Through the course of its many variations, the Algonquian source word for Wisconsin, together with its original meaning, have grown obscure. However, a leading theory holds that the name originated from the Miami word Meskonsing, meaning "it lies red", a reference to the setting of the Wisconsin River as it flows by the reddish sandstone of the Wisconsin Dells. Numerous other theories have also been widely publicized, including claims that name originated from one of a variety of Ojibwa words meaning "red stone place," "gathering of the waters," or "great rock.
In 1634, the Frenchman Jean Nicolet was the first person to explore Wisconsin. He founded the Green Bay colony. During the next 150 years, the area was settled primarily by French fur traders. France then transferred the territory to Britain in 1763. The United States acquired the Wisconsin territory after the Revolution in 1783 but it remained under British administration until the War of 1812. The nineteenth century saw settlement by Yankees, Cornish miners, and German, Scandinavian and Swiss settlers.
The state is bordered by the Montreal River; Lake Superior and Michigan to the north; by Lake Michigan to the east; by Illinois to the south; and by Iowa and Minnesota to the west. The state's boundaries include the Mississippi River and St. Croix River in the west, and the Menominee River in the northeast. With its location between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, Wisconsin is home to a wide variety of geographical features. The state is divided into five distinct regions. In the north, the Lake Superior Lowland occupies a belt of land along Lake Superior. Just to the south, the Northern Highland has massive mixed hardwood and coniferous forests including the 1.5 million acre (6,000 km²) Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, as well as thousands of glacial lakes, and the state's highest point, Timms Hill. In the middle of the state, the Central Plain has some unique sandstone formations like the Dells of the Wisconsin River in addition to rich farmland. The Eastern Ridges and Lowlands region in the southeast is home to many of Wisconsin's largest cities. In the southwest, the Western Upland is a rugged landscape with a mix of forest and farmland, including many bluffs on the Mississippi River. This region is part of the Driftless Area, which also includes portions of Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. This area was not covered by glaciers during the most recent ice age, the Wisconsin Glaciation. Overall, 46% of Wisconsin's land area is covered by forest.
The varied landscape of Wisconsin makes the state a popular vacation destination for outdoor recreation. Winter events include skiing, ice fishing and snowmobile derbies. Wisconsin has many lakes of varied size; in fact Wisconsin contains 11,188 square miles (28,977 km²) of water, more than all but three other states (Alaska, Michigan and Florida). The distinctive Door Peninsula, which extends off the eastern coast of the state, contains one of the state's most beautiful tourist destinations, Door County. The area draws thousands of visitors yearly to its quaint villages, seasonal cherry picking, and ever-popular fish boils.
Areas under the management of the National Park Service include the following:
Additionally there is one national forest managed by the US Forest Service in Wisconsin:
|Monthly Normal High and Low Temperatures For Selected Wisconsin Cities (°F)|
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2000, Wisconsin had a population of 5,363,675. 6.4% of Wisconsin's population was reported as under 5, 25.5% under 18, and 13.1% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 50.6% of the population.
Since its founding, Wisconsin has been ethnically heterogeneous. Following the period of French fur traders, the next wave of settlers were miners, many of whom were Cornish, who settled the southwest area of the state. The next wave was dominated by "Yankees," migrants from New England and upstate New York; in the early years of statehood, they dominated the state's heavy industry, finance, politics and education. Between 1850 and 1900, large numbers of European immigrants followed them, including Germans, Scandinavians (the largest group being Norwegian), and smaller groups of Belgians, Dutch, Swiss, Finns, Irish, Poles and others. In the 20th century, large numbers of Mexicans and African Americans came, settling mainly in Milwaukee; and after end of the Vietnam War came a new influx of Hmongs.
