Home to over 15,000 lakes, Wisconsin is a state full of stunning beauty. The abundant natural resources make Wisconsin a leader in paper production, cranberries, and ginseng. Wisconsin also boasts a thriving dairy industry which produces over 600 varieties of cheese!
Wisconsin is located in the Midwest region of the United States. Lake Michigan and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula create the eastern and northern borders. The western border of the state is separated from Minnesota by the Mississippi River. The southern borders of the state are shared with the borders of Iowa and Illinois.
The State of Wisconsin boasts an abundance of lakes and rivers. There are more than 15,000 inland lakes, the largest of which is Lake Winnebago. It covers about 206 square miles (533 sq km), but is only 21 feet (6.4 meters) deep at its deepest point. Green Lake is the deepest natural lake in Wisconsin at 236 feet (72 meters) deep.
Wisconsin also borders Lake Michigan on the west and Lake Superior on the north with over 800 miles of shoreline.. These two lakes are some of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. They are part of an enormous freshwater ecosystem that includes three more Great Lakes, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, and multiple tributaries.
Near the lakes, Wisconsin has wetlands, rocky shorelines, and sandy beaches. These areas provide natural resources and recreation for the people using them, and they are home to many species of plants and animals, some of which are found only in these regions.
In addition to the lakes, Wisconsin has forests, rivers, wetlands, mountains, hills, and plains which contribute to the recreational and economic needs of the citizens.
Wisconsin People and Population
11 recognized Native American Nations have seats of government in Wisconsin: Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Brothertown Indian Nation, Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Nation, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Saint Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians. Many of these Tribes are living in or near their ancestral land, though they also struggled with the American government as they attempted to maintain their sovereignty. Despite the strong presence of multiple Tribes, American Indians only make up about 1.2% of the population of Wisconsin.
In the 1700s and 1800s European immigrants settled in Wisconsin. Some of these groups tended to congregate together, recreating small versions of their lives in the old world by maintaining their traditions, food, and cultural beliefs. British, Scottish, and French immigrants tended to assimilate with the overall culture of Wisconsin, though they named many Wisconsin cities (Exeter, Leeds) after their previous homes.
Welsh immigrants created farming communities in Wausheka County. They formed tight groups which preserved their language and culture even into the 20th century.
German immigrants were the largest ethnic group to congregate in Wisconsin. They settled throughout the state, but most were located in a large area (about 20 counties) in the southeast part of the state. German-Americans had an enormous impact on Wisconsin’s culture, introducing polka music, beer, bratwurst, and sauerkraut.
Scandinavians settled in Wisconsin in the 1800s. Norwegians held on to their culture longer than other groups due to their tightly knit communities, preserving their language and food offerings: lefse, lutefisk, and rommegrot. Swedish immigrants settled primarily in the Northwest corner of the state, but they did not live in closely-knit communities. Many Swedes worked in the lumber industry. Other Scandinavian groups that settled in Wisconsin in the 1800s included those from Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. Wisconsin was a prime location for European settlers. They came from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Poland, Italy, and Greece. In the 1850s, immigrants from Central and South America also migrated to Wisconsin: from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.
In the late 1700s, Black people began arriving in Wisconsin as fur traders. Later, they arrived as slaves, then Wisconsin became a stop on the Underground Railroad. In the 1890s, the Great Migration brought multitudes of Black people to the Wisconsin/Illinois/Michigan area to escape the discrimination of the South. Sadly, they faced similar hostilities in Wisconsin, and they still struggle with civil rights.
The people of Wisconsin enjoy a wide variety of environments and activities. Half of the population of Wisconsin lives in the Great Lakes Basin. Adventure seekers come from around the country and the world to surf at Sheboygan, the Malibu of the Midwest.
Like all states, Wisconsin has the right under the U.S. Federal Government to govern itself. Federal laws do not cover the day-to-day legal needs of states and municipalities; instead, the state government and local city governments manage those laws.
The state government of Wisconsin is similar in structure to that of the United States. The three branches, the legislative, judicial, and executive, have core powers that are exclusive to each branch. Other duties of the branches may overlap.
