Wisconsin State Facts - Wisconsin History Firsts

Catch up on your state trivia with these Wisconsin history firsts and interesting fun facts about the state.

Official Name Wisconsin
Capital Madison
43.04405 N, 089.40954 W
Constitution Ratified 1848
Statehood May 29, 1848
30th state
Number of Counties 72 Counties in Wisconsin
Largest County
(by population)
Milwaukee County
242 sq. mi.

Wisconsin History Firsts & State Facts

  • 1844 - On a farm near Janesville, George Esterly invented the first harvesting machine. He subsequently invented several other farm implements.
  • 1848 -
    • The state's constitution is the oldest of any state west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was adopted in 1848.
    • Find out more about the Wisconsin State Great seal
  • 1854 - The State Historical Society of Wisconsin (founded 1846) became the first state historical society to receive funding from a state government. The legislature appropriated $500 for the purchase of books and other materials. Lyman C. Draper was one of the guiding forces behind this institution.
  • 1854 - The Republican Party was founded in Ripon in 1854.
  • 1856 - In Watertown, German immigrants Margarethe Meyer Schurz and Carl Schurz opened the first kindergarten in the United States. Classes were conducted in German.
  • 1858 - On his stepfather's Iowa County farm, John Francis Appleby, at the age of 18, invented the basic knotting device that would become the foundation for all farm binding machinery.
  • 1863 - Find out more about the Wisconsin State Flag
  • 1867 - Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center on June 8, 1867.
  • 1868 - Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, an inventor and journalist, patented the first typewriter. It wrote only in capital letters. On the first model, the types, each on a separate bar, struck upward against a sheet of paper and knocked the paper against an inked ribbon. The paper was held flat in a moving frame. The world's first typist was Lillian Sholes, his daughter.
  • 1871 -
    • Dr. John Carhart, a Methodist minister and physician from Racine, designed and built the first steam-powered automobile. It had wagon wheels and a two-cylinder steam engine.
    • One of the nation's worst natural disasters took place in Peshtigo in 1871, when a forest fire killed more than 1000 people and damaged $5 million worth of property.
  • 1873 - John Michael Kohler manufactured the first enameled cast-iron plumbing fixtures. In 1873, Kohler purchased the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry in Sheboygan. In 1883, he took a product in his company called a horse trough/hog scalder, heated it to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit and sprinkled on some enamel powder. This began the manufacturing of the cast-iron fixtures.
  • 1878 -
    • Wisconsin hosted the nation's first automobile race when the state offered $10,000 to the inventor of a machine that could move from Green Bay to Madison under its own power. With an average speed of six miles per hour, it took Alexander Gallagher of Oshkosh approximately twenty-two hours to win the race.
    •  In 1878-1879 the Wisconsin legislature approved the creation of a state park in Vilas County. The proposal was not successful and the state ended up selling two-thirds of area land to lumber interest for $8 an acre in 1897.
  • 1881 - Ed Berners' soda fountain in Two Rivers served the first ice cream sundae, made with only vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. George Hallauer asked Berners to top a dish of ice cream with chocolate sauce, which before this was used only for ice cream sodas. The concoction cost a nickel and soon became very popular, but was sold only on Sundays. One day a ten-year-old girl insisted she have a dish of ice cream "with that stuff on top," saying they could "pretend it was Sunday." After that, the confection was sold every day in many flavors. When a glassware salesman placed an order with his company for the canoe-shaped dishes in which it was served, as "Sundae dishes," it started the name ice cream sundae.
  • 1882 - The first commercial hydroelectric plant began to operate on the rapids of the Fox River in Appleton. The Appleton power was used for a commercial electric lighting system only three years after Thomas A. Edison developed his first practical electric light bulb. The central station for this plant was called the Appleton Edison Light Company.
  • 1883 - The Wisconsin legislature established the first agricultural experiment station.
