20 State Symbols of Wisconsin and the Stories Behind Them

Almost 22 Official Symbols of Wisconsin

Want to impress your friends with some real Wisconsin knowledge? Want to show them you know all about all the “official stuff” in our state?

Well you’re in luck. I’ve already done all the research for you! And it was actually pretty interesting.

Maybe I’m a nerd – but at least I’m a Wisconsinerd.

Here are 20 official state symbols of Wisconsin… and one that could become official soon.

After I learned more about the symbols that represent our state, I felt like I started to appreciate the world around me a little bit more. There are a lot of things we see everyday in Wisconsin, but we often take them for granted. The stories behind each official symbol makes you think twice about what Wisconsin has to offer.

Plus, they are a big part of your Wisconsin heritage, which should make you proud!

1. Wood Violet – State Flower

Wood Violet-Wisconsin State Symbol

A lot of people say the idea of electing “Official State Stuff” began at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

During that event, a group of women put together what they called the “National Garland of Flowers.” It featured a different flower to represent each of the 50 states, which each state had to select.

However, it took a long, long time for the wood violet to become official.

In 1908, Wisconsin’s state Superintendent, C.P. Cary, wanted to establish a flower to officially represent Wisconsin. As the state’s top educator, he decided to leave the decision up to Wisconsin school children. That year, the most popular flowers were in an election. It was between the violet, the wild rose, the trailing arbutus and the white water lily.

When 147,918 kids cast their vote on Arbor Day in 1909, the violet stuck out like a sore thumb. It scored 67,178 votes, which was more than twice the number the wild rose got in second place.

But even then – the title didn’t become truly official until Wisconsin’s Centennial in 1948. That’s when a number of items on this list became legally ratified symbols of our state.

Interesting Things About Wood Violets

You’ve probably spotted this wildflower in grasses along the highway – just six inches high at the most. Or even in your lawn and garden. Maybe you’ve even called them weeds. But did you know this wild plant is unique to only the northeastern parts of the country?

Violet leaves are edible and supposedly taste mighty delicious. They have three times as much vitamin C as oranges! They can be used in salads, to make candies and jelly or to thicken soups. But – it’s actually illegal to pick wildflowers in Wisconsin, so don’t let anyone catch you chowing down!

2. Sugar Maple – State Tree

Sugar Maple Tree - Wisconsin State Symbol

The Sugar Maple won a statewide vote by Wisconsin school children in 1893. Oak, pine and elm were close runners up during the election. But – like the violet – it took the sugar maple another 56 years to become the official state tree.

It was during Wisconsin’s centennial celebration, in 1948, that the Youth Centennial Committee organized another vote, which once again proved the sugar maple was the clear favorite. That’s when section 1.10 of the statutes was designated to Wisconsin state symbols.

Interesting things about maple trees

A maple tree makes the best sap for syrup, and it can produce a good 20 gallons of sap in springtime. Believe it or not, it takes about that much to equal a half gallon of real maple syrup! Its wood is also perfect for making fires. It’s easy to split, gives off a lot of heat and only makes a few sparks. And more than 50% of major league baseball players prefer bats made of maple.

There are so many reasons to love our state tree.  Especially because its red, orange and yellow leaves are one huge reason why we have such an awesome fall in Wisconsin!

3. Robin – State Bird

The Robin - Wisconsin Sate Symbol

Wisconsin children were also responsible for picking the American robin to be the state bird. That happened during the 1926-27 school year.

The state Federation of Women’s Clubs were sponsoring bird studies in Wisconsin public schools that year, so it was the perfect time to chose the bird. Votes for the robin doubled the rest of the birds.

But just like the violet and sugar maple, the robin didn’t become official until the centennial in 1948.

Interesting things about robins

You might think of spring as soon as you see a robin in Wisconsin.

That’s because it’s a migratory bird that only calls Wisconsin home during warmer months. They get here in spring and leave us by fall. I always love finding their little blue eggs!

4. Muskie – State Fish

Muskie - Wisconsin State Symbol

An effort to make the muskie the state fish in 1939 pretty much failed. But for some reason, in 1955, state lawmakers unanimously declared the muskie to be Wisconsin’s official fish. It must have taken 16 years to prove the muskie’s awesomeness.

