Wisconsin's geography is diverse, with the Northern Highland and Western Upland along with a part of the Central Plain occupying the western part of the state and lowlands stretching to the shore of Lake Michigan. Wisconsin is second to Michigan in the length of its Great Lakes coastline.
Wisconsin is known as "America's Dairyland" because it is one of the nation's leading dairy producers, particularly famous for its cheese. Manufacturing, especially paper products, information technology (IT), and tourism are also major contributors to the state's economy.
The word Wisconsin originates from the name given to the Wisconsin River by one of the Algonquian-speaking Native American groups living in the region at the time of European contact. French explorer Jacques Marquette was the first European to reach the Wisconsin River, arriving in 1673 and calling the river Meskousing in his journal. Subsequent French writers changed the spelling from Meskousing to Ouisconsin, and over time this became the name for both the Wisconsin River and the surrounding lands. English speakers anglicized the spelling from Ouisconsin to Wisconsin when they began to arrive in large numbers during the early 19th century. The legislature of Wisconsin Territory made the current spelling official in 1845.
The Algonquin word for Wisconsin and its original meaning have both grown obscure. Interpretations vary, but most implicate the river and the red sandstone that lines its banks. One 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 through the reddish sandstone of the Wisconsin Dells. Other theories include claims that the name originated from one of a variety of Ojibwa words meaning "red stone place", "where the waters gather", or "great rock".
Wisconsin has been home to a wide variety of cultures over the past 14,000 years. The first people arrived around 10,000 BCE during the Wisconsin Glaciation. These early inhabitants, called Paleo-Indians, hunted now-extinct ice age animals such as the Boaz mastodon, a prehistoric mastodon skeleton unearthed along with spear points in southwest Wisconsin. After the ice age ended around 8000 BCE, people in the subsequent Archaic period lived by hunting, fishing, and gathering food from wild plants. Agricultural societies emerged gradually over the Woodland period between 1000 BCE to 1000 CE. Toward the end of this period, Wisconsin was the heartland of the "Effigy Mound culture", which built thousands of animal-shaped mounds across the landscape. Later, between 1000 and 1500 CE, the Mississippian and Oneota cultures built substantial settlements including the fortified village at Aztalan in southeast Wisconsin. The Oneota may be the ancestors of the modern Ioway and Ho-Chunk tribes who shared the Wisconsin region with the Menominee at the time of European contact. Other Native American groups living in Wisconsin when Europeans first settled included the Ojibwa, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Pottawatomie, who migrated to Wisconsin from the east between 1500 and 1700.
The first European to visit what became Wisconsin was probably the French explorer Jean Nicolet. He canoed west from Georgian Bay through the Great Lakes in 1634, and it is traditionally assumed that he came ashore near Green Bay at Red Banks. Pierre Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers visited Green Bay again in 1654–1666 and Chequamegon Bay in 1659–1660, where they traded for fur with local Native Americans. In 1673, Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet became the first to record a journey on the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway all the way to the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien. Frenchmen like Nicholas Perrot continued to ply the fur trade across Wisconsin through the 17th and 18th centuries, but the French made no permanent settlements in Wisconsin before Great Britain won control of the region following the French and Indian War in 1763. Even so, French traders continued to work in the region after the war, and some, beginning with Charles de Langlade in 1764, now settled in Wisconsin permanently rather than returning to British-controlled Canada.
The British gradually took over Wisconsin during the French and Indian War, taking control of Green Bay in 1761 and gaining control of all of Wisconsin in 1763. Like the French, the British were interested in little but the fur trade. One notable event in the fur trading industry in Wisconsin occurred in 1791, when two free African Americans set up a fur trading post among the Menominee at present day Marinette. The first permanent settlers, mostly French Canadians, some Anglo-New Englanders and a few African American freedmen, arrived in Wisconsin while it was under British control. Charles Michel de Langlade is generally recognized as the first settler, establishing a trading post at Green Bay in 1745, and moving there permanently in 1764. Settlement began at Prairie du Chien around 1781. The French residents at the trading post in what is now Green Bay, referred to the town as "La Baye", however British fur traders referred to it as "Green Bay", because the water and the shore assumed green tints in early spring. The old French title was gradually dropped, and the British name of "Green Bay" eventually stuck. The region coming under British rule had virtually no adverse effect on the French residents as the British needed the cooperation of the French fur traders and the French fur traders needed the goodwill of the British. During the French occupation of the region licenses for fur trading had been issued scarcely and only to select groups of traders, whereas the British, in an effort to make as much money as possible from the region, issued licenses for fur trading freely, both to British and French residents. The fur trade in what is now Wisconsin reached its height under British rule, and the first self-sustaining farms in the state were established as well. From 1763 to 1780, Green Bay was a prosperous community which produced its own foodstuff, built graceful cottages and held dances and festivities.