  • 1884 - The first performance of the Ringling Brothers' Circus, billed as the World's Greatest Show, delighted its Baraboo audience.
  • 1885 - Wisconsin created the first farmers' institutes, to spread agricultural knowledge throughout the state, down to the local level. In the beginning the institutes were strongly biased toward dairy farming. Institutes were held from November to April when farm work was slack. Hudson had the first of the thirty institutes held that first season.
  • 1886 - The first commercially successful electric streetcar system in America began operation in Appleton.
  • 1887 - Racine food manufacturer William Horlick invented malted milk. The Horlick Malted Milk Company, started in 1875, was a pioneer in dried milk production.
  • 1890 - University of Wisconsin Professor Stephen M. Babcock developed a tester for measuring the amount of butterfat in milk.
  • 1891 - Franklin Hiram King, a professor of natural science at River Falls State Normal School, developed the round silo. The new design solved the problem of storing winter cattle silage and thereby allowed dairying to become a major agricultural operation in Wisconsin.
  • 1892 - The University of Wisconsin developed the first extension courses offered by a state university.
  • 1899 - Milwaukee's Arthur Oliver Smith developed the first steel automobile frame, a significant contribution to the development of the automobile in the United States. The pressed steel frame was considerably lighter and less costly than the structural steel frames then available. At the time, the small Milwaukee manufacturer did not even have a customer for this product. Soon the company sold frames to a number of auto makers, including Peerless and Cadillac, but the big breakthrough came in 1906 when Henry Ford came to Milwaukee. Ford was laying the groundwork for his Model N and needed a supplier for 11,000 frames. This launched the company A.O. Smith. The company developed a way to economically produce large quantities of car frames and by 1910 was supplying 60 percent of the automobile frames for US car makers.
  • 1900 - In 1900 land acquisition for Wisconsin's first state park began. The park became Interstate State Park located in St. Croix Falls.
  • 1901 - The Wisconsin legislature organized the first county agricultural high schools.
  • 1904 - First open primary election law. It was favored overwhelmingly in a referendum vote.
  • 1908 - Otto Zachow and William Besserdich invented the four-wheel- drive automobile in Clintonville, at a company which came to be called Four Wheel Drive Auto Company (FWD Corporation).
  • 1910 - Ole Evinrude of Milwaukee designed the first commercially successful outboard gasoline engine for boats. It was a 1 horsepower, 62-pound iron engine, and sold for $62.
  • 1911 - Devil's Lake was established in 1911. The facility has become one of Wisconsin's oldest and most famous state parks. It leads the state parks in attendance.
  • 1911 - Wisconsin put into effect the first workers compensation law, which provided monetary benefits for workers injured on the job. In 1905 a special committee was established to investigate the feasibility of insurance for industrial accidents and they came up with a system in which injured employees could opt out of the state-operated system only by purchasing private insurance or through self-insurance. This led to the reforms in 1911.
  • 1912 - Beloit's Arthur P. Warner perfected the automobile speedometer, which became standard equipment on virtually every car manufactured in the United States.
  • 1914 - Wisconsin enacted the first statewide building code covering both public structures and places of employment.
  • 1915 - The University of Wisconsin's experimental radio station 9XM (now WHA, the nation's oldest radio station), began transmitting signals. This experimentation was led by two University professors Edward Bennett and Earle M. Terry. It first initiated daily weather reports in code and began the broadcasting of concerts and then basketball games in 1921.
  • 1918 - Wisconsin established the first statewide numbering system to direct highway traffic, using odd numbers for state trunk highways running north-south and even numbers for those going east-west.
  • 1919 - Wisconsin introduced the first complete program of standardization in the grading of fruits, vegetables, hay, honey, cheese, poultry, and eggs.
  • 1921 - Wisconsin passed the first law eliminating all legal discrimination against women.
  • 1929 - University of Wisconsin Professor Henry Steenbock produced vitamin D using food irradiation and ultraviolet light.