Either that – or there happened to be a lot of fisherman serving in state government in 1939!

Interesting things about muskies

Did you know the muskie’s full name is muskellunge? I didn’t! You can find them in 711 lakes and 83 rivers in northern Wisconsin.

The muskie is one of the most unique, highly valued and sought after trophy fish in Wisconsin. We hold the most world records for big muskies. The largest-ever is currently set at 69 lbs 11 oz.

But a guy from Green Bay may have caught an even BIGGER muskie and released it. Read the story and see a picture on Field & Stream about the possible world record that can now never be confirmed.

Instead of “the one that got away,” this was “the one that got let go.”

5. Badger – State Animal

Badger - Wisconsin State Symbol

In 1957, four Jefferson County elementary school kids were reading a historical society publication and  discovered the badger was never officially documented as Wisconsin’s state animal – even though we’d been the well-known “Badger State” since the early 1800s.

The students launched a campaign to make it official – a bill was introduced – and they were successful! But it didn’t come without a little controversy. There was actually some serious competition for the badger.

Some people thought the white-tailed deer was more deserving of the title of Wisconsin’s official animal. Check out the the next item on this list to find out how it all got resolved.

Interesting things about badgers

Wisconsin’s connection to the badger is attributed to the state’s mining industry.

Just as badgers dig underground dens to live in, Wisconsin miners also dug underground tunnels while searching for lead in the 1800s. And they actually lived in them during freezing Wisconsin winters! The temperature could be up to 31 degrees warmer.

After a while, people started to refering to those miners as badgers – which is how we got that nickname.

Even though badgers are cute, they are actually quite mean. I heard they’re the second meanest animal of their size after the wolverine. They’re aggressive fighters with an attitude. They snarl, growl and stink like a skunk if you bug them.

6. White-Tailed Deer – State Wildlife Animal

white-tailed-deer - Wisconsin State Symbol

Some people thought recognizing the badger as Wisconsin’s official animal would be a mistake.

A dissenting group from northern Wisconsin counties argued the white-tailed deer should have that title. They pointed out the abundant deer population, the animal’s unique physical attributes and the economic benefit Wisconsin gets from hunting season.

As it turned out, the legislature came up with a way to make everyone happy. The badger got “state animal” and the white-tailed deer got “state wildlife animal.” What a win-win.

Interesting things about white-tailed deer

The opposing faction did make some valid points about deer, though. They really are amazing creatures. Besides being beautiful, white-tailed deer can run up to 40 miles per hour, they can jump over nine foot fences and can even swim at a speed of 13 miles per hour.

Plus, hundreds-0f-thousands of Wisconsin hunters participate in the deer hunting tradition every year. And venison is pretty yummy.

7. American Water Spaniel – State Dog

american-water-spaniel - Wisconsin State Symbol

A teacher named Lyle Brumm spent years trying to make the American Water Spaniel the state dog.

He enlisted the help of his class of eighth graders at Washington Junior High School in New London, Brumm and his students’ hard work finally paid off in 1985, when the curly-furred water spaniel became our official doggie.

Interesting things about American water spaniels

The American Water Spaniel (AWS) is the only dog to originate in Wisconsin and one of five dogs native to the United States – meaning they were bred here.

Dr. Fred J. Pfeifer of New London developed this rare breed in the early 19th century. He’s also credited for saving the breed and for creating the breed club and breed standard.

Pfeifer named his own water spaniel Curly. Probably because of his tightly curled coat. They’re also extremely good hunters, outstanding watchdogs and a perfect family pet. Water spaniels don’t shed much, and their double coats are water resistant. Good dog! Such a good dog!

8. Honey Bee – State Insect

The Honey Bee - Wisconsin State Symbol

In 1977, a class of third grade students who were studying the legislative process at Holy Family School in Marinette asked Wisconsin lawmakers to make the honeybee the Wisconsin state bug.

They also got some help from the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association.

When other elementary schools heard “the buzz” they tried to get a state vote set up for schoolchildren to pick between the honeybee, butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug and mosquito. But the state egislature turned them down and decided to give the honeybee the honor without a vote.

Honestly – who would have voted for the mosquito anyway?

