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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 (Slightly) Cheesy Facts About Wisconsin

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

In 1848, Wisconsin was admitted to the union as America's 30th state. Today it's known for its food, its football team, and its abundance of lakes, farms, and beer. Here are 25 facts that are sure to impress your favorite Cheesehead.

1. Wisconsin gets its name from the Wisconsin River, which was called Meskousing by the region’s Algonquian-speaking tribes.The first European explorer to reach the Wisconsin River was Frenchman Jacques Marquette, who recorded the name in 1673. Over time, the word was gradually Anglicized into its current spelling. Since linguists haven’t found an Algonquian word similar to the one Marquette wrote down, they think the Native peoples inhabiting the area must have borrowed the name from the Miami word meskonsing. This name translates to “it lies red,” and likely referred to the Wisconsin River’s red sandstone formations.

2. Wisconsin's official nickname is "The Badger State,” but not because the state's forests are teeming with the fuzzy woodland creatures. In the early 19th century, lead was discovered in the tiny town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Immigrants from Cornwall, England, settled in the region and dug mines. Some miners without homes lived in the tunnels during the winter months to keep warm, and their dwellings reminded people of badger holes. Today, the badger is proudly featured on Wisconsin's state flag and is also the official state animal.

3. Another unofficial nickname for Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland.” As of 2015, the state had a total of 10,290 licensed dairy farms. Together, they produced 13.5 percent of the nation’s milk and 25.4 percent of its cheese.

4. Thanks to its fertile farmland, Wisconsin’s agriculture industry generated $88.3 billion in economic activity in 2014. The state grows 60 percent of the nation’s cranberry crops, as well as a whopping 97 percent of its ginseng. It’s also an important producer of corn, green and snap peas, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cherries, and apples.

5. Milwaukee is known as “Brew City” because it was once home to four of the world’s biggest breweries: Miller, Pabst, Blatz, and Schlitz. Today, Wisconsin has a thriving craft brew scene, but the state’s only remaining large-scale brewery is Miller.

6. According to the Guinness World Records, Summerfest—an annual, 11-day music festival held along Lake Michigan’s shoreline in Milwaukee—is the world’s largest music festival. In 2015, the event drew 772,652 people.

7. Wisconsin’s state bird is the robin, its state flower is the wood violet, its state song is “On, Wisconsin,” and its state motto is the simple, yet powerful, “Forward.”

8. One of Wisconsin's most famous sons is Frank Lloyd Wright. The world-renowned architect was born in the small farming town of Richland Center, and later moved to Madison.

9. Although Wright dropped out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue employment in Chicago, he never forgot his prairie roots. Mid-career, Wright fell in love with a client's wife, Mamah Borthwick, and the two fled to Germany. Unable to return to Wright's longtime home of Oak Park, Illinois—where Borthwick's husband also lived— Wright constructed himself and his lover a new residence near his maternal grandparents' homestead in Spring Green, Wisconsin. He named the hillside estate Taliesin, and the two lived there for three years until tragedy struck. A house servant set the residence on fire; the conflagration killed seven individuals, including Borthwick and her two children.

Wright rebuilt Taliesin in Borthwick's memory. Despite threats of foreclosure and yet another fire, the architect lived and worked in the home for the remainder of his life. Today, it serves as a museum dedicated to Wright's life and career.

10. A long list of famous actors, writers, musicians, and artists were born in Wisconsin: Willem Dafoe, Chris Farley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Orson Welles, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Liberace, Gene Wilder, and Mark Ruffalo, among others.

11. Inventions from Wisconsin include the blender, the QWERTY keyboard layout, and—fittingly—a rapid beer-dispensing device called the TurboTap.

12. An economist named Edwin Witte, who worked as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, created the policies and legislation that comprised the 1935 Social Security Act. Today, he’s referred to as “the Father of Social Security.”

13. In 1988, two University of Wisconsin–Madison students named Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson created a satirical campus newspaper, The Onion. Over the years, the humble college publication has grown into one of the world’s most famous digital media companies, and probably the most famous news satire organization.

14. Wisconsin borders two Great Lakes: Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Although they don’t boast about it on license plates, the state also has at least as many inland lakes as Minnesota, if not more. All together, Wisconsin contains more than 11,188 square miles of water—a greater number than every other state apart from Alaska, Michigan, and Florida.

15. The Milwaukee Mile is a one-mile-long oval race track on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis, Wisconsin. The track has hosted at least one auto race every year since 1903, making it the world's oldest operating motor speedway.

