Welcome to our "Innovators" page where we showcase the innovative and creative people who help make the tourism industry in Wisconsin great. We've even thrown in some fun places that help define our State.
Dan and Deb Carey
To start their business, Deb raised the capital as a gift to her husband, Dan, and established herself as the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States. Together, the Carey’s have developed an award-winning business whose honors include “Small Brewer of the Year,” “Mid Size Brewer of the Year” and the “Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing.” With flavors like “Moon Man,” “Snowshoe” and “Fat Squirrel,” how could you not give them a try?
Sid CookWisconsin artisan cheese is what Sid Cook, owner and operator of Carr Valley Cheese, is all about. The company, more than 100 years old, is nestled amongst the rolling hills and lush pastures of central Wisconsin. In the past three years alone, Carr Valley cheeses have won more than 60 top awards in U.S. and international competitions, many of them Sid's one-of-a-kind American Originals – artisan cheeses you won't find made anywhere else in the world. You must try their Aged Cheddar and Cocoa Cardona. Way to curd, Sid!
The Ko Thi Dance Company in Milwaukee was founded in 1969 by Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker, a native of Sierra Leone, West Africa. The Company is a unique ensemble comprised of artists trained in the history, mythology and techniques of art forms within the African diaspora. Caulkers, and those in the Company, are dedicated to the preservation and performance of traditional African-American and Caribbean dance and drumming. In 1990 Ko-Thi became an artistic affiliate of the UWM School of the Arts.
Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko
Lisa and John have been “cheeseheads” since 1996. Both are writers and authors, most recently of the award-winning book, ECOpreneuring. The couple is involved with various organizations like the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) as well as innkeepers of Inn Serendipity B&B, completely powered by the wind and sun. They operate a “carbon negative” business where more carbon dioxide is taken out of the environment than put in by their business and personal lifestyle each year.
Saddened by the Red Sox failure to cut the mustard against the Mets in the 1986 World Series, Barry Levenson turned a cliché into lifelong therapy. The former Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General turned all his attention to making a case for this condiment and hit a homerun in 1992 by establishing the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb. Though the museum has changed its name to the National Mustard Museum and has moved into a veritable palace in downtown Middleton, it still features more than 4,400 mustards and hundreds of items of mustard memorabilia.
Don and Donna Justin
Donna Justin and her husband Don own and operate Justin Trails Resort. Located in Sparta, the eco-friendly bed and breakfast was originally built in 1920 by Don’s grandparents and has undergone a number of updates. However, the Justin’s are proud to say the remodeling has “maintained the small footprint” of the original building. Among its “green” amenities: energy efficient windows, a remodeled chicken coop used for massages and small meetings, space for “natural” sports like hiking, dog sledding and cross-country skiing.
Big Top Chautauqua
Big Top Chautauqua is one of the nation’s most revered tented theater troupes. Here, visitors can watch musicals, tent show radio, concerts and plays all performed under a canvas tent with seating for 900 and stellar views of the night sky upon exit. Since its first performance in 1986, Big Top has served up an impressive roster of renowned national regional and touring musicians. However, its Big Top’s original historical musical theater featuring all-time favorites as “Riding the Wind” and “The 30th Star: The Wisconsin Musical” that has captured the spirit and history of the state and its people.
Judy and Cal Larson own Larson’s Famous Clydesdales, a down home family ranch in Ripon where hard work pays off. The Larson’s six-horse hitch of Clydesdales has won a ton of awards including a National Championship. Guests are invited to the Ranch for a guided tour and a spectacular show. This unique place has been named one of the top agricultural tourist attractions in the state.
Fred Smith and Wisconsin Concrete Park
When self-taught artist Fred Smith built Wisconsin Concrete Park, he had regular people in mind “… it’s for all American people everyone. They need something like this.” Considered one of America's most unique displays of folk art, Wisconsin Concrete Park features more than 200 figures sculpted of concrete depicting historical and legendary heroes including Ben Hur, the Lincolns, Sacajawea and Paul Bunyan. The concrete figures are decorated with glass and a variety of objects. The exhibit is located right on the side of the road not in museum. Just the way Fred wanted it.
Jane and Rick Klopic
The Fireside Dinner Theatre, located in Fort Atkinson, has been in the Klopic family since its creation in 1964. Ownership has been passed down from generation to generation and was passed to Rick in 1998. Along with his wife Jane, their son Ryan and his wife Kristi, the Klopics carry on the tradition of family hospitality and excellence. The Fireside Dinner Theatre is one of the Midwest’s most popular entertainment destinations and the only Actor’s Equity dinner theatre in Wisconsin.