The five largest ancestry groups in Wisconsin are: German (42.6%), Irish (10.9%), Polish (9.3%), Norwegian (8.5%), English (6.5%). German is the most common ancestry in every county in the state, except Menominee, Trempealeau and Vernon. Wisconsin has the highest percentage of residents of Polish ancestry of any state. The various ethnic groups settled in different areas of the state. Although Germans settled throughout the state, the largest concentration was in Milwaukee. Norwegians settled in lumbering and farming areas in the north and west. Small colonies of Belgians, Swiss, Finns and other groups settled in their particular areas, with Irish and Polish immigrants settling primarily in urban areas. African Americans came to Milwaukee, especially from 1940 on. Menominee County is the only county in the eastern United States with an American Indian majority. 86% of Wisconsin's African American population lives in five cities: Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, Kenosha and Green Bay; Milwaukee itself is home to nearly three-fourths of the state's African Americans. Milwaukee ranks in the top 10 major U.S. cities with the highest number of African Americans per capita. In the Great Lakes region, only Detroit and Cleveland have a higher percentage of African Americans.
Numerous ethnic festivals are held throughout Wisconsin to celebrate its heritage. Such festivals include Summerfest, Oktoberfest, Festa Italiana, Bastille Days, Syttende Mai (Norwegian Constitution Day), Brat(wurst) Days in Sheboygan, Cheese Days in Monroe and Mequon, African World Festival, Indian Summer, Irish Fest and many others.
According to the 2004 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report, Wisconsin’s gross state product was $211.7 billion. The per capita personal income was $32,157 in 2004. Wisconsin's state budget is facing a $652.3 million shortfall.
The economy of Wisconsin is driven by manufacturing, agriculture, and health care. Although manufacturing accounts for a far greater part of the state's income than farming, Wisconsin is often perceived as a farming state.
It produces more dairy products than any other state in the United States except California, and leads the nation in cheese production. Wisconsin ranks second behind California in overall production of milk and butter, and it ranks third in per-capita milk production, behind Idaho and Vermont. Based on poll results, a Holstein cow, an ear of corn, and a wheel of cheese were chosen for Wisconsin's 50 State Quarters design. Wisconsin ranks first in the production of corn for silage, cranberries, ginseng, and snap beans for processing. Wisconsin is also a leading producer of oats, potatoes, carrots, tart cherries, maple syrup, and sweet corn for processing.
Given Wisconsin's strong agricultural tradition, it is not surprising that a large part of the state's manufacturing sector deals with food processing. Some well-known food brands produced in Wisconsin include Oscar Mayer, Tombstone frozen pizza, Johnsonville brats, and Usinger's sausage. Kraft Foods alone employs over 5,000 people in the state. Milwaukee is a major producer of beer and the site of the headquarters of Miller Brewing Company, the nation's second-largest brewer. At one time, Schlitz, Blatz, and Pabst were cornerstone breweries in Milwaukee. Today, Milwaukee's economy is more diverse with an emphasis on health care. In 2004, four of the city's ten largest employers (including the top two) were part of the health care industry.
The largest employers in Wisconsin in 2007 were: 1) Wal-Mart; 2) Menards; 3) Walgreens; 4) Kohl's; 5) Kohler; 6) Marshfield Clinic; 7) Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center; 8) Quad/Graphics; 9) Target Stores; and 10) Shopko.
| State Domesticated|
|State Wild Animal:||White-tailed deer|
|State Dog:||American water spaniel|
|State Flower:||Wood violet|
|State Insect:||European honey bee|
|State Song:||"On, Wisconsin!"|
|State Tree:||Sugar maple|
|State Mineral:||Galena (Lead sulfide)|
|State Rock:||Red granite|
|State Soil:||Antigo silt loam|
| State Symbol of |
Wisconsin is also home to several transportation equipment and machinery manufacturers. Major Wisconsin companies in these categories include the Kohler Company, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, Briggs & Stratton, Miller Electric, Milwaukee Electric Tool Company, Bucyrus International, Super Steel Products Corp., Oshkosh Truck, and Harley-Davidson. Wisconsin also ranks first nationwide in the production of paper products; the lower Fox River from Lake Winnebago to Green Bay has 24 paper mills along its 39 mile (63 km) stretch.
Tourism is also a major industry in Wisconsin – the state's third largest, according to the Department of Tourism. This is attributed to the many attractions in the Wisconsin Dells family vacation destination area, which attracts nearly 3 million visitors per year, as well as to the many resorts in northern Wisconsin. Tourist destinations such as the House on the Rock near Spring Green and Circus World Museum in Baraboo also draw thousands of visitors annually, and festivals such as Summerfest and the EAA Oshkosh Airshow draw national attention along with hundreds of thousands of visitors. Door County is a popular destination for boaters due to the large number of natural harbors, bays and ports on the Green Bay and Lake Michigan side of the peninsula that forms the county.
