50 States in 50 Days: Wisconsin – America’s Dairyland

Posted by: Marian Cotter, Regional Security Officer

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State Capital: Madison
Motto: “Forward”

Wisconsin dairy farm

Born and raised in a small town in Wisconsin, I am grateful for influence the State and its culture has had on my life. Located in the upper Midwest, Wisconsin is known for its agriculture, natural beauty, and a history of progressive politics (for example, the first workplace injury compensation law and the first state income tax). Its nickname as “America’s Dairyland” attests to the importance of agriculture in the state’s economy. Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production and is number two in milk production. The economy also includes a diverse manufacturing base – home to internationally known companies such as Kohler Company (plumbing fixtures), Mercury Marine (the world’s finest marine motors — made in my hometown), Briggs & Stratton (gasoline engines), and Harley Davidson (I don’t need to tell you what they make).

Local Culture and Famous People

Early settlers came to the region as fur traders, while lead mining later attracted more people to migrate. Many of these miners built themselves homes dug into the hills – giving residents the nickname “badgers.” Subsequently, the University of Wisconsin adopted the badger as its mascot. Officially we are called “Wisconsinites,” but another popular nickname, thanks to all of the milk and cheese that we produce, is “cheesehead.” Waves of German immigrants in the 19th century brought beer and sausage making to the state – including Miller Brewing and Oscar Mayer. There is nothing more a Wisconsinite loves than to enjoy some cheese and crackers and a bratwurst, with a few cold beers, during a Green Bay Packers football game (American football, of course). Our Packers, who have been around since 1921 and hold the most National Football League (NFL) titles, are the only community-owned team in the NFL. Our loyalty runs deep.

Green Bay Packers (left) and their fan, the “cheesehead” (Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated)

Native citizens of Wisconsin of note include the inventor of the electric guitar, Les Paul (Waukesha) and the artist Georgia O’Keefe (Sun Prairie). Harry Houdini claimed Appleton as his home, but he actually emigrated there from Hungary when he was four. Another adopted son is John Muir, who came to Wisconsin from Scotland at age eleven. The great naturalist claimed his study of botany at the University of Wisconsin as his inspiration. Charles and John Ringling, founders of Ringling Brothers Circus, came from Baraboo, where you can visit The Circus World Museum (I got to ride an elephant there when I was ten). Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center. His home and studio, Taliesin, is located in Spring Green and is on the list of National Historic Landmarks.

Kayaking at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Natural Beauty

Hades Rollercoaster at Mt. Olympus, Wisconsin Dells

Bounded by the Mississippi river to the West and two of the Great Lakes to the North and East (Superior and Michigan) — Wisconsin is practically surrounded by water. In addition, we have 14,949 inland lakes on which to enjoy fishing, boating and swimming. One of the hidden gems of our state is Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the least visited U.S. National Park in the country, located on Lake Superior. There you can explore sandstone caves and historic lighthouses. You can also see unique sandstone rock formations at the Wisconsin Dells, a five-mile gorge with cliffs over 100 feet high along the Wisconsin River, located in the southern part of the state. Wisconsin Dells is a popular tourist destination with entertainment and recreational activities for the entire family. For those interested in birds and scenic hikes, I recommend a visit to Horicon Marsh – the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the country, composed of 32,000 acres of wetland habitat. My family would visit every fall to watch countless flocks of Canadian geese fly in to rest for a bit on their way South for the winter.

Winter in Wisconsin, 2008

But why leave Wisconsin in the winter? We average 45 inches of snow per year. There are over 25,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the state. Plus there is cross country skiing and ice fishing. They spear sturgeon in winter on Lake Winnebago where I grew up. We enjoy the outdoors all year round in Wisconsin. While agriculture is big business, 46% of the land in the state is actually covered by forest. Hunting and fishing are extremely popular activities, with over five million acres of public hunting land and 3,500 miles of trout streams.

Education

Bascom Hall atop Bascom Hill at the heart of the campus, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The first kindergarten in the United States was in Watertown, WI – established in 1856. This is a proud fact that every Wisconsin student learns to illustrate the value of education in our state that remains to this day. Statistically, the percentage of high school graduates in Wisconsin is much higher than the national average, and the statistics for advanced education compare favorably as well.

The University of Wisconsin was founded when Wisconsin attained statehood in 1848. Today’s University of Wisconsin System encompasses thirteen universities and thirteen colleges, with extensions in each of the state’s 72 counties – enrolling more than 182,000 students and employing 32,000 faculty and staff (making it the state’s third largest employer). The flagship school of the system is the UW Madison – the oldest and largest university in the state – and my alma mater.

Madison, the capital of Wisconsin

UW Madison is consistently ranked as one of the top public universities in the country. A research university, Madison ranks fourth in the amount federal research grants received, and second in non-federal grants. UW–Madison professor James Thompson was the first scientist to isolate human embryonic stem cells, and the University continues to be a leader in stem cell research. One of the longest and deepest traditions surrounding the University of Wisconsin is the “Wisconsin Idea” which is the general principle: that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Students are challenged to use their education for the betterment of the state, the country and the world. I can trace my inspiration to work for the U.S. Federal Government and ultimately the Foreign Service back to this philosophy.

Notable private schools in Wisconsin include: Marquette University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Carroll University, Beloit College, St. Norbert College, Lakeland College and Lawrence University.

Milwaukee skyline
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2 thoughts on “50 States in 50 Days: Wisconsin – America’s Dairyland

  1. “Bounded by the Mississippi River to the West” Um, nope. The Mississippi cuts through the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The St. Croix marks Wisconsin’s Western border.

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