Wisconsin became a territorial possession of the United States in 1783 after the American Revolutionary War. However, the British remained in control until after the War of 1812, the outcome of which finally established an American presence in the area. Under American control, the economy of the territory shifted from fur trading to lead mining. The prospect of easy mineral wealth drew immigrants from throughout the U.S. and Europe to the lead deposits located at Mineral Point, Dodgeville, and nearby areas. Some miners found shelter in the holes they had dug and earned the nickname "badgers", leading to Wisconsin's identity as the "Badger State." The sudden influx of white miners prompted tension with the local Native American population. The Winnebago War of 1827 and the Black Hawk War of 1832 culminated in the forced removal of Native Americans from most parts of the state.
Following these conflicts, Wisconsin Territory was created by an act of the United States Congress on April 20, 1836. By fall of that year, the best prairie groves of the counties surrounding what is now Milwaukee were occupied by farmers from the New England states.
The Erie Canal facilitated the travel of both Yankee settlers and European immigrants to Wisconsin Territory. Yankees from New England and upstate New York seized a dominant position in law and politics, enacting policies that marginalized the region's earlier Native American and French-Canadian residents. Yankees also speculated in real estate, platted towns such as Racine, Beloit, Burlington, and Janesville, and established schools, civic institutions, and Congregationalist churches. At the same time, many Germans, Irish, Norwegians and other immigrants also settled in towns and farms across the territory, establishing Catholic and Lutheran institutions.
The growing population allowed Wisconsin to gain statehood on May 29, 1848, as the 30th state. Between 1840 and 1850, Wisconsin's non-Indian population had swollen from 31,000 to 305,000. Over a third of residents (110,500) were foreign born, including 38,000 Germans, 28,000 British immigrants from England, Scotland and Wales, and 21,000 Irish. Another third (103,000) were Yankees from New England and western New York state. Only about 63,000 residents in 1850 had been born in Wisconsin.
Nelson Dewey, the first governor of Wisconsin, was a Democrat. Dewey oversaw the transition from the territorial to the new state government. He encouraged the development of the state's infrastructure, particularly the construction of new roads, railroads, canals, and harbors, as well as the improvement of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers. During his administration, the State Board of Public Works was organized. Dewey, an abolitionist, was the first of many Wisconsin governors to advocate against the spread of slavery into new states and territories.
Politics in early Wisconsin were defined by the greater national debate over slavery. A free state from its foundation, Wisconsin became a center of northern abolitionism. The debate became especially intense in 1854 after Joshua Glover, a runaway slave from Missouri, was captured in Racine. Glover was taken into custody under the Federal Fugitive Slave Law, but a mob of abolitionists stormed the prison where Glover was held and helped him escape to Canada. In a trial stemming from the incident, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ultimately declared the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional. The Republican Party, founded on March 20, 1854, by anti-slavery expansion activists in Ripon, Wisconsin, grew to dominate state politics in the aftermath of these events. During the Civil War, around 91,000 troops from Wisconsin fought for the Union.
Wisconsin's economy also diversified during the early years of statehood. While lead mining diminished, agriculture became a principal occupation in the southern half of the state. Railroads were built across the state to help transport grains to market, and industries like J.I. Case & Company in Racine were founded to build agricultural equipment. Wisconsin briefly became one of the nation's leading producers of wheat during the 1860s. Meanwhile, the lumber industry dominated in the heavily forested northern sections of Wisconsin, and sawmills sprang up in cities like La Crosse, Eau Claire, and Wausau. These economic activities had dire environmental consequences. By the close of the 19th century, intensive agriculture had devastated soil fertility, and lumbering had deforested most of the state. These conditions forced both wheat agriculture and the lumber industry into a precipitous decline.
Beginning in the 1890s, farmers in Wisconsin shifted from wheat to dairy production in order to make more sustainable and profitable use of their land. Many immigrants carried cheese-making traditions that, combined with the state's suitable geography and dairy research led by Stephen Babcock at the University of Wisconsin, helped the state build a reputation as "America's Dairyland." Meanwhile, conservationists including Aldo Leopold helped reestablish the state's forests during the early 20th century, paving the way for a more renewable lumber and paper milling industry as well as promoting recreational tourism in the northern woodlands. Manufacturing also boomed in Wisconsin during the early 20th century, driven by an immense immigrant workforce arriving from Europe. Industries in cities like Milwaukee ranged from brewing and food processing to heavy machine production and toolmaking, leading Wisconsin to rank 8th among U.S. states in total product value by 1910.