Wisconsin collects personal income tax based on four income-level brackets, which range from 4.6% to 6.75%. The state sales and use tax rate is 5%. Fifty-nine counties have an additional sales/use tax of 0.5%. The counties surrounding Milwaukee County have an additional 0.1% tax imposed upon them to fund the new baseball stadium, Miller Park, which was constructed around the turn of the century. Retailers who make sales subject to applicable county taxes must collect 5.6% tax on their retail sales.
The most common property tax assessed on Wisconsin residents is the real property tax, or their residential property tax. Wisconsin does not impose a property tax on vehicles but does levy an annual registration fee. Property taxes are the most important tax revenue source for Wisconsin's local governments, as well as major methods of funding school districts, vocational technical colleges, special purpose districts and tax incremental finance districts. Equalized values are based on the full market value of all taxable property in the state, except for agricultural land. In order to provide property tax relief for farmers, the value of agricultural land is determined by its value for agricultural uses, rather than for its possible development value. Equalized values are used to distribute state aid payments to counties, municipalities, and technical colleges. Assessments prepared by local assessors are used to distribute the property tax burden within individual municipalities.
Wisconsin does not assess a tax on intangible property. Wisconsin does not collect inheritance taxes. Wisconsin's estate tax is decoupled from the federal estate tax laws; therefore the state imposes its own estate tax on certain large estates. There are also no toll roads in Wisconsin.
State Executive Officers
During the period of the Civil War, Wisconsin was a Republican and pro-Union stronghold. Ethno-religious issues in the late 19th century caused a brief split in the Republican coalition. Through the first half of the 20th century, Wisconsin's politics were dominated by Robert La Follette and his sons, originally of the Republican Party, but later of the revived Progressive Party. Since 1945, the state has maintained a close balance between Republicans and Democrats. Republican Senator Joe McCarthy was a controversial national figure in the early 1950s. Recent leading Republicans include former Governor Tommy Thompson and Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.; prominent Democrats include Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, and Congressman David Obey.
Much of the state's political history involved coalitions among different ethnic groups. The most famous controversy dealt with foreign language teaching in schools. This was fought out in the Bennett Law campaign of 1890, when the Germans switched to the Democratic Party because of the Republican Party's support of the Bennett Law, which led to a major victory for the Democrats.
The cities of Wisconsin have been active in increasing the availability of legislative information on the internet, thereby providing for greater government transparency. Currently three of the five most populous cities in Wisconsin provide their constituents with internet based access of all public records directly from the cities’ databases. Wisconsin cities started to make this a priority after Milwaukee began doing so, on their page, in 2001. One such city, Madison, has been named the Number 1 digital city by the Center for Digital Government in consecutive years. Nearly 18 percent of Wisconsin’s population has the ability to access their municipality’s information in this way.
In 2006, Democrats gained in a national sweep of opposition to the Bush administration, and the Iraq War. The retiring GOP 8th District Congressman, Mark Green, of Green Bay, ran against the former Attorney General, Jim Doyle for governor. Green lost by 8% statewide, making Doyle the first Democratic Governor to be re-elected in 32 years. The Republicans lost control of the state Senate. Although Democrats gained eight seats in the state Assembly, Republicans retained a five vote majority in that house.
Wisconsin's self-promotion as "America's Dairyland" sometimes leads to a mistaken impression that it is an exclusively rural state. However, Wisconsin contains cities and towns of all sizes. Over 68% of Wisconsin residents live in urban areas, with the Greater Milwaukee area home to roughly one-third of the state's population. Milwaukee is slightly larger than Boston and is at the northern edge of an urban area bordering Lake Michigan that stretches southward into greater Chicago and northwestern Indiana. With over 602,000 residents Milwaukee proper is the 22nd-largest city in the country. The string of cities along the western edge of Lake Michigan is generally considered to be an example of a megalopolis. Madison's dual identity as state capital and college town gives it a cultural richness unusual in a city its size. With a population of around 220,000, Madison is also a very fast-growing city. Medium-size cities dot the state and anchor a network of working farms surrounding them. As of 2007, there were 12 cities in Wisconsin with population of 50,000 or more. Cities and villages are incorporated urban areas in Wisconsin. Towns are unincorporated minor civil divisions of counties.