16. The Green Bay Packers joined the National Football League a year after it was founded in 1920. Since then, they’ve won more NFL championships (13) than any other team in history. Thanks to this distinction, the city of Green Bay is unofficially known as “Titletown USA."

17. Although Wisconsin is filled with rolling farms and prairies, 30 percent of the state's entire population lived in the five-county metropolitan area around Milwaukee as of 2014.

18. Many Wisconsin residents love to hunt. In 2015, hunters killed a staggering 192,327 deer during the state's nine-day season.

19. Les Paul, famed guitarist and a pioneering inventor of the solid-body electric guitar, grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin as Lester William Polsfuss. When Polsfuss died in 2009, he was buried in the city's Prairie Home Cemetery.

20. Wisconsin has infamously chilly winters. On February 4, 1996, the village of Couderay in Sawyer County, Wisconsin, hit a record low of -55°F. To this day, it remains the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state.

21. Southern Wisconsin is filled with earthen burial mounds shaped like people and animals like birds, bears, and panthers. They were constructed by Native American tribes during the Late Woodland Period, and some are more than 1000 years old. Although thousands of effigy mounds remain in Wisconsin, 80 percent of them are thought to have been destroyed by urban development and farming practices.

22. In 1979, students from the University of Wisconsin–Madison stuck 1008 plastic pink flamingos in the grass in front of the dean’s office. In honor of their prank, the city council made the popular lawn ornament Madison's official bird in 2009.

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23. Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, is known as the "Troll Capital of the World." A large main street called the "Trollway" is peppered with large statues of the mythical creatures, and visitors can purchase troll memorabilia in gift stores. The unusual theme was inspired by Nordic folklore, as the town was once more than 75 percent Norwegian.

24. You can also find the "Toilet Paper Capital of the World" in Wisconsin. Green Bay is revered as the home of the first splinter-free toilet paper. The soft paper fabric was invented by Northern Paper, a precursor to Quilted Northern, in the 1930s.

25. Whimsical slang words from Wisconsin include woopensocker (anything that's extraordinary) and wapatuli (a homemade alcoholic drink).

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Instead of Lighting Fireworks, People in This Chinese Village Celebrate by Flinging Molten Iron
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Fireworks are a cultural symbol in China, but they weren't always easy to obtain. In a village in Yu County, China, people use a 500-year-old trick to achieve the same effect as fireworks with cheaper pyrotechnics.

This video from Great Big Story highlights the Chinese art of Da Shuhua, or splattering molten iron against walls to produce a fireworks-like shower of sparks. It started in the village of Nuanquan in the 16th century as a way for poor residents to imitate the expensive fireworks shows enjoyed by rich people in different parts of the country. Blacksmiths noticed that molten iron burst into dazzling sparks whenever it hit the ground and thought to recreate this phenomenon on a much larger scale. The townspeople loved it and began donating their scrap metal to create even grander displays.

Today, Da Shuhua is more than just a cheap alternative to regular fireworks: It's a cherished tradition to the people of Nuanquan. The village remains the only place in China to witness the art as it was done centuries ago—the people who practice it even wear the same traditional cotton and sheepskin garments to protect their skin from the 2900°F drops of metal flying through the air. As Wang De, who's been doing Da Shuhua for 30 years, says in the video below, "If you wear firefighter suits, it just doesn't feel right."

[h/t Great Big Story]

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Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Curie: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
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10 Radiant Facts About Marie Curie
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Curie: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Curie: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock

Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska in Poland in 1867, Marie Curie grew up to become one of the most noteworthy scientists of all time. Her long list of accolades is proof of her far-reaching influence, but not every stride she made in the fields of chemistry, physics, and medicine was recognized with an award. Here are some facts you might not know about the iconic researcher.

1. HER PARENTS WERE TEACHERS.

Maria Skłodowska was the fifth and youngest child of two Polish educators. Her parents placed a high value on learning and insisted all their children—even their daughters—receive a quality education at home and at school. Maria received extra science training from her father, and when she graduated from high school at age 15, she was first in her class.

2. SHE HAD TO SEEK OUT ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION FOR WOMEN.

After collecting her high school diploma, Maria had hoped to study at the University of Warsaw with her sister, Bronia. Because the school didn't accept women, the siblings instead enrolled at the Flying University, a Polish college that welcomed female students. It was still illegal for women to receive higher education at the time so the institution was constantly changing locations to avoid detection from authorities. In 1891 she moved to Paris to live with her sister, where she enrolled at the Sorbonne to continue her education.