The early 20th century was also notable for the emergence of progressive politics championed by Robert M. La Follette. Between 1901 and 1914, Progressive Republicans in Wisconsin created the nation's first comprehensive statewide primary election system, the first effective workplace injury compensation law, and the first state income tax, making taxation proportional to actual earnings. The progressive Wisconsin Idea also promoted the statewide expansion of the University of Wisconsin through the UW-Extension system at this time. Later, UW economics professors John R. Commons and Harold Groves helped Wisconsin create the first unemployment compensation program in the United States in 1932.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, citizens of Wisconsin were divided over things such as the creation of the United Nations, support for the European recovery, and the growth of the Soviet Union's power. However, when Europe divided into Communist and capitalist camps and the Communist revolution in China succeeded in 1949, public opinion began to move towards support for the protection of democracy and capitalism against Communist expansion.
Wisconsin took part in several political extremes in the mid to late 20th century, ranging from the anti-communist crusades of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s to the radical antiwar protests at UW-Madison that culminated in the Sterling Hall bombing in August 1970. The state became a leader in welfare reform under Republican Governor Tommy Thompson during the 1990s. The state's economy also underwent further transformations towards the close of the 20th century, as heavy industry and manufacturing declined in favor of a service economy based on medicine, education, agribusiness, and tourism.
Two U.S. Navy battleships, BB-9 and BB-64, were named for the state.
In 2011, Wisconsin became the focus of some controversy when newly elected governor Scott Walker proposed, successfully passed, and enacted the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, which made large changes in the areas of collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave of public sector employees, among other changes. A series of major protests by union supporters took place that year in protest to the changes, and Walker survived a recall election held the next year, becoming the first governor in United States history to do so. Walker enacted other bills promoting conservative governance, such as a right-to-work law, abortion restrictions, and legislation removing certain gun controls.
Wisconsin 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 to the southwest and Minnesota to the northwest. A border dispute with Michigan was settled by two cases, both Wisconsin v. Michigan, in 1934 and 1935. 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 1,500,000 acres (6,100 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. The ridges include the Niagara Escarpment that stretches from New York, the Black River Escarpment and the Magnesian Escarpment.
The bedrock of the Niagara Escarpment is dolomite, while the two shorter ridges have limestone bedrock. 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. Langlade County has a soil rarely found outside of the county called Antigo silt loam.
Areas under the management of the National Park Service include the following:Apostle Islands National Lakeshore along Lake Superior
Ice Age National Scenic Trail
North Country National Scenic Trail
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
There is one national forest managed by the U.S. Forest Service in Wisconsin, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
Wisconsin has sister-state relationships with Germany's Hesse, Japan's Chiba Prefecture, Mexico's Jalisco, China's Heilongjiang, and Nicaragua.
The pole of inaccessibility for Wisconsin, located approximately 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Wausau at 44.8824°N 89.912°W / 44.8824; -89.912 (Wisconsin Pole of Inaccessibility), marks the location furthest from any point not within Wisconsin (94.24 mi or 151.66 km).
Most of Wisconsin is classified as warm-summer humid continental climate (Köppen Dfb), while southern and southwestern portions are classified as hot-summer humid continental climate (Köppen Dfa). The highest temperature ever recorded in the state was in the Wisconsin Dells, on July 13, 1936, where it reached 114 °F (46 °C). The lowest temperature ever recorded in Wisconsin was in the village of Couderay, where it reached −55 °F (−48 °C) on both February 2 and 4, 1996. Wisconsin also receives a large amount of regular snowfall averaging around 40 inches (100 cm) in the southern portions with up to 160 inches (410 cm) annually in the Lake Superior snowbelt each year.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Wisconsin was 5,771,337 on July 1, 2015, a 1.48% increase since the 2010 United States Census.
Note: Births in table add to over 100%, because Hispanics are counted both by their ethnicity and by their race, giving a higher overall number.
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 southwestern area of the state. The next wave was dominated by "Yankees", migrants of English descent 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, Italians, Luxembourgers, and others. In the 20th century, large numbers of Mexicans and African Americans came, settling mainly in Milwaukee; and after the end of the Vietnam War came an influx of Hmongs.
According to the 2010 Census, the racial composition of the population was:86.2% White American (83.3% non-Hispanic white, 2.9% White Hispanic)
6.3% Black or African American
1.0% Native American and Alaska Native
2.3% Asian American
1.8% Multiracial American
2.4% Some other race
In the same year, 5.9% of the total population was of Hispanic or Latino origin, of any race.