Wisconsin’s legislature has two houses, the Senate and the Assembly. Leaders from the Democratic and Republican parties are chosen to represent the Majority and the Minority based on which party has the highest membership. The legislative branch creates state policy and laws and approves the Wisconsin budget.
The Judicial branch includes three levels of courts: trial courts, circuit courts, and appellate courts. If a petitioner is not satisfied with the decision of a judge at the circuit court level, they may appeal to one of the two levels of the appellate court. The State Supreme Court has seven justices. Local governments create municipal courts to handle violations of municipal laws and ordinances.
The purpose of the executive branch is to administer the laws and programs that the legislative branch creates. Six elected officials lead the executive branch: the Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Governor has the power to veto legislation within six business days of receiving it.
The Wisconsin State Capitol is located in Madison, Wisconsin. It is the home of the executive and legislative branches of the government for the state of Wisconsin. The building was constructed in 1917 and designed by architect George B. Post. Standing at over 200 feet tall, it remains a symbol of democracy for citizens and visitors alike! With its iconic dome, granite walls, and ornate interior details, the capitol building truly embodies Wisconsin's rich history and proud heritage.
Access to the Great Lakes is a foundation of Wisconsin’s economy. The lakes provide opportunities for tourism, travel, shipping, and manufacturing. Fishing and recreational boating bring in $9.4 billion per year. The shipping ports manage over $7 billion worth of cargo each year.
2.85 million people in Wisconsin are employed. The three industries which employ the most people are education (158 thousand), construction (156 thousand), and restaurants and food service (155.7 thousand). Unfortunately, these industries offer below-average pay. Tire manufacturing, financial investing, and paper manufacturing are the highest-paying industries.
The median income for men is $46,556 and for women is $32,613. The lowest-paying industries for women are agriculture, arts and entertainment, and retail. The highest-paying industries for both women and men are public administration and real estate. Men are likely to have the lowest salary in arts and entertainment, public services, and retail.
Wisconsin is often called America’s dairyland and is known for its cheese and other dairy products. Surprisingly, cheese is not one of Wisconsin’s major exports. Instead, they lead other exporters in cranberries, ginseng, bovine genetics (bull semen), raw fur skins, and sweet corn.
Wisconsin Interesting Facts
From its diverse landscape encompassing forests, farms, and bustling cities, to its influential role in America's dairy industry, Wisconsin never fails to intrigue. Immerse yourself in a collection of captivating facts about Wisconsin and discover why this state is much more than meets the eye!
It’s a Little Snowy
In the winter of 1996-1997, Hurley Wisconsin recorded almost 25 feet (7.6 m) of snow. That’s enough to cover the height of a two-story building!
A Find of Mammoth Proportions
Paleontologists discovered the largest wooly mammoth at Kenosha. A replica of this gigantic creature is on display at Milwaukee Public Museum.
Don’t Badger Me
The badger is the state symbol of Wisconsin, but not because of the animal. Instead, the badger refers to the lead miners in the 1820s who dug tunnels to sleep in.
The history of Wisconsin reveals a state with a unique combination of industry and colonial ties. The state has long been known as an agricultural hub, and remnants of this tradition can be seen in the prevalence of dairy farming, along with heavy influences by Native Americans that extend from the origins of the state until today.
The Native Americans were living and thriving on the land that is now Wisconsin long before the European explorers arrived. Historical records show as many as 18 different tribal groups. Archaeologists and anthropologists trace the relationships of these tribes based on language groups.
Many Native groups lived near the lakes in Wisconsin. A lake is like a natural pantry filled with a variety of food that could sustain a population. Freshwater fish like perch, catfish, and even sturgeon are abundant. Birds and mammals are also easy to find near lakes, making hunting easier. Wild rice and other edible plants near bodies of water help complete the nutritional needs of the Native people.
The earliest records of Europeans in the Wisconsin area come from the seventeenth century after Samuel de Champlain founded New France in 1615. The fur trade between the French and the Native Americans linked the Indians with a global economy. Native Americans trapped animals and prepared the furs before selling them to European fur traders. 100,000 furs or more were sent to Europe each year.
The other major impact on Native American life was American settlers in the 1800s. Settlers brought the logging trade, and established farms. The settlers and their businesses made immense changes to the landscape and the animal population, more than the preceding twelve thousand years.