Wisconsin, along with Minnesota and Michigan, was among the Midwestern leaders in the emergent American state university movement following the Civil War in the United States. By the turn of the century, education in the state advocated the "Wisconsin Idea," which emphasized for service to the people of the state. The "Wisconsin Idea" exemplified the Progressive movement within colleges and universities at the time. Today, public education in Wisconsin includes both the 26-campus University of Wisconsin System, headquartered in Madison, and the 16-campus Wisconsin Technical College System which coordinates with the University of Wisconsin. Notable private colleges and universities include Marquette University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Medical College of Wisconsin, Edgewood College, Beloit College, and Lawrence University, among others.
Wisconsin has more country music festivals than any other state, including Miller Lite Presents Country Fest, Bud Light Presents Country Jam USA, the Coors Hodag Country Festival, and the ever-popular Ford Presents Country USA.
In addition to professional teams, Wisconsin is home to many successful college sports programs. The Wisconsin Badgers, teams based out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hold many NCAA division championship titles in their respective sports. This includes a historic dual-championship in 2006 when both the women's and men's hockey teams won national titles. The Wisconsin football team has also seen much success after the hiring of Barry Alvarez as head coach. Alvarez lead the Badgers to three Rose Bowl victories, including back to back victories in the years 1999 and 2000. The Badgers football program, playing at Camp Randall Stadium, enjoys similar loyalty to the Packers; both teams are known to sell out their entire schedules far in advance.
The Marquette Golden Eagles of the Big East Conference are the state's other major collegiate program. They are known nationally for their Men's Basketball team which, under the direction of Al McGuire, won the NCAA National Championship in 1977. The team, led by Dwyane Wade, returned to the Final Four in 2003.
USS Wisconsin was named in honor of this state.
Known as "America's Dairyland," Wisconsin is also known for cheese. Citizens of Wisconsin are referred to as Wisconsinites, although a common nickname (sometimes used pejoratively) among non-residents is "Cheeseheads." This is due to the prevalence and quality of cheesemaking in the state, and for the novelty hats made of yellow foam in the shape of a triangular block of cheese. Cheese curds are an extremely popular treat, exported as gifts throughout the country. The state is also known for its alcohol production and consumption, and it is historically home to a large number of breweries and bars per capita. A lesser known, but still significant nickname for Wisconsin is "The Copper State," referring to the copper mines in the northwestern part of the state.
Wisconsin is very popular for outdoor activities especially hunting and fishing. One of the most popular game animals is the Whitetail deer. In 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported the population of Wisconsin's deer herd to be about 1.4-1.5 million. It is common for over 600,000 deer hunting licenses to be sold each year. Visitors to Wisconsin during the Thanksgiving holiday will see many hunters in rural areas wearing blaze orange gear for Wisconsin's gun-deer hunting season.
The Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee is known for its unique architecture. The Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens cover over 200 acres (800,000 m²) of land on the far west side of the city. Madison is home to the Vilas Zoo which is free for all visitors, and the Olbrich Gardens conservatory, as well as the hub of cultural activity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is also known for Monona Terrace, a convention center that was designed by Taliesin Architect Anthony Puttnam, based loosely on a 1930s design by Frank Lloyd Wright, a world-renowned architect and Wisconsin native who was born in Richland Center. Wright's home and studio in the 20th century was at Taliesin, south of Spring Green. Decades after Wright's death, Taliesin remains an architectural office and school for his followers.
The shape of the Wisconsin along with the Door County peninsula, have lead many of its residents to refer the state in the shape of a hand. Often pointing on their hand to someone unfamiliar with certain locations.
Langlade has a unique soil that is rarely found outside of the county called Antigo Silt Loam.
See additional books at History of Wisconsin