The father of modern environmental ethics, wildlife management and wilderness preservation, Aldo Leopold honed his land ethic in a worn-out Wisconsin farm which the family restored to a forest of dreams. The Shack, a re-built chicken coop along the Wisconsin River where Leopold and his family stayed during weekend retreats, inspired many of the essays in the conservation classic, A Sand County Almanac. And now they come – young and old – to celebrate his land ethic at the famous Leopold Shack in central Wisconsin and at the Leopold Legacy Center northeast of Baraboo.
A bum leg and love of outdoor winter sports prompted Carl Eliason to create his one-of-a-kind “motor toboggan,” which led to the 1927 patent of what we now call the snowmobile. The invention helped the resident of snowy Sayner in Vilas County to not only keep up, but sometimes beat, his hunting companions to the best spots.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Known for loving the lay of the land, Frank Lloyd Wright’s nature-inspired architecture and interior design is known worldwide. Also a writer, educator and philosopher this Richland Center-born overachiever designed more than 1,000 projects, of which more than 500 resulted in completed works, including Wisconsin’s Taliesin, Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, Seth Peterson Cottage, S.C. Johnson Wax Administration Building, plus many others.
Mother Earth’s protecting father, Gaylord Nelson, hailed from Clear Lake in the very heart of America and Northwest Wisconsin, and went to to become the founder of Earth Day. The Democratic State Senator, three-term U.S. senator and 35th governor of Wisconsin, was honored by naming a national treasure for him – The Gaylord Nelson Wilderness area within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The famous image of his son leaping a chasm from one towering sandstone bluff to another in Wisconsin Dells literally shows how Wisconsin photographer Henry Hamilton Bennett pushed the then-emerging art of photography to a new plateau. Known as the father of modern photography, H.H. Bennett’s ability to capture the haunting geological beauty nature has etched on the landscape drew tourists to the Wisconsin Dells and set the bar for landscape photography so high even Ansel Adams strained to reach it.
The founders of Harley-Davidson, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, put their heads together in a tiny shed trying to make a fast motorcycle. Miraculously their experiment with internal combustion did not burn down the shed. That was more than 100 years ago and today the Harley-Davidson motorcycle remains the ultimate symbol of rebellion. With a new museum in Milwaukee, there is at last a permanent destination for pilgrimages by the loyal followers who own the open road thanks to their Harleys.
Every soul yearns for the “great escape,” but none more than Appleton’s Harry Houdini, who pushed the limits in his quest for the ultimate illusion as a magician, escapologist and stunt performer. A fascinating man in nearly every aspect, Houdini flew airplanes and held a 1921 patent for an underwater diving suit he designed. The amazing man from Appleton died on Oct. 31, 1926, from complications of a burst appendix at age 52. His life and illusions are immortalized at his famous museum in Appleton.
- Harry Houdini
An impeccably designed faucet, bathtub or kitchen sink has every likelihood of having originated in Wisconsin, thanks to the Kohler Company. Coming to the Sheboygan area from Austria in 1873, the Kohler family and its company is currently headed by Herbert Vollrath Kohler. Under his leadership, the company has dramatically diversified, creating nationally acclaimed golf courses at his American Club Resort in the city that bears his last name. These courses have been the site of the PGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open, The U.S. Senior Open and the Ryder Cup.
John Muir’s love of nature evolved as he struggled to tame the prairie on his family’s fledgling Fountain Lake Farm where they emigrated from Scotland when young John was just 11 years old, in 1849. Influenced by his youthful explorations of that post-glacial landscape and its ancient history, and his studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Muir’s views remain the blueprint for modern conservation and led him to become co-founder of The Sierra Club and the “father of the National Parks Service.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Wisconsin girl from root to tassel, Laura Ingalls Wilder was born near Pepin in 1867. Her chronicling of childhood in what was then the wilds of Wisconsin became the classic children’s book, “Little House in the Big Woods.” You can still visit her log home during Pepin’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Days.
Today’s rock ‘n rollers know him by the instrument bearing his name: Jazz guitarist Les Paul, father of the solid-body electric guitar, was born and raised in Waukesha. The characteristic sound and electric amplification that are the hallmark of rock and roll might never have happened without him. Milwaukee’s Discovery World has a Les Paul's House of Sound exhibit, which runs through December 31, 2009, where you can “play” a virtual jam session with the master himself.
Women, beauty and the desire to win their favor has been said to launch ships, but in Waukesha County, it inspired the first commercial outboard motor. Norway native Ole Evinrude was chagrined when the ice cream cone he’d been sent to fetch for his girlfriend melted during the return trip by rowboat. He later co-founded the Milwaukee custom engine firm Clemick & Evinrude.