The French established forts in Wisconsin along the Mississippi to claim the land for France. The French held on to these northern regions until the British defeated them in Quebec in 1760. British settlers changed the way daily life functioned. They attempted to implement rules to force the Native population to fall in line with the British way of life. These rules were, of course, impossible to completely enforce. The Native Americans didn’t like the British business model, so they took their trading down the Mississippi to Spanish and French traders.
After the Revolutionary War, the British managed to maintain their control of trade in Wisconsin. They kept control until after the War of 1812.
Wisconsin Before and During the Civil War
Before Wisconsin became a state, it was part of the Northwest Territory, the Indiana Territory, the Illinois Territory, the Michigan Territory, and finally the Wisconsin Territory. By 1850, 305 thousand people were living in Wisconsin. Many of these settlers arrived through the Erie Canal which gave Wisconsin a passageway to the Atlantic.
When the Civil War broke out in the 1860s, 91,000 volunteers from Wisconsin joined the Union army. The most famous Wisconsin unit was the Iron Brigade. It was made up of multiple infantry regiments. Gen. George McClellan gave the brigade their nickname when he saw them bravely advancing under heavy fire saying, “They must be made of iron.”
As the men in Wisconsin went off to fight, women stepped into traditionally male roles. They worked as nurses, farmers, factory workers, and even disguised themselves as men and joined the army.
By the end of the Civil War, around 96,000 people from Wisconsin served in the War; 12,216 of them died.
Post-Civil War History
After the Civil War, Wisconsin citizens got back to improving their lives and the economy. Education became a focus of the state. The Platteville Normal School opened in 1866, and still operates as the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. In 1875 the state enacted a free high school law. In the same year, the State Industrial School for Women opened.
Agriculture and the dairy industries also grew in this period. In 1872, the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association was founded. In 1877, John Appleby invented a machine that would bind bundles of grain which helped automate agricultural processes. The Wisconsin government recognized the importance of the agricultural industry and instituted the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Wisconsin in 1883. Only three years later in 1886, The University created a short course in agriculture.
In the early 1900s, European immigrants arrived in droves. Their combined cultures influenced the political climate of the state; although there was a great deal of suspicion and hostility aimed at German-Americans during the two World Wars.
In the mid-1900s, Wisconsin residents participated in Civil Rights protests, and some strides were made in resolving discriminatory practices. For example, In 1965, a state law was put in place to prohibit discrimination in housing.
Doctors in Wisconsin pioneered change. A geneticist at the University of Wisconsin, Joshua Lederberg, won the Nobel Prize for medicine. In 1968, the first heart transplant was performed at St Luke’s Hospital in Madison. The same year, the first bone marrow transplant between non-related people was performed at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
In the 1990s, women began to hold many offices in the legislature, where policy makers worked on health care reform, welfare, education, civil rights, workforce development, and prison reform.
People Also Ask...
If you are interested in more information about the state of Wisconsin, then keep reading — we have compiled answers to the most common FAQs below. Plus, test your newfound state knowledge by taking our quiz on Largest U.S. States by Area! Additionally, see how cranberries grow or learn more about the Great Lakes.
What Famous People Come From Wisconsin?
Wisconsin was home to many famous people, including illusionist Harry Houdini, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, actors Chris Farley, Orson Welles, and Mark Ruffalo, artist Georgia O’Keeffe and author Laura Ingalls Wilder.
What Are the Top 3 Things Wisconsin Is Known For?
Wisconsin is known for its cranberries! The state produces 60% of the cranberries in the U.S. Second, Wisconsin is also the producer of 95% of U.S. ginseng. The third product Wisconsin is known for is paper and paper products. Green Bay is the toilet paper capital of the world. As a bonus, Wisconsin is known for its cheese and other dairy products. Wisconsin dairies produce around 600 varieties of cheese.
Is Wisconsin a Good Place To Live?
Wisconsin is a good place to live, especially if you want to live in the Midwest, due to the overall low cost of living and high quality of life. There is fun to be had outdoors in every season from summer hiking and watersports to ice fishing in the winter. Educational possibilities abound with the University of Wisconsin’s 26 different campuses.