  • 1930's - In the 1930s the Flambeau River State Forest was established and became a legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Project Administration.
  • 1932 - Wisconsin passed the first law authorizing monetary benefits for unemployed workers.
  • 1933 - Wisconsin became the first state to prohibit the use of race or national origin as factors in hiring teachers.
  • 1935 - The Hamilton Manufacturing Company of Two Rivers produced the first automatic clothes dryer.
  • 1936 - A.O. Smith Corporation patented the first glass-lined water heater and began to market the product three years later. In the late 1920s, engineers began experimenting with using glass coatings to protect steel from corrosion. The original applications were for steel pipe used to transport oil and natural gas. As the company perfected methods of fusing glass to steel, it looked for other applications for this technology. In the 1930s, the company began to develop a glass-lined water heater. Hot water is an extremely corrosive material, capable of rusting through steel in as short a time as a few months. Prior to this development, water heaters for the home used either galvanized steel of stainless steel tanks and were prohibitively expensive. Following World War II, the company began to mass produce glass-lined water heaters, and by the late 1940s, glass-fused-to-steel was the preferred method of storing hot water.
  • 1940's - The House on the Rock was designed and built in the early 1940s. It is considered an architectural marvel and is perched on a 60-foot chimney of rock. The 14-room house is now a complex of rooms, streets, buildings, and gardens covering over 200 acres. The Infinity Room contains 3,264 windows.
  • 1949 -
  • 1951 - Wisconsin established the first statewide program for acquiring and managing natural areas for scientific research, for teaching conservation and natural history, and for preserving rare or valuable plant and animal species and communities.
  • 1955 - The Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy masquinongy) was designated as Wisconsin State Fish
  • 1957 -
  • 1959 -
    • Wisconsin enacted the first state public-sector collective- bargaining law, which permitted public employees to negotiate labor conditions with their employers.
    •  "On, Wisconsin," by William Purdy is designated as Wisconsin State Song
  • 1963 - Wisconsin established the first program of tax relief for the elderly through a homestead tax credit. Ten years later, the law was extended to cover all low-income households, including renters.
  • 1965 - Wisconsin became the first state to ban hiring discrimination based on disabilities.
  • 1966 - The three-hundred-mile "Wisconsin Bikeway" from Kenosha to La Crosse opened, the first bike trail to cross an entire state. The Elroy-Sparta portion of the bike path pioneered the ôrails to trailsö concept.
  • 1967 - The Green Bay Packers, under the direction of Coach Vince Lombardi, won the first Super Bowl game against the Kansas City Chiefs, 25 to 10, in Los Angeles on January 15, 1967, to top off the 66 season. They also won Super Bowl II against Oakland the following year, 33 to 14. The Packers have won twelve championships, more than any other team in National Football League history. The team was created in Green Bay in 1919 with the leadership of Curly Lambeau and George Calhoun.
  • 1968 - A team of scientists and surgeons at the University of Wisconsin in Madison performed the first successful bone- marrow transplant.
  • 1970 - Wisconsin became the first state to prohibit the sale and distribution of DDT, a powerful pesticide also toxic to fish, mammals, and birds.
  • 1971 -
  • 1973 - Wisconsin established the Rustic Roads Program, which identifies and preserves scenic rural roads. It remains the only statewide effort of its kind. It was created in an effort to help citizens and local units of government preserve what remains of Wisconsin's scenic, lightly traveled country roads for the leisurely enjoyment of bikers, hikers and motorists. Unique brown and yellow signs mark the routes of all officially- designated Rustic Roads.
  • 1977 - The Honeybee (Apis mellifera) was designated as Wisconsin State Insect
  • 1982 - Wisconsin became the first state to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public places of accommodation or amusement on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • 1983 - Antigo silt loam is selected as Wisconsin State Soil
  • 1985 -
  • 1987 - Milk is selected as Wisconsin State Beverage
  • 1989 - Corn (Zea mays) is adopted as the Wisconsin State Grain
  • 1990 - Wisconsin enacted the first statute using a broad-based business tax to fund recycling efforts.