Interesting things about honey bees

Honeybees have been around for at least 40 million years – at least that’s as early as one was found in a fossil. But you may be surprised to learn they are not native to North America.

Some think they originally came from Africa and traveled to the New World with the early English colonists. The American Indians called them “white man’s flies.”

Unlike most foreign or invasive species – the honey bee seemed to fit right in. Today it’s an important part of the agriculture industry.

Wisconsin is one of five states in the country to manage more than half of the commercial honeybee population during the summer.

Sadly, the honeybee is not doing so well as experts say their numbers are mysteriously declining. But on the bright side, the USDA said this summer that $8 million would be given to farmers trying to restore honey bee habitats.

  • You can read more about the honeybee funding here

9. Mourning Dove – State Sign of Peace

Mourning Dove - Wisconsin State Symbol

Wildlife conservationists and game bird hunters fought for more than 10 years about the status of the mourning dove in Wisconsin. It was a heated debate between conservationists who wanted the dove protected and sportsmen who wanted to hunt the bird.,

Finally in 1971, the mourning dove became protected by law and officially named the state symbol of peace. But it didn’t last.

After 31 years, in 2001 the mourning dove made it back on the list of legal game birds in Wisconsin, but it still remains our state symbol for peace.

You’ve got admit – it seems pretty ironic to shoot a symbol of peace. But I guess I can’t knock it ’til I try it. Here are a bunch of Dove recipes for you to try out.

Interesting things about mourning doves

Supposedly there are 4-5 million doves in Wisconsin and only about 100,000 have ever been harvested.

Leaders at the DNR don’t think hunting season harms the dove population at all. In recent news, Wisconsin hunters will even get an extra 20 days to shoot mourning doves starting in 2014.

10. Dairy Cow – State Domestic Animal

Dairy Cow - Wisconsin State Symbol

Believe it or not – it took until 1971 for the dairy cow to be added as an official symbol of our state.

One day legislature realized it was time to make it official. They said it was a ” logical and long, overdue step.”

Now ever year on June 1st, the secretary of the Department of Agriculture gets to choose a dairy cow of the year. There are six main breeds to pick from, and the Guernsey won the honor in the summer of 2014.

Interesting things about Wisconsin dairy & cows

Wisconsin has been a leader in the dairy farming industry for a long time. It is an enormous part of Wisconsin’s economy and we couldn’t do it with our cows!

There are currently 1,271,000 dairy cows in Wisconsin and each one generates more than $21,000 a year! Did you know one cow can produce six to seven gallons of milk in one day? And 90% of that milk in Wisconsin is made into cheese! What would we do without cheese curds?

Each year, June is dedicated to celebrating dairy in Wisconsin. That’s when you see signs for breakfast on the farm everywhere you look!

11. Antigo Silt Loam – State Soil

Antigo Soil - Wisconsin State Symbol

Yes – Wisconsin even has official dirt…

Antigo Silt Loam, named after the city of Antigo – where it was first identified – was made the official state soil of Wisconsin in 1983. Francis Hole, a soil scientist and professor, from the University of Madison persuaded the legislature that it was important to our economy and the foundation of life.

Lawmakers made it the official  state symbol to help remind Wisconsinites about our soil stewardship responsibilities.

Interesting things about antigo silt loam

It’s believed Antigo soil was formed more than 11,000 years ago by glaciers near the end of the last Ice Age!

It is a prime agricultural soil, which is perfect for dairy farming, timber and hay production – as well as for growing corn, small grain, potatoes and snap beans.

You can find Antigo silt loam all over Wisconsin. It covers 300,000 acres in the north and central parts of the state. It has a very fine top layer, underlying sand and gravel layers and it has been enriched by the organic matter of pre-historic forests.

12. Red Granite – State Rock

Red Granite - Wisconsin State Symbol

In 1971, the Kenosha Gem and Mineral Society asked legislature to make red granite the official state rock.

They wanted to enlighten people about Wisconsin’s geology. Because it’s native to our state, abundant here and has a large economic impact – it was chosen to be our official state rock that year.

Interesting things about red granite

Red granite is an igneous rock made up of a variety of minerals – mainly quartz and feldspar. It’s hard, tough, coarse and grainy.

Red granite is used for buildings, sculptures, gravestones and decorative stones. It’s also the most prized rock for mountain climbers!

