75 Wild Facts About Wisconsin

Beer, cheese, football, and badgers…These are just a few of the things that Wisconsin is famous for.

You’re going to find out a whole lot more about “America’s Dairyland” with these fascinating and fun facts about Wisconsin!

General Wisconsin Facts

  • Wisconsin state is located in the Upper Midwest region of the United States. It is also part of the Great Lakes region.
  • Wisconsin is 65,498 mi² (169,640 km²) in size, which makes it the 23rd biggest state in the US. It is between Florida and Georgia in size.
  • If it were a country, Wisconsin would be twice as large as Austria or three times as large as Costa Rica.
  • The state has a population of 5.9 million, ranking #20 in the US, between Missouri and Colorado.
  • Madison is the state capital of Wisconsin. With a population of 270,000 (metropolitan 680,000), it is the second largest city in the state and 87th largest metropolitan area in the United States.
  • 60 mi (100 km) east of Madison, on the shore of Lake Michigan, lies Milwaukee. Home to 577,000 people (metropolitan 1.57 million), it is the 40th largest population center in the US.
The Wisconsin State Capitol and other buildings of downtown Madison, viewed across from frozen Lake Mendota, with an orange sky reflecting on the lake
The state capitol sits on Lakes Monona and Mendota
  • Adjacent to Milwaukee, in neighboring Illinois, is Chicago, the 3rd largest city in the US, which is also on the west shore of Lake Michigan.
  • Wisconsin was initially inhabited by the Huron, Ho-Chunk, Ottawa, Sioux, Kickapoo, and Ojibwe Native American tribes.
  • The state’s name is believed to be derived from meskonsing, which is the Miami term for “it lies red”. This is a reference to the Wisconsin river, which carves its way through the state’s crimson sandstone.
  • A common nickname for Wisconsin is “The Badger State”. Not only does the animal thrive there, but early miners in the state dug holes in the ground to live in, just like badgers do.
  • Wisconsin is also called “America’s Dairyland”, “The Dairy State”, and “The Cheese State.” It produces more cheese than any other state, and the second most milk, after California. Milk is the official state beverage (but the same can be said about 20 other US states).
Some buildings of downtown Milwaukee, with a dock on Lake Michigan in the foreground
Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, on Lake Michigan
  • The official motto of Wisconsin is “Forward”, while state tourism slogans have included “Live Like You Mean It”, “Life’s So Good”, “Escape to Wisconsin”, and “Stay Just a Little Bit Longer.”
  • Wisconsin residents are called Wisconsinites, or the slang term Cheeseheads. This started due to their love for/production of cheese, but they embraced it, so fans of the Green Bay Packers football team are also called Cheeseheads and often sport large cheese hats at games.
  • WI is the state’s official abbreviation.
The state flag of Wisconsin
The Wisconsin state flag
  • Wisconsin’s state flag features the coat of arms on a blue background, with the state name, motto, and date of joining the Union. The coat of arms has a miner with a pick and a sailor with a coil of rope, a badger, and shield with the state’s 4 industries: navigation, agriculture, manufacturing, and mining.