  • 1993 - Polka is designated as Wisconsin State Dance
  • 2001 -
  • 2004 - The Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) was designated as Wisconsin State Fruit
  • 2008 - Find out more. about the Wisconsin State Tartan
  • 2013 - Kringle becomes Wisconsin State Pastry

More Wisconsin History Firsts & State Facts

  • Protesters against the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which wanted to expand slavery to emerging states, met in a Ripon schoolhouse. This meeting, called by Ripon's Alvan E. Bovay, founded a new political group dedicated to the defeat of this legislation. The group called itself the Republican Party.
  • One of the most popular places to visit in the state is Wisconsin Dells, where the Wisconsin River passes through a winding gorge about 13 km (about 8 mi) long.
  • Milwaukee is home of Harley Davidson Motorcycles
  • Wisconsin is among the nation's leaders in production of dairy products and is sometimes called America's Dairyland.
  • John Francis Appleby of Mazomanie invented the twine binder, an adaptation of the invention from 1858. It would become the basis for farm machines produced by the McCormick, Champion, and Osborn companies.
  • Wisconsin ranks number one in # of milk cows (1,500,000) and produces over 15% of the entire country's milk.
  • Wisconsin has over 14,000 lakes, with Lake Winnebago the largest. It also has 7,446 streams and rivers, which if you stuck them end to end they'd stretch nearly 27,000 miles--enough to circle the whole planet.
  • Milwaukee's Summerfest is the nation's largest music festival, with over 2,500 performers.
  • Wisconsin is known as the Badger State after the living habits of early miners in the region who either lived in mine shafts or dug their homes out of the sides of hills--just like Badgers do.
  • House on the Rock was designed and built in the early 1940s. It is considered an architectural marvel and is perched on a 60-foot chimney of rock. The 14-room house is now a complex of rooms, streets, buildings, and gardens covering over 200 acres. The Infinity Room contains 3,264 windows.
  • George Hinkley invented the band sawmill and installed it at the Jump River Lumber Company in Prentice. The machine harnessed steam to do much of the heavy work in the mills that formerly had been done by workers.
  • Joseph Steinwand developed a new product at the cheese factory he and his father operated. He named the new cheese for the nearby town of Colby.
  • The State of Wisconsin created the Legislative Reference Library (now the Legislative Reference Bureau) as the first nonpartisan legislative service agency. This was one of the first pillars of the Wisconsin Idea*. Charles McCarthy was an integral part in building this system. It became a model for other states, with two separate and independent departments one for research, the other for drafting bills.
  • (* Wisconsin Idea: the interaction among state officials and University of Wisconsin faculty became known as the "Wisconsin Idea" - that public leadership in combination with academic expertise will improve the performance of government)
  • Two University of Wisconsin mechanical engineering students, Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr, built the first successful gasoline-powered traction engine, dubbed the ôtractor.ö They were recognized as the founders of the farm tractor industry.
  • Wisconsin established the first state-supported system for vocational, technical, and adult education. An interim commission had been assigned to look into this problem in the education system and was charged with providing schooling for the "educationally disinherited" or "forgotten groups" meaning those who dropped out of school at a young age to enter the workforce. They studied other programs around the United States and the world. The result was a report that led to this legislation.
  • Wisconsin put into effect the first modern income-tax law. It levied a 1% rate on incomes of over $1000 a year, thereby exempting the vast majority of working people. It further advantaged lower income persons by providing for exemptions of $800 for single individuals and $1200 for married couples, just a few provisions of this new legislation.
  • Wisconsin issued the first limited, low-cost individual life insurance and annuity contracts for state residents. The State Life Fund could issue policies to Wisconsin residents between the ages of 20 and 50 in increments of $500, to a maximum of $3000. The law demanded medical exams for purchasers of insurance, established the loan and surrender values of policies and permitted annuity policies.
