The land of cheese, lakes, beer, cheese, beer cheese, rabid football fans, cranberries, cheese, political polarization, and cheese.
Wisconsin is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States, and is often considered to be the "archetypal" Midwestern state, bordering Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. With a population of around 5.9 million as of 2020, it's the 20th most populous and 25th largest state by area. Its capital is Madison in the south-central area of the state, while its largest city is Milwaukee on the shore of Lake Michigan. Other major cities include Green Bay, La Crosse, and Eau Claire.
Wisconsin takes its name from the Wisconsin River that bisects the state from north to south; the etymology of the word has been lost, but it was first recorded by French explorers as "Meskousing" which later morphed into Wisconsin. It's been the traditional home of many Native American nations for millennia, and was notably the northern terminus of the pre-contact Mississippian civilization that produced many famous mound sites throughout the Midwest. France claimed it as part of New France until the Seven Years' War ended in 1763, at which point Great Britain took possession of it. Great Britain in turn lost it to the newly independent United States twenty years later after The American Revolution. The War of 1812 brought warfare to the area once again, as the British and Tecumseh's Confederacy easily took control of the still sparsely populated area. It was returned to the United States after the 1815 Treaty of Ghent, but the US struggled to actually establish control until the white settler population reached critical mass. The Wisconsin Territory was established in 1836, and most of it was admitted to the Union as the 30th state in 1848. After statehood, it saw vast growth and changes in economy and population — Wisconsin was a major magnet for immigration from Germany and Scandinavia, and mining, dairy, timber, and manufacturing all became important industries. Like much of the Midwest, it suffered greatly from the decline of manufacturing and the steel industry, but has seen vibrant economic growth in the 21st century, especially in urban areas.
Wisconsin today is noted for several things. Among them:
- Dairy farming. Wisconsin cheese especially is famous throughout the country for its quality and variety, and cheese curds are a popular local snack. If you play a word association game with your average American and say "Wisconsin," you'd be safe betting your money on them saying "cheese." While not as pronounced as the dairy industry, Wisconsin also consistently produces more than 50% of the entire United States' cranberry harvests every year. The Ocean Spray Cranberry Company calls this state home.
- Nigh-unpronounceable town names, which have many linguistic origins reflecting the diverse history of the state. Some stand-outs include Oconomowocnote , Manitowocnote , Eau Clairenote , Weyauweganote , Shawanonote and Waupunnote . Teasing tourists with their inability to pronounce these towns is a popular sport.
- A strong and rich Native American cultural presence despite their relatively small percentage of the population. The Ho-Chunk (formerly known as the Winnebago, an exonym given to them by the Potawatomi), Menominee, Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Oneida Nations are the largest in the state; others include the Potawatomi and the Brothertown Indians. Former tribes which were once populous in Wisconsin include the Kickapoo, the Fox (Meskwaki) and Sauk (French 'Sac') Nations as well. The Oneida and Brothertown nations actually originate further east (there's still a large Oneida presence in Western New York), having been resettled there by US authorities as "recompense" for their "migration" to make way for white settlers. This provoked conflict with the Native Americans who were already there, obviously, leaving enmity that still rears its head sometimes. Today, many of them operate casinos and sponsor cultural events.
- A religiously devoted football fanbase dedicated to the Green Bay Packers. Despite its microscopic size in terms of NFL cities, Green Bay has held firmly onto the Packers, probably related to them being the only team in the league that is partially publicly owned. Lambeau Field could rightly be called a "temple of football", especially since its renovation in 2010s; the stadium can hold over 80,000 people, almost three quarters of the population of the city. Getting tickets to Packers games is known to be nigh-on impossible, and season ticket holders regularly bequeath them in their wills. Milwaukee has two pro sports teams, the Brewers (baseball) and the Bucks (basketball), but neither inspires the kind of loyalty that the Packers do.
- The University of Wisconsin system, especially its flagship campus in Madison; the latter alone hosts more than 45,000 students. The university system is one of the most well-regarded in the country, or indeed the world.
- Lakes, woods, and lakes in the woods, which are popular tourist destinations. Particularly famous is Door County, which occupies the Door Peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. The county actually bans most large chain businesses north of Sturgeon Bay, the county seat, which attracts tourists due to the "small town feel" of the area and provides much-needed income for small business owners. Door County is also well known for its cherries and wine.
- Eclectic politics, being practically the poster boy of the term "swing state". High-profile Wisconsin politicians have ranged from strong progressives like Bob La Follette or Tammy Baldwin, and stark conservatives like Ron Johnson and Joseph McCarthy. In addition, the first official meeting of the Republican Party was held in Ripon, while some political historians claim modern liberalism originated from Madison. Then there's also the fact that Milwaukee is the only city in the country to have elected three socialist mayors. This fickle political nature, along with its relatively high electoral vote count, make Wisconsin an absolute bloodbath every election cycle; during election seasons, especially presidential ones, locals quickly grow weary of the ceaseless TV ads, billboards, and political junk mail.
- Unbearably cold winters, as a result of the geographic region. The combination of the northern hemisphere's east-pushing winds from the arctic circle and a lack of major bodies of water to the west of the state means that the region itself is often subjected to blisteringly cold temperatures, extreme dry winds, and other weather phenomena that often leaves the region colder than the Arctic Circle. Compiled weather data since the 1950s firmly averages Madison as the coldest city in the country, followed by Anchorage, Alaska, followed by Minneapolis on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, and then Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, the state can broadly be broken down into the following regions:
- Greater Madison, situated on four lakes — Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Kegonsa, and Lake Waubesa. The home of the state government and the aforementioned UW-Madison, much of the state's economic growth in recent years has been concentrated here.
- Greater Milwaukee, which includes the state's fourth-largest city of Kenosha. Greater Milwaukee itself might well be called an offshoot of Greater Chicago (much to Milwaukeeans' eternal chagrin). Formerly a major industrial center, Milwaukee took the worst of the manufacturing decline but has slowly rebounded. Racial segregation and concentration of poverty remain persistent problems, however.
- The Fox Valley, a cluster of towns and small cities sitting along the Fox River as it flows north from Lake Winnebago until it empties into Green Bay at, well, Green Bay. Other major Fox Valley settlements include Oshkosh, Appleton, Neenah, and Menasha. Door County is strongly attached to Green Bay and is often considered under this umbrella as well.
- The West is, well, the western region of the state, which is much more sparsely populated than the east. As a cultural region, it's predominantly centered on the cities of Eau Claire and La Crosse, both of which are college towns hosting UW campuses. Mostly agricultural, you might think you were in Iowa if you woke up here after falling asleep on the bus.
- The North Woods, the vast, sparsely populated northern interior. Few people live here year-round (due less to the physical environs and more to the lack of decent-paying jobs and any industry other than the slowly-dwindling timber/forestry and papermaking industries), but many families have cabins and cottages in the area and it's bustling and busy with boaters, fishermen, swimmers, and hikers during tourist season. The very northwestern region is actually mostly part of the Duluth, Minnesota metro area.
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