Fans of Chicago sports called Wisconsin fans "cheeseheads" as an insult. Milwaukeean Ralph Bruno turned that cheesy comment into big business, fashioning the now infamous cheesehead hat out of polyurethane foam. By the end of the 1987 season, the wedge-shaped hats had become a Wisconsin fan’s slice of heaven. The color of cheddar with Swiss cheese holes, the cheesehead hats are gouda with Wisconsin.
For all the water that was to follow, it’s amusing to note that Stan Anderson’s concept for the country’s first indoor waterpark was sketched out on a napkin. In this case, the mother of invention was Mother Nature herself and the simple reality that Wisconsin has long winters with lots of time to fill. Anderson conceived of the idea of putting a roof over a water attraction after attending an amusement park convention in the south. He retuned home to Wisconsin Dells and weather-proofed that particular attraction at his Polynesian Resort. Today, he’s widely considered the “Father of the Indoor Water Park,” having turned winter into summer, an idea that caught on like indoor plumbing.
Milwaukee native Thomson Bartlett touched the lives of more than 50 million (and counting) with his water ski show, including wartime soldiers in the Far East. A radio broadcaster by trade, Bartlett caught the water ski fever in 1949. He brought his traveling show to Wisconsin Dells in 1953 and never left. Today, the Tommy Bartlett Show is considered the longest-running, live outdoor entertainment show of its kind. Bartlett, at age 79, was inducted into the Water Ski Hall of Fame in Cypress Gardens, Florida. Ironically, he only ever water-skied once in his life – on his 70th birthday. Bartlett passed away in 1998 at the age of 84.
America’s party on Lake Michigan, Summerfest fills 12 stages with more than 800 national, regional and local acts in just 11 days. The "World's Largest Music Festival" draws nearly a million music lovers to revel in alternative, pop, hip-hop, classic rock, jazz, country, blues, Cajun/zydeco, alternative, soul and comedy. While there, nearly 50 area restaurants provide a plethora of culinary delights.
World Championship Snowmobile Derby
The World Championship Snowmobile Derby, held every January in northern Wisconsin, is the NASCAR for snowmobilers. More than 300 professional snowmobile racers, some from as far away as Japan, and 30,000 spectators converge in Wisconsin’s northwoods for one the largest gatherings of "sledders" in the world. Although snowmobile racing is nothing new to Vilas County, where the snowmobile was invented, Eagle River is where Wisconsin first caught the sports world’s eye as a beacon for competitive recreational snowmobiling.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
The windswept beaches and cliffs formed by centuries of Lake Superior waves crashing against ancient shores is captured and preserved in the 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland that comprise this treasure that is now part of the National Parks Service. The area is a unique blend of cultural and natural resources, where the original Native Americans and pioneering settlers grew together in peace, awe and respect of nature’s beauty. Lighthouses still guide the way along Lake Superior’s wilderness areas, where visitors can hike, paddle, sail, or cruise to experience these Jewels of Lake Superior, often accessed via Bayfield, also known as the “Gateway to the Apostle Islands.”
From the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board we bring you this tutorial on cheese curds: Invented in the Dairy State, curds are peanut-sized pieces of fresh Cheddar cheese in their natural, random shape before being processed into blocks and aged. They have to be very fresh to be really good, so that means they don't go far from home. In the first few hours, they “squeak” when you bite into them. Purists like them just as they are, although deep-fried in beer batter (but of course) is very popular too.
Circus World Museum
Run away and explore the circus – the Greatest Show on Earth. Wisconsin nurtured some of the best known acts under the Big Top, including the seven brothers who created the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1884 in Baraboo. The Circus World Museum preserves the legacy of The Ringling Brothers, with the real stars today being the world’s largest collection of antique restored circus wagons and amazing circus posters.
The Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh offers a unique service – valet parking for airplanes – during the annual EAA AirVenture show each summer. It’s the world's largest and most significant annual aviation event drawing more than 10,000 planes of every size, shape and description of aircraft from home-built and antique to military and space shuttles to Wisconsin. On the ground, aviation enthusiasts savor the opportunity to inspect planes close-up and watch daily flying exhibitions by expert pilots.
Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum
Stand in the mouth of a giant muskie and you’ll get hooked on fishing in Wisconsin. Hayward is the home of the largest muskie in the world, a four-story replica that houses the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame surrounded by a delightful array of larger-than-life freshwater fish. This must be where they hide the ones that get away.
House on the Rock
Decades ago, House on the Rock’s founder, Alex Jordan, created a serious tribute to the eccentric, collectible and eclectic – and what has become one of Wisconsin’s most visited attractions. This nearly indescribable place is an exclamation point on the beautiful terrain of Spring Green and a delightful tribute to the quirks of humanity and its inventions from swords and suits of armor to the world's largest carousel.