3. SHE'S THE ONLY PERSON TO WIN NOBEL PRIZES IN TWO SEPARATE SCIENCES.

Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie, in 1902.
Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie, in 1902.
Agence France Presse, Getty Images

In 1903, Marie Curie made history when she won the Nobel Prize in physics with her husband, Pierre, and with physicist Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity, making her the first woman to receive the honor. The second Nobel Prize she took home in 1911 was even more historic. With that win in the chemistry category, she became the first person of any gender to win the award twice. She remains the only person to ever receive Nobel Prizes for two different sciences.

4. SHE ADDED TWO ELEMENTS TO THE PERIODIC TABLE.

The second Nobel Prize she received recognized her discovery and research of two elements: radium and polonium. The former element was named for the Latin word for "ray" and the latter was a nod to her home country, Poland.

5. NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING RUNS IN HER FAMILY.

Marie Curie's daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, circa 1940.
Marie Curie's daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, circa 1940.
Central Press, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

When Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, won their Nobel Prize in 1903, their daughter Irène was only 6 years old. She would grow up to follow in her parents' footsteps by jointly winning the Nobel Prize for chemistry with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, in 1935. They were recognized for their discovery of "artificial" radioactivity, a breakthrough made possible by Irène's parents years earlier. Marie and Pierre's other son-in-law, Henry Labouisse, who married their younger daughter, Ève Curie, accepted a Nobel Prize for Peace on behalf of UNICEF, of which he was the executive director, in 1965. This brought the family's total up to five.

6. SHE DID HER MOST IMPORTANT WORK IN A SHED.

The research that won Marie Curie her first Nobel Prize required hours of physical labor. In order to prove they had discovered new elements, she and her husband had to produce numerous examples of them by breaking down ore into its chemical components. Their regular labs weren't big enough to accommodate the process, so they moved their work into an old shed behind the school where Pierre worked. According to Curie, the space was a hothouse in the summer and drafty in the winter, with a glass roof that didn't fully protect them from the rain. After the famed German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald visited the Curies' shed to see the place where radium was discovered, he described it as being "a cross between a stable and a potato shed, and if I had not seen the worktable and items of chemical apparatus, I would have thought that I was been played a practical joke."

7. HER NOTEBOOKS ARE STILL RADIOACTIVE.

Marie Curie's journals
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When Marie was performing her most important research on radiation in the early 20th century, she had no idea the effects it would have on her health. It wasn't unusual for her to walk around her lab with bottles of polonium and radium in her pockets. She even described storing the radioactive material out in the open in her autobiography. "One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products[…] The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights."

It's no surprise then that Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia, likely caused by prolonged exposure to radiation, in 1934. Even her notebooks are still radioactive a century later. Today they're stored in lead-lined boxes, and will likely remain radioactive for another 1500 years.

8. SHE OFFERED TO DONATE HER MEDALS TO THE WAR EFFORT.

Marie Curie had only been a double-Nobel Laureate for a few years when she considered parting ways with her medals. At the start of World War I, France put out a call for gold to fund the war effort, so Curie offered to have her two medals melted down. When bank officials refused to accept them, she settled for donating her prize money to purchase war bonds.

9. SHE DEVELOPED A PORTABLE X-RAY TO TREAT SOLDIERS.

Marie Curie circa 1930
Marie Curie, circa 1930.
Keystone, Getty Images

Her desire to help her adopted country fight the new war didn't end there. After making the donation, she developed an interest in x-rays—not a far jump from her previous work with radium—and it didn't take her long to realize that the emerging technology could be used to aid soldiers on the battlefield. Curie convinced the French government to name her Director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and persuaded her wealthy friends to fund her idea for a mobile x-ray machine. She learned to drive and operate the vehicle herself and treated wounded soldiers at the Battle of the Marne, ignoring protests from skeptical military doctors. Her invention was proven effective at saving lives, and ultimately 20 "petite Curies," as the x-ray machines were called, were built for the war.

10. SHE FOUNDED CENTERS FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH.

Following World War I, Marie Curie embarked on a different fundraising mission, this time with the goal of supporting her research centers in Paris and Warsaw. Curie's radium institutes were the site of important work, like the discovery of a new element, francium, by Marguerite Perey, and the development of artificial radioactivity by Irène and Frederic Joliot-Curie. The centers, now known as Institut Curie, are still used as spaces for vital cancer treatment research today.

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