The Badger State—America’s own Up North—celebrates its statehood anniversary on Sunday. Even back then, Wisconsin showed the push-pull between progressives and conservatives on what directions we take.
Happy Birthday, Wisconsin! You look as good as you did back at your sesquicentennial.
(Does anybody still have their sesquicentennial license plates?)
Anyway, Wisconsin, you look amazing for 174. On that Monday, May 29, 1848, when you joined the union—becoming the 30th state—it ended two years of intense debate that is now seen as a precursor of how Wisconsin’s only political constant has been the back-and-forth between the progressive and conservative factions of a heterogeneous population.
The very issue of statehood itself was one of Wisconsin’s first widespread debates. The editors of History.com noted widespread opposition because of those who were “fearing the higher taxes that would come with a stronger central government.” But they were ultimately outnumbered by those who saw the prosperity that federal support brought to neighboring states in the Midwest.
The first draft of a state constitution was extremely progressive for its time. It would have given married women the right to own property, left Black suffrage to a popular vote, given voting rights to immigrants who applied for citizenship, and even banned commercial banking. It was rejected in a referendum, giving way to more traditional language that was adopted in late 1847, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
The state that gave us Fighting Bob La Follette also gave us the tyrannical Sen. Joe McCarthy. The state that saw a century of progressive leadership has now seen nearly a dozen years of hard-core conservative control of the Legislature. By having both Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson as US senators, Wisconsin is one of the very few states left that has consistently had senators from both parties at the same time.
While we take pride in all that beer, all that cheese, and everything else that we export beyond our borders, perhaps our greatest export was “The Wisconsin Idea,” a progressive view that puts government in the hands of the people, rather than business oligarchs—and uses the latest advances of education, research, and expert experience to make government more service-driven to the people rather than the powerful.
Wisconsin provides this kind of inspiration because we truly live in one of the most beautiful places on earth—the lakes, the woods, the fertile land—allowing us to step away from work, politics, or any other stress to unwind, relax, and recharge the batteries.
When America talks about coming “up north,” their favorite spots are right here. It’s easy to see why.
So unwind a little, Wisconsin, on this long weekend. Take in some of these highlights from your history, and give yourself permission to feel some well-deserved state pride. On Wisconsin!
- 1848: Wisconsin joins the Union as the 30th state, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison is simultaneously founded.
- 1851: The first Wisconsin State Fair is held in Janesville, the largest gathering in Wisconsin history at the time.
- 1919: The Green Bay Packers football team is established by Earl “Curly” Lambeau.
- 1932: UW Economics professors John Commons and Harold Groves help create the first unemployment compensation program in the country.
- 1934: Wisconsin names its first “Dairy Queen,” a honor that is later renamed “Alice in Dairyland.”
- 1936: The hottest day ever recorded in Wisconsin, when the temperature reached 114 degrees in the Wisconsin Dells on July 13th.
- 1945: Johnsonville Brats is founded by a Wisconsin couple in its namesake town, and would later become one of the largest sausage brands in the world.
- 1946: Maxwell Kohl builds his first supermarket, which would later become the Kohl’s department store chain.
- 1970: Anti-war protests culminate in the bombing of Sterling Hall, damaging more than $2 million worth of university property (nearly $14 million today).
- 1982: The Brewers win the American League Championship, marking their most successful season.
- 1984: The Culver family opens its first restaurant in Sauk City.
- 1996: The coldest day ever recorded in Wisconsin, when temperatures reached -55 degrees on both February 2nd and 4th.
- 2003: The state legislature lowers Wisconsin’s DUI threshold from a blood alcohol content of 0.10 to 0.08 after pressure from the federal government.
- 2011: Gov. Scott Walker strips state workers of union benefits, and the following year, becomes the first governor to survive a recall election.
- 2016: Donald Trump wins Wisconsin by the narrow margin of 0.77%, a victory considered the “tipping point” in an election where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote nationwide.
- 2021: Giannis Antentokoumpko leads the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA Championship in 50 years.