International Crane Foundation
The world-renowned International Crane Foundation research and refuge facility in Baraboo is the only place in the world where visitors can see all15 species of cranes. Established in 1973 by two Cornell University graduate students – George Archibald and Ron Sauey – on a farm owned by Sauey’s parents, the center is credited for guaranteeing the future of these lovely and rare creatures for future generations.
Lumberjack World Championships
Professional male and female lumberjacks and logrollers from around the world compete for the largest purse in lumberjack competition at this quintessential Wisconsin event. More than 12,000 spectators watch as participants compete in speed sawing, chopping events, pole climbing and logrolling. Saw-carving demonstrations add to the visual display, and spectators can get in on the fun by trying their hand at pole climbing and logrolling at the Paul Bunyan training camp.
Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field
Perhaps one of the most noticeable landmarks in the state, Lambeau Field has been home of the Green Bay Packers since 1957. After undergoing a dramatic facelift in 2003, Lambeau Field was transformed into a year-round destination featuring the Packers Pro Shop, the Packers Hall of Fame and Curly’s Pub. The facility is named after Earl “Curly” Lambeau who convinced Indian Packing Company to donate money to start the football team (This is where the team name “Packers” originated.) Today, the team remains the only NFL team to be owned by the public.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Balanced like a delicate white bird about to take flight over Lake Michigan, the unique mechanized architectural sculpture Santiago Calatrava designed as an addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum has forever changed the landscape of Milwaukee. Its iconic form is often the magnet that draws visitors to discover one of the Midwest’s most impressive and diversified collections of art inside. Those collections are in constant rotation with outstanding traveling exhibits that appeal to art lovers of all ages.
Mount Horeb Trollway
he Mount Horeb Trollway could easily be explained by the over-active imagination and occasional over-indulgence of the highly skilled (Irish) Troll Meister, Michael J. Feeney, who created them, but that would be too simple. Instead, there is a tale involving Norwegian troll wars and village expulsion resulting in harassment via troll carvings. In any case, the Trollway in Mount Horeb is dotted with the whimsical Norwegian gnomes in tribute to their mischievous nature for all to enjoy.
Photo credit: The Gardener Troll ©1993 Michael J. Feeney
Native American Pow Wows
Celebrate culture, celebrate seasons and life, learn about Native American people through the dances and songs of young and old at Wisconsin’s tribal pow wows. From harvest to competitive tribal dancing and drumming, a pow wow builds appreciation for tribal heritage and passes down culture from generation to generation. It’s also a social event among tribes, friends and travelers who want to experience a memorable, intricate and colorful occasion.
Subaru American Birkebeiner
Fondly known as the “Birkie,” the Subaru American Birkebeiner is the nation's largest and most prestigious cross-country ski marathon. Literally thousands of skiers from all over the world strive to conquer the 51-kilometer course from Cable to the city of Hayward each February. Now much more than the central race itself, the Birkie is a winter event including a shorter course 23-kilometer sister race the Kortelopet, short distance sprints for both elite and citizen skiers, the Jr. Birkie for teenagers, a children's and a 12-kilometer noncompetitive ski events.
U.S. Mail Boat Tour
While all mail carriers must deliver the mail in the rain, snow and dark of night, none face quite the same challenge as the mail carrier who has the Lake Geneva route. Mail carriers must leap off the deck of a moving boat, place the mail in the box on the pier, grab outgoing mail, and jump back on board. All while the ship never stops. The Lake Geneva Cruise Line’s popular U.S. Mailboat Tour delivers mail to 60 homes around the lake daily and provides a front row seat to the only marine mail delivery system of its kind in the country.
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw
Life doesn’t get any more authentic than tossing farm animal byproducts “for fun.” More than 1,000 competitors and 50,000 spectators gather each year for one of the most unique and hilarious state competitions in the country. Competitors from around the world take their shot at breaking the men's (Greg Neumaier, 248 feet) and women's (Terry Wallschlaeger, 157 feet, 6 inches) records. Anyone can get in on the fun, including kids– with their parent's permission of course.
A love affair with an Italian bisque angel discovered in Florida by Joyce and Lowell Berg was the impetus that began the world’s largest angel collection housed in St. Paul Catholic Church in Beloit. Today the Berg Collection numbers over 13,600 angels with over 11,000 on public display. Ranging from 1/8 inch to life-sized, the angels are made in over 100 different materials from fine porcelain to macaroni. The museum also features a collection of 600 black angels donated by Oprah Winfrey, who was given the angels by her fans.
At 1951.5 feet, nothing in the state tops Timm’s Hill. It is Wisconsin’s highest geographical point, nestled in the southeastern part of Price County near Ogema. Timm’s Hill County Park offers many scenic and recreational opportunities plus spectacular views of the surrounding glacial terrain, forests and lakes from atop the observation tower.