Random Interesting Facts About Wisconsin

  • Wisconsin is home to over 15,000 lakes and 13,500 mi (21,726 km) of navigable rivers, many of which make for popular weekend getaways in Wisconsin.
  • In fact, 17% of Wisconsin is composed of water (which includes parts of the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. It has more water than any state besides Alaska, Florida, and Michigan.
  • The city of Wisconsin Dells has the most water parks by area in the world, with 10 in total, encompassing over 200 water slides, hence the nickname “Waterpark Capital of the World”. These include Noah’s Ark, the largest waterpark in the country. The area is also known for its sandstone cliffs.
Aerial view of some sandstone cliffs on the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Dells
Dells of the Wisconsin River
  • Baraboo, WI is home to the Circus World Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of circus artifacts.
  • Wisconsin’s 66 state parks bring in 20 million visitors per year. The largest is Devil’s Lake State Park, which protects an endorheic lake, one without an outlet, that was created at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation.
  • There are no national parks in the state, but there are 44 national historic landmarks in Wisconsin, protecting a number of historic houses and other structures, indigenous sites, and one of the oldest fossilized coral reefs in the world, called Schoonmaker Reef.  
A postage stamp that says "Greetings from Wisconsin" and shows show dairy cows on a farm
Wisconsin is famous for its dairy.
  • Wisconsin state has the most dairy cattle per square kilometer of any state in the US. Wisconsin is also famous for its delicious cheese curds, and it is the only state in the nation that offers a Master Cheesemaker program.
  • There’s even a cheese museum: the National Historic Cheesemaking Center at the Green County Welcome Center, dubbed the “Gateway to Cheese Country.” There they make a giant Swiss cheese wheel every second Saturday in June. The wheel weighs 90 lbs (40.82 kg).
  • Besides cheese and dairy, Wisconsin also produces 95% of America’s ginseng, or 10% of the world’s supply, and the third most potatoes after Idaho and Washington.
  • The state also has copper and zinc deposits, but they haven’t been extensively mined.
  • The highest point in Wisconsin is at 1951 ft (595 m) above sea level at Timms Hill, while the lowest point in Wisconsin is at 581 ft (177 m) above sea level at Lake Michigan.
  • The state’s all-time highest temperature was 114°F (45.5°C) on July 13, 1936 in Wisconsin Dells, while the lowest was -55°F (-48.3°C) on February 4, 1996 in Couderay.
Black and white photograph of Harry Houdini about to jump off a bridge while wrapped in chains, with many spectators
Escape artist Harry Houdini grew up in Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin was the birthplace of several famous people, including Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of Little House on the Prairie), artist Georgia O’Keeffe, actors Chris Farley, Mark Ruffalo, Kurtwood Smith, and Willem Defoe, actress Marissa Mayer, filmmaker Orson Welles, and electric guitar maker Les Paul.
  • Harry Houdini, the famous escape artist who was born in Hungary, grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. The town now has a plaza, elementary school, and pub named after him.
  • The founders of Harley Davidson built their first motorcycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Today, the city is home to the Harley-Davidson Museum.
  • Other companies that started in Wisconsin include Pabst Brewing (which makes the famous Old Milwaukee), OshKosh B’gosh (children’s clothing line named after a Wisconsin town), Jockey International, and Kohl’s (the largest department store chain in the US).
  • Wisconsin, and especially Milwaukee, are known for their breweries. So much so, in fact, that they have a baseball team called the Milwaukee Brewers, and the stars of the sitcom Laverne & Shirley worked in a Milwaukee brewery.  
Close up of the Harley Davidson logo on a motorbike
Harley Davidson started in Wisconsin
  • Musicians from Wisconsin include Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, pianist Liberace, and singer Al Jarreau.
  • Wisconsin was used as a hideaway spot for some of the most notorious gangsters, including the likes of Bugs Moran and Al Capone.
  • Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most well-known serial killers in US history, committed most of his murders in Wisconsin.
  • Christopher Latham Sholes, born in Pennsylvania, invented the first functioning typewriter in Wisconsin in 1868. He also invented the QWERTY keyboard, which is still in use today.
  • The first commercial telephone answering machine was also invented in Wisconsin, in 1949. It was called the Electronic Secretary.
Close up of the left side of a keyboard
The keyboard we all use today was invented in Wisconsin.
  • The zip computer file type was also invented in the state, by Wisconsin native Phil Katz.
  • The Scott Paper Company in Philadelphia invented toilet paper much like the one we use today back in 1879. By 1953, Northern Tissue began using the linenizing process, which made the toilet paper softer and free of splinters.
  • Pleasant Rowland of the Wisconsin-based Pleasant Company created American Girl, one of the best-selling doll lines of all time. The line features dolls between adult (Barbie) and baby ones, and spanning a variety of ethnicities.  
  • Two Rivers, Wisconsin claims to have been the birthplace of the ice cream sundae, where soda fountain owner Ed Berners created his version in 1881. Other claims come from Illinois and New York.
  • Wisconsin residents consume a total of approximately 21 million gallons of ice cream per year.
Close up of the top of a chocolate sundae with a maraschino cherry on top
Was the ice cream sundae really invented in Wisconsin?
  • According to an old Wisconsin state law that of course is no longer imposed, when serving apple pie in public restaurants, it must come with cheese.
  • Wisconsin drivers legally have to give livestock right-of-way on public roads.
  • Yet another old law states that if you plan on parking your car for more than two hours in Milwaukee, it has to be tied to a horse.
  • Adultery is a class 1 felony in Wisconsin, but offenders are rarely persued.
  • If you live in Wausau, WI, you can kiss throwing snowballs goodbye, because if you do, you might end up being arrested for it (not really…)
  • If you’re in St. Croix, WI, it’s technically illegal to wear red in public.

