Wisconsin boasts some curious, random and downright hard-to-believe facts. For instance, did you know the state is home to a “Malibu of the Midwest”? Can you guess the county that produces nearly all of the country’s supply of ginseng? If you already thought Wisconsin was interesting, we’re just getting started! Read on:
- The first kindergarten classes in the U.S. were held in Watertown in 1856 at the home of a German couple. Plan your visit and step back in time to an early class still in session.
- The first ever ice cream sundae was served in Two Rivers, Wisconsin in 1881. Stop in for a sweet treat at the birthplace itself at The Washington House.
- During the summer, the population of Door County reaches ten times the number of year-round residents. (28,000 vs. 250,000)
- The term “cheesehead” actually started as a term the German soldiers used to insult the Dutch during World War II. These days, the term is used in a bit more endearing way to describe cheese-lovin’ Wisconsites. The first cheesehead was worn at a Brewers game, not a Packers game, and was a couch cushion with holes burned in the foam and painted yellow.
- Celebrities rumored to be Packers fans include: Lil Wayne, Harry Styles, Larry the Cable Guy, Erin Andrews, Ryan Reynolds, David Ortiz, Shawn Johnson, Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Timberlake. Maybe you’ll spot one of them moseying around Lambeau!
- Marathon County produces nearly all of the ginseng grown in the U.S. and about 10 percent of the world’s supply. There’s even an international festival in September to give you an up-close look at the process and a chance to taste foods and drinks incorporating the product.
- Barbie hails from the fictional town of Willows, Wis. For the collector and doll aficionado, a day at the Fennimore Doll & Toy Museum may be in order.
- Soviet satellite Sputnik IV fell out of orbit in 1962 and while most of it burned up on re-entry, a 20-pound piece of debris crashed to the ground in Manitowoc. The original piece of Sputnik was returned to the Soviets but the Rahr-West Art Museum has a replica of it on display and Manitowoc celebrates Sputnikfest each September.
- Although Warrens only has 400 residents, it draws 100,000 visitors each September for the world’s largest cranberry festival (and Wisconsin produces 60 percent of the nation’s cranberries!).
- Wisconsin’s state symbol, the badger, doesn’t refer to the animal but instead to the 1820s lead miners who traveled for work and dug tunnels to sleep in and keep warm, much like a badger. Celebrate the name on gameday with the UW-Madison Wisconsin Badgers!
- Famous names that hail from Wisconsin include Kurtwood Smith, Harry Houdini (visit The History Museum at the Castle), Frank Lloyd Wright, Chris Farley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Orson Welles, Laura Ingalls Wilder (there’s a museum devoted to her life here!), Liberace, Mark Ruffalo, Les Paul and Frank Caliendo.
- Wisconsin banned the sale and use of margarine from 1895 to 1967, and while the ban was lifted, some restrictions on margarine remain today. It’s still illegal for a restaurant to serve margarine as a butter substitute unless the customer specifically requests it.
- Wisconsin’s name comes from the Wisconsin River, which was called Meskousing by the Algonquian-speaking tribes. The name was recorded in 1673 by French explorer Jacques Marquette. Over time, the word was Anglicized into Ouisconsin, Wiskonsan and finally into its current spelling and pronunciation. Linguists think the original name must have been borrowed from the Miami word “meskonsing” which translates to “it lies red” or “this stream meanders through something red”, likely referring to the sandstone formations in the Wisconsin River.
- The Onion, arguably the most famous news satire organization, was humbly started by two University of Wisconsin-Madison students, Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson, in 1988.
- Thirty percent of the state’s population lives in the five-county metropolitan area around Milwaukee.
- The coldest temperature ever recorded in Wisconsin is -55 degrees Fahrenheit in Sawyer County in 1996. (That’s without wind chill, folks.)
- The largest wooly mammoth ever excavated was found in Kenosha, and a replica can be viewed at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
- Freshwater surfers know Sheboygan as the “Malibu of the Midwest”. Peak surf season, however, takes place between September and March…brrr!
- The first ever Flag Day was celebrated in Ozaukee County.
- “On, Wisconsin” was first said by Arthur MacArthur, Jr. in the Battle of Chattanooga at Missionary Ridge during the Civil War.
How many of these did you already know? Share your surprising Wisconsin facts with us below!
Kristen Finstad is a member of the Discover Wisconsin crew. Growing up in River Falls, attending UW-Stevens Point and now living in Madison, she’s a Wisconsin girl through and through. She enjoys nothing more than catching a Packers, Brewers or Badgers game, indulging in a cheese curd or 12, and traveling from corner to corner of this great state. (Twitter: @DiscoverWI)