Selected famous natives and residents:
- Don Ameche actor;
- Roy Chapman Andrews naturalist and explorer;
- Walter Annenberg media tycoon and philanthropist;
- Lynda Barry cartoonist, author;
- Carrie Catt woman suffragist;
- John R. Commons economist;
- Tyne Daly actress;
- August Derleth author;
- Jeanne Dixon seer;
- Zona Gale novelist;
- Eric Heiden skater;
- Woody Herman band leader;
- Hildegarde singer;
- Harry Houdini magician;
- Colin Kaepernick NFL quarterback;
- Hans V. Kaltenborne journalist;
- Pee Wee King singer;
- George F. Kennan diplomat;
- Robert La Follette politician;
- William D. Leahy admiral;
- Liberace pianist;
- Charles Litel actor;
- Allen Ludden TV host;
- Alfred Lunt actor;
- Frederic March actor;
- Jackie Mason comedian;
- John Ringling North circus director;
- Pat O'Brien actor;
- Georgia O'Keeffe painter;
- Charlotte Rae actress;
- William H. Rehnquist jurist;
- Gena Rowlands actress;
- Paul Ryan politican;
- Tom Snyder newscaster;
- Peter Straub author;
- Spencer Tracy actor;
- Thorstein Veblen economist;
- Orson Welles actor and producer;
- Laura Ingalls Wilder author;
- Thornton Wilder author;
- Charles Winninger actor;
- Frank Lloyd Wright architect.
 Wisconsin.gov. (2023). State Symbols. Wisconsin.Gov Wisconsin For Kids. https://www.wisconsin.gov/Pages/WisconsinforKids.aspx
 Wisconsin’s name: Where it came from and what it means. Wisconsin Historical Society. (2013, February 12). https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS3663
 Cubit. (2022). Wisconsin cities by population. Wisconsin Demographics by Cubit. https://www.wisconsin-demographics.com/cities_by_population
 Wisconsin: Population by race and ethnicity 2021. Statista. (2023, June 2). https://www.statista.com/statistics/595110/wisconsin-population-ethnicity-race/
 Quick Facts: Wisconsin. United States Census Bureau. (2022, July 1). https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/WI
 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. (n.d.). Lake Winnebego. Lake Winnebago. https://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/lakepages/LakeDetail.aspx?wbic=131100&page=facts
 University of Wisconsin - Madison. (2023, June 8). Wisconsin geography trivia. State Cartographer’s Office. https://www.sco.wisc.edu/wisconsin/geography/
 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. (n.d.). About Wisconsin’s Great Lakes. About Wisconsin’s Great Lakes | Lake Michigan and Lake Superior | Wisconsin DNR. https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/GreatLakes/Learn.html
 Person. (2023, May 30). Major landforms of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/5ab43153ca734507a703bb900a0365cc
 Wisconsin. Data USA. (2023b). https://datausa.io/profile/geo/wisconsin
 McCollum, M. (2017, December 16). Wisconsin leads the nation in these 5 exports. Wisconsin Public Radio. https://www.wpr.org/wisconsin-leads-nation-these-5-exports
 Letzing, R. (2018). Wisconsin legislator briefing book 2019-20. Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/lc/briefing_book/ch01_structure_government.pdf
 Tribal Nations of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2022, December 2). https://dpi.wi.gov/amind/tribalnationswi
 University of Wisconsin - Madison. (2023). Ethnic groups in Wisconsin: Historical background. Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies. https://mki.wisc.edu/ethnic-groups-in-wisconsin-historical-background/#top
 Finstad, K. (2023). 20 fun facts about Wisconsin: Travel Wisconsin. TravelWisconsin. https://www.travelwisconsin.com/article/tours/20-things-you-may-not-have-known-about-wisconsin
 Miller, C. I. (1988). Introduction to Wisconsin Indians: Prehistory to statehood. Sheffield Publishing Co.
 Warnecke, N. (Ed.). (2021). Wisconsin Blue Book 2021-2022. Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.
 Wisconsin’s involvement in the Civil War. Wisconsin Historical Society. (2012, August 14). https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS3355