  • The J. I. Case Company of Racine, one of the nationÆs leading manufacturers of agricultural machinery, produced the first gasoline-powered tractor. Although developed in 1892, it took them twenty years before they actually placed them on the market.
  • On June 10, Wisconsin became one of the first two states (Illinois was the other) to ratify the 19th Amendment for women's suffrage. It was the war movement which added the pressure nationally and statewide. With the involvement of women in all aspects of the war effort, stereotypes became outdated. President Woodrow Wilson put his support behind the movement in 1918, leading to reform on the national level and in Wisconsin.
  • The A.O. Smith Corporation, under the direction of Lloyd R. Smith, constructed the worldÆs first fully automated assembly plant in Milwaukee. The operation was capable of producing 10,000 car frames per day and required only 181 men. The plant operated continuously for the next 37 years.
  • Wisconsin developed the nation's first large-scale demonstration of soil and water conservation at the Coon Creek Watershed in Vernon County.
  • Wisconsin visitors and residents enjoy the state's 7,446 streams and rivers. End-to-end they'd stretch 26,767 miles. That is more than enough to circle the globe at the equator.
  • Wisconsin's Door County has five state parks and 250 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan. These figures represent more than any other county in the country.
  • Wausau is the Ginseng Capital of the World.
  • The American Birkebeiner, a 52K cross-country ski race between Cable and Hayward, is the largest on the North American continent.
  • Wisconsin snowmobile trails total 15,210 miles of signed and groomed snow highways.
  • Mount Horeb is the Troll Capital of the World and home to the Mustard Museum (see below.)
  • Noah's Ark in Wisconsin Dells is the nation's largest water-themed park.
  • Belleville is the Unidentified Flying Object Capital of Wisconsin.
  • Potosi is the Catfish Capital of the state.
  • Wisconsin is the dairy capital of the United States.
  • Wisconsin produces more milk than any other state.
  • The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward is shaped like a Muskie.
  • The original Barbie is from Willows. Barbie's full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts.
  • Bloomer is the Jump Rope Capital of the World.
  • Milwaukee is home of Harley Davidson Motorcycles.
  • Somerset is the Inner Tubing Capital of the World.
  • Green Bay is Wisconsin's oldest city.
  • Two Rivers is the home of the ice cream sundae.
  • Wisconsin's second oldest city is Prairie du Chien.
  • Boscobeel is the Turkey Capital of the state.
  • Hamburger Hall of Fame is located in Seymour.
  • Monroe is the Swiss Cheese Capital of the World.
  • Mercer is the Loon Capital of the World.
  • With an average of 2,500 performers, Milwaukee's Summerfest is the nation's largest music festival.
  • Famous Wisconsinites include: Harry Houdini, famous magician and escape artist. Douglas MacArthur, well known World War II and Korean War general. Frank Lloyd Wright, America's most famous architect. William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Don Ameche, actor and winner of an academy award for his performance in "Cocoon."
  • Mount Horeb's internationally known Mustard Museum holds the world's largest mustard collection. The museum contains more than 2,300 varieties of mustard. The museum celebrates National Mustard Day each August.
  • The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is in Hayward.
  • Eagle River is known as the Snowmobile Capital of the World.
  • Marshfield is located in the geographic center of the state and is known Hub City.
  • Bonduel is the Spelling Capital of Wisconsin.
  • Muscoda is the Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin.
  • Sauk City is Wisconsin's oldest incorporated village.
  • Prairie du Sac hosts the State Cow Chip Throwing Contest on Labor Day weekend.
  • Sturgeon Bay is the Shipbuilding Capital of the Great Lakes.
  • Sheboygan is the Bratwurst Capital of the World.
  • The falls in Niagara has the same geological feature as Niagara Falls, New York.
  • Green Bay is the Toilet Paper Capital of the World.
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