The six largest ancestry groups in Wisconsin are: German (42.6%), Irish (10.9%), Polish (9.3%), Norwegian (8.5%), English (6.5%), and Italian (6.1%). 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, Italian, and Polish immigrants settling primarily in urban areas. Menominee County is the only county in the eastern United States with a Native American majority.
African Americans came to Milwaukee, especially from 1940 on. 86% of Wisconsin's African-American population live in four cities: Milwaukee, Racine, Beloit, Kenosha, with Milwaukee home to nearly three-fourths of the state's black Americans. In the Great Lakes region, only Detroit and Cleveland have a higher percentage of African-American residents.
33% of Wisconsin's Asian population is Hmong, with significant communities in Milwaukee, Wausau, Green Bay, Sheboygan, Appleton, Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Oshkosh, and Manitowoc.
Of the residents of Wisconsin, 71.7% were born in Wisconsin, 23.0% were born in a different US state, 0.7% were born in Puerto Rico, U.S. Island areas, or born abroad to American parent(s), and 4.6% were foreign born.
The percentage of Wisconsin residents who belong to various affiliations are Christian 81% (Protestant 50%, Roman Catholic 29%, Mormon 0.5%), Jewish 0.5%, Muslim 0.5%, Buddhist 0.5%, Hindu 0.5% and the unaffiliated at 15%.
Christianity is the predominant religion of Wisconsin. As of 2008, the three largest denominational groups in Wisconsin were Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, and Mainline Protestant. As of 2010, the Catholic Church had the highest number of adherents in Wisconsin (at 1,425,523), followed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with 414,326 members, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod with 223,279 adherents. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which has the fourth highest numbers of adherents in Wisconsin, and the international conference it belongs to, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, both have their headquarters in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Statewide FBI Crime statistics for 2009 include 144 murders/nonnegligent manslaughter; 1,108 rapes; 4,850 robberies; 8,431 aggravated assaults; and 147,486 property crimes. Wisconsin also publishes its own statistics through the Office of Justice Assistance. The OJA reported 14,603 violent crimes in 2009, with a clearance rate (% solved) of 50%. The OJA reported 4,633 sexual assaults in 2009, with an overall clearance rate for sexual assaults of 57%.
The Wisconsin Blue Book is the primary published reference about the government and politics of the state, documenting the organization of the state's three branches of government. Published every two years with updated information, copies are available by contacting state legislators.
Wisconsin's Constitution outlines the structure and function of state government. Wisconsin's government is organized into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.
The executive branch is headed by the governor. The current governor, Scott Walker, assumed office on January 3, 2011. In addition to the governor, the executive branch includes five other elected constitutional officers: Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Four members of the Wisconsin executive branch are Republicans. The Secretary of State is a Democrat, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin is a non-partisan position.
The Wisconsin State Legislature is Wisconsin's legislative branch. The Legislature is a bicameral body consisting of the Assembly and the Senate.
Wisconsin's court system has four levels: municipal courts, circuit courts, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. Municipal courts typically handle cases involving local ordinance matters. The circuit courts are Wisconsin's trial courts, they have original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases within the state. Challenges to circuit court rulings are heard by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, consisting of sixteen judges who typically sit in three-judge panels. As the state's highest appellate court, the Wisconsin Supreme Court may hear both appeals from lower courts and original actions. In addition to deciding cases, the Supreme Court is responsible for administering the state's court system and regulating the practice of law in Wisconsin.
In the United States Senate Wisconsin is represented by Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin. Wisconsin is divided into eight congressional districts.
Wisconsin collects personal income taxes (based on five income brackets) which range from 4% to 7.65%. The state sales and use tax rate is 5.0%. Fifty-nine counties have an additional sales/use tax of 0.5%. Milwaukee County and four surrounding counties have an additional temporary 0.1% tax that helps fund the Miller Park baseball stadium, which was completed in 2001.
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. Until January 1, 2008, Wisconsin's estate tax was decoupled from the federal estate tax laws; therefore the state imposed its own estate tax on certain large estates.
There are no toll roads in Wisconsin; highway construction and maintenance are funded in part by motor fuel tax revenues, and the remaining balance is drawn from the State General Fund. Non-highway road construction and maintenance are funded by local governments (municipalities or counties).
Wisconsin has had a diplomatic relationship with the Japanese prefecture of Chiba since 1990.
Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 25,000 votes (a margin of less than .8%) in the 2016 election. This marked the first time Wisconsin voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, when every state except Minnesota and Washington D.C. went Republican. Both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were quite close, with Wisconsin receiving heavy doses of national advertising, in accord with its status as a "swing", or pivot, state. Al Gore carried the presidential vote in 2000 by 5,700 votes, and John Kerry won Wisconsin in 2004 by 11,000 votes. Again, Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 by 381,000 votes (56%).
On November 26, 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed for a recount in Wisconsin due to concerns regarding hacking or other tampering with votes. It is the first presidential recount ever conducted in the state.
During the period of the Civil War, Wisconsin was a Republican state; in fact it is the state that gave birth to the Republican Party, although 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.
The most famous controversy in the state's political history 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.
Wisconsin has voted for Democratic candidates in six of the last seven presidential elections. Republican Donald Trump carried the state by 23,000 votes in 2016. Before that, the last Republican to carry the state was Ronald Reagan in 1984. In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney chose Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, a native of Janesville, as his running mate against incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Obama nevertheless carried Wisconsin by a margin of 53% to 46%.
At the statewide level, Wisconsin is competitive, with control regularly alternating between the two parties. The 2010 elections saw a huge Republican resurgence in Wisconsin. Republicans took control of the governor's office and both houses of the state legislature. Republican Ron Johnson defeated Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, and Republicans took two previously Democratic-held House seats, creating a 5–3 Republican majority House delegation.
On February 14, 2011, the Wisconsin State Capitol erupted with protests when the Legislature took up a bill that would end most collective bargaining rights for state employees, except for wages, to address the $3.6 bil. deficit. The protests attracted tens of thousands of people each day, and garnered international attention.
The Assembly passed the bill 53–42 on March 10 after the State Senate passed it the night before, and sent it to the Governor for his signature. In response to the bill, enough signatures were gathered to force a recall election against Governor Walker. Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee and Walker's 2010 opponent, won the Democratic primary and faced Walker again. Walker won the election by 53% to 46% and became the first governor in United States history to retain his seat after a recall election.
Republicans had a stronghold in the Fox Valley, but elected a Democrat, Steve Kagen, of Appleton, for the 8th Congressional District in 2006. However, Kagen survived only two terms and was replaced by Republican Reid Ribble in the Republican Party's sweep of Wisconsin in November 2010, the first time the Republican Party has taken back both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship in the same election. Republicans have held Waukesha County. The City of Milwaukee heads the list of Wisconsin's Democratic strongholds, which also includes Madison and the state's Native American reservations. Wisconsin's largest Congressional district, the 7th, had voted Democratic since 1969. Its representative, David Obey, chaired the powerful House Appropriations Committee. However, Obey retired and the once Democratic seat was overtaken by Republican Sean Duffy in November 2010.
Wisconsin's political history encompasses, on the one hand, "Fighting Bob" La Follette and the Progressive movement; and on the other, the Republican and anti-Communist Joe McCarthy. From the early 20th century, the Socialist Party of America had a base in Milwaukee. The phenomenon was referred to as "sewer socialism" because the elected officials were more concerned with public works and reform than with revolution (although revolutionary socialism existed in the city as well). Its influence faded in the late 1950s, largely because of the red scare and racial tensions. The first Socialist mayor of a large city in the United States was Emil Seidel, elected mayor of Milwaukee in 1910; another Socialist, Daniel Hoan, was mayor of Milwaukee from 1916 to 1940; and a third, Frank P. Zeidler, from 1948 to 1960. Succeeding Frank Zeidler, the last of Milwaukee's Socialist mayors, (Henry Maier), a former Wisconsin State Senator and member of the Democratic Party was elected mayor of Milwaukee in 1960. Maier remained in office for 28 years, the longest serving mayor in Milwaukee history. Socialist newspaper editor Victor Berger was repeatedly elected as a U.S. Representative, although he was prevented from serving for some time because of his opposition to the First World War.
William Proxmire, a Democratic Senator (1957–89), dominated the Democratic party for years; he was best known for attacking waste and fraud in federal spending. Democrat Russ Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001. Republican Paul Ryan was, at age 28, the youngest member of the Congressional freshman class when he took office in January 1999. In 2012, he was selected as the Republican party's candidate for Vice President, running with Mitt Romney. In 2004, Gwen Moore, a Democrat from Milwaukee, became Wisconsin's first African-American U.S. Representative.
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 incumbent Governor Jim Doyle. 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. In 2008, Democrats regained control of the State Assembly by a 52–46 margin, marking the first time since 1987 that the governor and state legislature were both Democratic.