Historical Facts About Wisconsin

  • The Wisconsin Glaciation was the last phase of the most recent Ice Age in North America. It is named after the state because rocks deposited during the period have been studied there.
  • The first people to arrive in the state came around the end of the Wisconsin Glaciation.
Aerial view of Earth mounds at Aztalan State Park
Earth mounds at Aztalan State Park
  • In 1634 the first European arrived in the region of Wisconsin, Jean Nicolet, a French explorer searching for a northwest path to China, which he didn’t find. However, he discovered that the land is rich in beaver furs.
  • The first fur traders in the state were Medart Chouart des Groseilliers and Pierre Esprit Radisson between 1654 and 1659.
  • French trader Nicolas Perrot established the area’s first trading post at Green Bay in 1667, near where Nicolet had first arrived. In 1689, he claimed the land for France after building a number of trading posts in the region.
  • In 1763, Great Britain won the French-Indian War and gained control of the area of Wisconsin.
Five different animal furs side by side
Furs attracted the first European settlers to the area
  • Lead ore was discovered in the 1820s in Wisconsin, which brought a lot of new settlers to the state, leading to the take-over of Native American people’s land.
  • The first newspaper in the state was established in 1833, called the “Green Bay Intelligencer”.
  • In 1838, the capital was moved from Belmont to Madison. The location was chosen because it was between Milwaukee in the east, Prairie du Chien in the west, the lead mines in the southwest, and Green Bay in the Northeast.
  • Wisconsin became the 30th state after joining the Union on May 29, 1848. After statehood, Wisconsin was a center of abolition (against slavery).
Stairs leading up to the Wisconsin State Capitol building
The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison
  • The most destructive fire in the history of the US took place in October 1871 in Wisconsin. Two billion trees burned and twelve hundred people died in what was called “The Great Peshtigo Fire“.
  • The first socialist to be elected to Congress (1911), and founding member of the Social Democratic Party, was Victor Berger of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • In the early 1900s, Wisconsin created the country’s first statewide primary election system, workplace injury compensation law, and state-wide income tax.
  • The Green Bay Packers football team were established in 1919 and joined the NFL in 1921. Currently, they have won the Super Bowl 4 times (the most won by any team is 6).
Exterior of Milwaukee Art Museum on the shore of Lake Michigan
Milwaukee Art Museum
  • Wisconsin was also the first state to deliver ratification of the 19th Amendment (for women’s suffrage) to Washington in 1920.
  • In 1953, the Braves baseball team moved from Boston to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before moving again to Atlanta in 1966.
  • In 1983, a law was passed to raise the minimum drinking age to 19, then it was raised to 21 in 1985, where it remains today.
  • The UW hospital conducted the first liver transplants in Wisconsin in 1984.
  • In 1994, Miracle, the first white buffalo to be born since 1933, was born on a farm in Wisconsin.
A white buffalo (bison)
An unusual white buffalo
  • The control of the state assembly was won by Republicans for the first time since 1970 in 1995.
  • Record rains caused the banks of Lake Delton in in Wisconsin Dells to burst in 2008, resulting in the lake being completely drained.
  • In 2021, the state lifted a ban on hunting wolves, and nearly a third of them were killed in the following months.
  • Also in 2021, the state offered $100 incentives for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.