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Wisconsin State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1634—French-Canadian Jean Nicolet lands on the shore of Green Bay

1763—England gains control of Wisconsin

1783—Wisconsin becomes part of the United States

1832—The Black Hawk War

1836—Congress creates the Wisconsin Territory

1848—Wisconsin becomes the 30th state

1854—The Republican Party is formed in Ripon

1871—The Peshtigo Fire kills almost 1,200 people

1904—The Progressive Era begins, as Robert La Follette becomes governor

1932—Wisconsin passes the first state unemployment-compensation act

The Winnebago, Menominee, and Dakota Indians lived in Wisconsin when the first French explorer arrived in 1634.  Jean Nicolet landed along the shore of Green Bay while striving to reach China from French Canada.  Fur traders and missionaries arrived about 25 years later.

The French and Indian Wars (1689-1763) were fought between France and Great Britain for claim to American land.  In 1763, Britain received all French territory east of the Mississippi River, including Wisconsin.  In 1774, the Quebec Act gave the Wisconsin region to Quebec.  This along with restricted trade and rising taxes caused the American Revolutionary War.  At the end of this war in 1783, all territory east of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes became the United States of America.

Miners began settling southwestern Wisconsin after the discovery of lead ore during the 1820s.  Native Americans fought to keep their lands in a series of battles called the Black Hawk War of 1832.  When the war ended, only about 150 Indians remained.  Without the threat of Indian raids, thousands of settlers moved into Wisconsin.  On May 29, 1848, Wisconsin became the 30th state of the Union.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  This act allowed settlers of the two states to decide the question of slavery in their state.   Many Wisconsinites opposed slavery and held a meeting to protest the possibility of slavery within the new states.  This meeting in Ripon, led to the foundation of the Republican Party.

Several men from Wisconsin fought for the Union during the Civil War.  After the war ended in 1865, slavery was completely abolished.  In 1871, disaster hit northeastern Wisconsin.  The Peshtigo forest fire killed about 1,200 people, completely destroying the town of Peshtigo and part of Michigan.

By the early 1900s, the lumber industry flourished in Wisconsin.  New companies opened in the state, creating furniture, wagons, and paper products.  Robert M. La Follette was chosen governor and formed a new political party, the Progressive Party.  He helped to set a minimum wage and state pensions for workers.  He also adopted regulation of railroad rates and services.

Philip F. La Follette, son to Robert, became governor during the Great Depression (1929-1939).  He helped create jobs by expanding roads throughout the state.  Wisconsin became the first state to pay unemployment during this time.

During the mid-1900s, Wisconsin’s economy shifted importance from agriculture to manufacturing.  Farm prices rose while dairy products decreased in demand.  Many lost their jobs as dairy farms and cheese factories closed.  New improved farm equipment also replaced many workers who left to find work in the cities.

During the 1960s, money needed for education and state programs such as welfare brought an increase in state taxes, and the first sales tax in Wisconsin.  New state legislature passed laws establishing possible fines and imprisonment for misconduct on school campuses. 

Recently, manufacturing continues to be strong in Wisconsin.  Agriculture also remains important to its economy.  Industries related to the farming industry such as farm research, dairy equipment, and food preparation are expanding within the state.  Welfare reform occurred during the 1990s, but problems still remain with increasing needs in education, welfare, and pollution control.