With the election of Scott Walker, Republicans won both chambers of the legislature and the governorship, the first time all three changed partisan control in the same election. They have maintained that status since 2010. Following the 2014 general election on November 4, 2014, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Attorney General and State Treasurer are all Republicans; the Secretary of State is a Democrat. The state also chose the Republican candidate for President in 2016, Donald Trump, for the first time since 1984.
In 2010 Wisconsin's gross state product was $248.3 billion, making it 21st among U.S. states. The economy of Wisconsin is driven by manufacturing, agriculture, and health care. The state's economic output from manufacturing was $48.9 billion in 2008, making it the tenth largest among states in manufacturing gross domestic product. Manufacturing accounts for about 20% of the state's gross domestic product, a proportion that is third among all states. The per capita personal income was $35,239 in 2008. In March, 2017, the state's unemployment rate was 3.4% (seasonally adjusted).
In quarter four of 2011, the largest employers in Wisconsin were:
- University of Wisconsin–Madison
- Milwaukee Public Schools
- U.S. Postal Service
- Wisconsin Department of Corrections
- Marshfield Clinic
- Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs
- Target Corporation, and
- City of Milwaukee.
Wisconsin produces about a quarter of America's cheese, leading the nation in cheese production. It is second in milk production, after California, and third in per-capita milk production, behind California and Vermont. Wisconsin is second in butter production, producing about one-quarter of the nation's butter. The state ranks first nationally in the production of corn for silage, cranberries ginseng, and snap beans for processing. It grows over half the national crop of cranberries. and 97% of the nation's ginseng. Wisconsin is also a leading producer of oats, potatoes, carrots, tart cherries, maple syrup, and sweet corn for processing. The significance of the state's agricultural production is exemplified by the depiction of a Holstein cow, an ear of corn, and a wheel of cheese on Wisconsin's state quarter design. The state annually selects an "Alice in Dairyland" to promote the state's agricultural products around the world.
A large part of the state's manufacturing sector includes commercial food processing, including well-known brands such as 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 was formerly headquarters for Miller Brewing Company – the nation's second-largest brewer – until it merged with Coors Brewing Company. Formerly, Schlitz, Blatz, and Pabst were cornerstone breweries in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin is home to a very large and diversified manufacturing economy, with special focus on transportation and capital equipment. Major Wisconsin companies in these categories include the Kohler Company; Mercury Marine; Rockwell Automation; Johnson Controls; John Deere; Briggs & Stratton; Milwaukee Electric Tool Company; Caterpillar Inc.; Joy Global; The Manitowoc Company; Oshkosh Corporation; Harley-Davidson; Case IH; S. C. Johnson & Son; Ashley Furniture; Ariens; and Evinrude Outboard Motors.
Wisconsin is a major producer of paper, packaging, and other consumer goods. Major consumer products companies based in the state include SC Johnson & Co., and Diversey Inc., 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 miles (63 km) stretch.
The development and manufacture of health care devices and software is a growing sector of the state's economy, with key players such as GE Healthcare, Epic Systems, and TomoTherapy.
Tourism is a major industry in Wisconsin – the state's third largest, according to the Department of Tourism. Tourist destinations such as the House on the Rock near Spring Green, Circus World Museum in Baraboo, and The Dells of the Wisconsin River draw thousands of visitors annually, and festivals such as Summerfest and the EAA Oshkosh Airshow draw international attention, along with hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Given the large number of lakes and rivers in the state, water recreation is very popular. In the North Country, what had been an industrial area focused on timber has largely been transformed into a vacation destination. Popular interest in the environment and environmentalism, added to traditional interests in hunting and fishing, has attracted a large urban audience within driving range.
The distinctive Door Peninsula, which extends off the eastern coast of the state, contains one of the state's tourist destinations, Door County. Door County is a popular destination for boaters because of the large number of natural harbors, bays, and ports on the Green Bay and Lake Michigan side of the peninsula that forms the county. The area draws hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly to its quaint villages, seasonal cherry picking, and fish boils.
On January 1, 2008, a new tax incentive for the film industry came into effect. The first major production to take advantage of the tax incentive was Michael Mann's Public Enemies. While the producers spent $18 million on the film, it was reported that most of that went to out-of-state workers and for out-of-state services; Wisconsin taxpayers had provided $4.6 million in subsidies, and derived only $5 million in revenues from the film's making.
Wisconsin has no production of oil, gas, or coal. Its in-state electrical generation is mostly from coal. Other important electricity sources are natural gas and nuclear.
The state has a mandate that ten percent of its electrical energy come from renewable sources by the end of 2015. This goal has been met, but not with in state sources. One third of that ten percent comes from out of state sources, mostly wind generated electricity from Minnesota and Iowa. The state has agnostic policies for developing wind power in state.
