduation requirements, a "right-to-die"act, prohibition of smoking in public areas.
- Economic conditions began to improve from the low-point of the previous 2 years.
- Milwaukee air crash killed 31.
- Major consolidation of state banks by large holding companies.
- Laws enacted included authorization for public utilities toform holding companies, comparable worth and teen pregnancy prevention measures.
- First state tax amnesty program.
- Farm land values dropped across the state. Exxon dropped plans to develop copper mine near Crandon.
- Laws enacted allowed regional banking, set sulfur dioxide emission limits, raised the drinking age to 21, and limited damages payable in malpractice actions.
- Voters approved constitutional amendments allowing pari-mutuel betting and a state lottery.
- Laws enacted included a mandatory seatbelt law, antitakeover legislation, gradual end to the inheritance and gift taxes and a "learnfare"program designed to keep in school the children of families receiving Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC).
- G. Heileman Brewing Company taken over by Alan Bond.
- Driest summer since the 1930s.
- The first state lottery games began.
- Chrysler Corporation's automobile assembly plant in Kenosha, the nation's oldest car plant, closed.
- Laws enacted included mandatory family leave for employes.
1989 - Laws enacted included creation of Department of Corrections, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway and a statewide land stewardship program.
- More than 1,400 Wisconsin National Guard and Reserve soldiers were called to active duty in Persian Gulf crisis, 11 casualties.
- The number of Milwaukee murders set a new record, raising demands for crime and drug controls.
- Laws enacted included a major recycling law and Milwaukee Parental Choice voucher program for public and nonsectarian private schools.
- The price of raw milk hit lowest point since 1978. First Indian gambling compacts signed.
- Governor Tommy G. Thompson vetoed a record 457 items in the state budget.
- Train derailment caused major spill of toxic chemicals and evacuation of over 22,000 people in Superior.
- Thousands of opponents, including children, staged protests at 6 abortion clinics in Milwaukee throughout the summer.
- Laws enacted included parental consent for abortion,health care reform and creation of a 3-member Gaming Commission.
- Wisconsin Congressman Les Aspin and UW-Madison President Donna Shalala named President Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Health and Human Services, respectively.
- Thousands in Milwaukee became ill as a result of cryptosporidium in the water supply.
- California passed Wisconsin in milk production. Republicans won control of state senate for the first time since 1974.
- Laws enacted included a 1999 sunset for traditional welfare programs, a cap on school spending and permission to organize limited liability companies.
1994 - Laws enacted included removal of about $1 billion in public school operating taxes from property tax by 1997, a new regulatory framework for Public Service Commission regulation of telecommunication utilities, and granting towns most of the same powers exercised by cities and villages.
- Republicans won control of state assembly for the first time since 1970.
- Elk reintroduced in northern Wisconsin. July heat wave contributed to 172 deaths.
- Governor Thompson's new welfare reform plan, known as Wisconsin Works (W-2), received national attention.
- Train derailment forced evacuation of Weyauwega. Pabst Brewing closed 152-year-old brewery in Milwaukee.
- First successful legislative recall election in state history.
1997 - Groundbreaking for controversial new Miller Stadium, future home of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.
- Tammy Baldwin became first Wisconsin woman elected to the US Congress.
- US Supreme Court upheld constitutionality of extension of Milwaukee Parental Choice school vouchers to religious schools.
- Second state tax amnesty program.
- Laws enacted included a mining moratorium, new penalties for failure to pay child support, truth-in-sentencing and protection of fetuses.
- Governor Tommy Thompson began record fourth term.
- Laws enacted included "smart growth", graduated drivers licensing, a sales tax rebate.
- Supermax, the state's high security prison, opens at Boscobel.
- Record low unemployment.
2000 - Legislature approves a local sales tax and revenue bonds for renovation of Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.
- Governor Thompson ends a record 14 years in office and assumes post of US Secretary of Health and Human Services.
- Lt. Governor Scott McCallum becomes governor and appoints State Senator Margaret Farrow as the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor.
2008 - Lake Delton in Wisconsin Dells completely drained after record rains caused its banks to burst
2011 - Winter storm dumped nearly two feet of snow in some areas, wind chill temperatures were between -20 to -25F