Wisconsin is served by eight commercial service airports, in addition to a number of general aviation airports.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is responsible for planning, building and maintaining the state's highways. Seven Interstate Highways transverse the state.
Amtrak provides daily passenger rail service between Chicago and Milwaukee. It also provides cross-country service via the Empire Builder with station stops in several cities in Wisconsin.
Over 68% of Wisconsin residents live in urban areas, with the Greater Milwaukee area home to roughly one-third of the state's population. With over 594,000 residents, Milwaukee is the 30th-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.
With a population of around 233,000 and metropolitan area of over 600,000, Madison has a dual identity as state capital and college town. Madison's suburb, Middleton, was ranked the "Best Place to Live in America" in 2007 by Money Magazine. Medium-size cities dot the state and anchor a network of working farms surrounding them. As of 2011, there were 12 cities in Wisconsin with a population of 50,000 or more, accounting for 73% of the state's employment.
Wisconsin has three types of municipality: cities, villages, and towns. Cities and villages are incorporated urban areas. Towns are unincorporated minor civil divisions of counties with limited self-government.
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 start of the 20th century, education in the state advocated the "Wisconsin Idea", which emphasized service to the people of the state. The "Wisconsin Idea" exemplified the Progressive movement within colleges and universities at the time.
Today, public post-secondary education in Wisconsin includes both the 26-campus University of Wisconsin System, with the flagship university University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the 16-campus Wisconsin Technical College System. Private colleges and universities include Alverno College, Beloit College, Cardinal Stritch University, Carroll University, Carthage College, Concordia University Wisconsin, Edgewood College, Lakeland College, Lawrence University, Marquette University, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Ripon College, St. Norbert College, Wisconsin Lutheran College, and others.
Residents of Wisconsin are referred to as Wisconsinites. The traditional prominence of references to dairy farming and cheesemaking in Wisconsin's rural economy (the state's license plates have read "America's Dairyland" since 1940) have led to the nickname (sometimes used pejoratively among non-residents) of "cheeseheads" and to the creation of "cheesehead hats" made of yellow foam in the shape of a wedge of cheese.
Numerous ethnic festivals are held throughout Wisconsin to celebrate the heritage of its citizens. Such festivals include Summerfest, Oktoberfest, Polish Fest, Festa Italiana, Irish Fest, Bastille Days, Syttende Mai (Norwegian Constitution Day), Brat(wurst) Days in Sheboygan, Polka Days, Cheese Days in Monroe and Mequon, African World Festival, Indian Summer, Arab Fest, Wisconsin Highland Games and many others.
The Milwaukee Art Museum, with its brise soleil designed by Santiago Calatrava, is known for its interesting architecture. Monona Terrace in Madison, a convention center designed by Taliesin architect Anthony Puttnam, is based on a 1930s design by Frank Lloyd Wright. 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.
Wisconsin's music festivals include Eaux Claires, Miller Lite Presents Country Fest, Bud Light Presents Country Jam USA, the Coors Hodag Country Festival, Porterfield Country Music Festival, Country Thunder USA in Twin Lakes, and Ford Presents Country USA. Milwaukee hosts Summerfest, dubbed "The World's Largest Music Festival", every year. This festival is held at the lakefront Henry Maier Festival Park just south of downtown, as are a summer-long array of ethnic musical festivals. The Wisconsin Area Music Industry provides an annual WAMI event where it presents an awards show for top Wisconsin artists.
Drinking has long been considered a significant part of Wisconsin culture, and the state ranks at or near the top of national measures of per-capita alcohol consumption, consumption of alcohol per state, and proportion of drinkers. Consumption per-capita per-event, however, ranks low among the nation; number of events (number of times alcohol is involved) is significantly higher or highest, but consumption at each event smaller, marking Wisconsin's consumption as frequent and moderate. Factors such as cultural identification with the state's heritage of German immigration, the longstanding presence of major breweries in Milwaukee, and a cold climate are often associated with the prevalence of drinking in Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, the legal drinking age is 21, except when accompanied by a parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21 years old. Age requirements are waived for possessing alcohol when employed by a brewer, brewpub, beer and/or liquor wholesaler, or producer of alcohol fuel. The minimum legal age to purchase alcohol is 21, with no exceptions. The Absolute Sobriety law states that any person not of legal drinking age (currently 21 years of age) may not drive after consuming alcohol.
On September 30, 2003, the state legislature, reluctant to lower a DUI offense from BAC 0.10 to 0.08, did so only as a result of federal government pressure. The Wisconsin Tavern League opposes raising the alcoholic beverage tax. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series "Wasted in Wisconsin" examined this situation.
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 is situated on two Great Lakes and has many inland lakes of varied size; the state contains 11,188 square miles (28,980 km2) of water, more than all but three other states – Alaska, Michigan, and Florida.
Outdoor activities are popular in Wisconsin, especially hunting and fishing. One of the most prevalent game animals is the whitetail deer. Each year in Wisconsin, well over 600,000 deer hunting licenses are sold. In 2008, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources projected the pre-hunt deer population to be between 1.5 and 1.7 million.
Wisconsin is represented by major league teams in three sports: football, baseball, and basketball. Lambeau Field, located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is home to the National Football League's Green Bay Packers. The Packers have been part of the NFL since the league's second season in 1921 and hold the record for the most NFL titles, earning the city of Green Bay the nickname "Titletown USA". The Packers are the smallest city franchise in the NFL and the only one owned by shareholders statewide. The franchise was founded by "Curly" Lambeau who played and coached for them. The Green Bay Packers are one of the most successful small-market professional sports franchises in the world and have won 13 NFL championships, including the first two AFL-NFL Championship games (Super Bowls I and II), Super Bowl XXXI and Super Bowl XLV. The state's support of the team is evidenced by the 81,000-person waiting list for season tickets to Lambeau Field.
The Milwaukee Brewers, the state's only major league baseball team, play in Miller Park in Milwaukee, the successor to Milwaukee County Stadium since 2001. In 1982, the Brewers won the American League Championship, marking their most successful season. The team switched from the American League to the National League starting with the 1998 season. Before the Brewers, Milwaukee had two prior Major League teams. The first team, also called the Brewers, played only one season in the newly founded American League in 1901 before moving to St. Louis and becoming the Browns, who are now the Baltimore Orioles. Milwaukee was also the home of the Braves franchise when they moved from Boston from 1953 to 1965, winning the World Series in 1957 and the National League pennant in 1958, before they moved to Atlanta.
The Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association play home games at the Bradley Center. The Bucks won the NBA Championship in 1971.
The state also has minor league teams in hockey (Milwaukee Admirals) and baseball (the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, based in Appleton and the Beloit Snappers of the Class A minor leagues). Wisconsin is also home to the Madison Mallards, the La Crosse Loggers, the Lakeshore Chinooks, the Eau Claire Express, the Green Bay Bullfrogs, the Kenosha Kingfish, the Wisconsin Woodchucks, and the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League, a collegiate all-star summer league. In addition to the Packers, Green Bay is also the home to an indoor football team, the Green Bay Blizzard of the IFL. The state is home to the six-time MSL Champion Milwaukee Wave.
Wisconsin also has many college sports programs, including the Wisconsin Badgers, of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Panthers of University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Badgers football former head coach Barry Alvarez led the Badgers to three Rose Bowl championships, including back-to-back victories in 1999 and 2000. The Badger men's basketball team won the national title in 1941 and made trips to college basketball's Final Four in 2000, 2014, and 2015. The Badgers claimed a historic dual championship in 2006 when both the women's and men's hockey teams won national titles.
The Marquette Golden Eagles of the Big East Conference, the state's other major collegiate program, is known for its men's basketball team, which, under the direction of Al McGuire, won the NCAA National Championship in 1977. The team returned to the Final Four in 2003.
Many other schools in the University of Wisconsin system compete in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at the Division III level. The conference is one of the most successful in the nation, claiming 107 NCAA national championships in 15 different sports as of March 30, 2015.
The Semi-Professional Northern Elite Football League consists of many teams from Wisconsin. The league is made up of former professional, collegiate, and high school players. Teams from Wisconsin include: The Green Bay Gladiators from Green Bay, The Fox Valley Force in Appleton, The Kimberly Storm in Kimberly, The Central Wisconsin Spartans in Wausau, The Eau Claire Crush and the Chippewa Valley Predators from Eau Claire, and the Lake Superior Rage from Superior. The league also has teams in Michigan and Minnesota. Teams play from May until August.
Wisconsin is home to the world's oldest operational racetrack. The Milwaukee Mile, located in Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis, Wisconsin, held races there that considerably predate the Indy 500.
Wisconsin is home to the nation's oldest operating velodrome in Kenosha where races have been held every year since 1927.
Sheboygan is home to Whistling Straits golf club which has hosted PGA Championships in 2004, 2010 and 2015 and will be home to the Ryder Cup golf competition between USA and Europe in 2020. The Greater Milwaukee Open, later named the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, was a PGA Tour tournament from 1968 to 2009 held annually in Brown Deer.