Of course there is also a village in Waushara County called Redgranite – where Redgranite Quarry Park is considered the main attraction.

13. Trilobite – State Fossil

Trilobite - Wisconsin State Symbol

In 1985, The Wisconsin Geological Society pushed for the Trilobite fossil to be the official symbol of Wisconsin’s ancient past.

The extinct marine trilobite flourished in shallow prehistoric salt waters that covered much of Wisconsin during the Paleozoic age – hundreds of millions of years ago. Legislature added it as the official state fossil that year to encourage interest in our geological heritage.

Interesting things about trilobites

A trilobite is an arthropod, which is a cold blooded creature that doesn’t have a backbone, has jointed legs, a segmented body and an exoskeleton. Things like crabs, shrimp, spiders and beetles also fall into the arthropod category.

You can find trilobites in rock formations throughout most of the state. They are typically one-inch long but can get up to 14-inches in length.

14. Galena – State Mineral

galena - Wisconsin State Symbol

Galena was added as the official state mineral at the same time granite became the state rock in 1971 – thanks to the Kenosha Gem and Mineral Society.  It was chosen for many of the same reasons.

It’s native to Wisconsin, very abundant, unique has made an important impact on the state’s economy.

Interesting things about galena

Galena is the most important mineral source of lead dating back to 3000BC. In the early 1800s, if you weren’t a sailor, you were probably a miner, AKA “badger” searching for it.

As two of the primary jobs of early settlers in our state they both appear on the state seal.

15. Polka – State Dance

Polka Dance - Wisconsin State Symbol

Grab your accordion or grab your partner and let’s polka!

In 1993, the second grade class from Charles Lindbergh Elementary in Madison, proposed to the legislature that the polka should be the state dance.

With help from the Wisconsin Folk Museum and Polka Boosters group, they gathered evidence to show it is ingrained in Wisconsin culture and traditions. The kids succeeded that year at making Polka the official state dance.

Interesting things about Polka

The polka was first-considered a rebellious dance when it emerged in the 19th century. And you thought it was only for old folks.  The polka continues to be a Midwestern tradition – but it’s especially big in Wisconsin.

North American “Dutchmen-style” polka music has an oom-pah sound usually played by a tuba and banjo.

Wisconsin even has an annual State Polka festival along with many other polka festivals in the state. Including Polka Days in Pulaski.

16. On Wisconsin –  State Song

On Wisconsin! has long been recognized as Wisconsin’s song, but it was not officially adopted as the official state song until Representative, Harold Clemens, discovered Wisconsin was one of 10 states yet to declare our official song.

In 1959, lawmakers finally gave the song the status it deserved.

But the tune was almost used to celebrate our neighbors to the west…

William T. Purdy, composed the music to “Minnesota, Minnesota!” for a University of Minnesota football fight song competition. But, at the last minute, a former UW-Wisconsin student talked Purdy into dedicating the tune to the UW-Madison football team instead, and Purdy pulled the tune from the contest.

The two worked together on the new lyrics and the song was first introduced in 1909 at the annual Wisconsin-Minnesota football game. Take that Gophers!

World-famous composer and bandmaster, John Pilip Sousa, said the song was the best he’d ever heard, and it’s now one of the most popular in the country. More than 2,500 schools are even using a copy-cat version as their own.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Lyrics

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Plunge right through that line!
Run the ball clear down the field,
A touchdown sure this time. (U rah rah)

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Fight on for her fame
Fight! Fellows! – fight, fight, fight!
We’ll win this game.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Stand up, Badgers, sing!
“Forward” is our driving spirit,
Loyal voices ring.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Raise her glowing flame
Stand, Fellows, let us now
Salute her name!

In 1913, Judge, Charles D. Rosa, and editor of the Beloit Free Press, J.S. Hubbard, re-wrote the official lyrics to be more stately. Their version was chosen for the state song.

Official State Song Lyrics

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Grand old Badger State!
We, thy loyal sons and daughters,
Hail thee, good and great.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Champion of the right,
‘Forward’ – our motto –
We will win the fight.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Dost thou hear that call,
Marsh’ling thee to noble duty
In the fight for all?

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Battle for the right;
With thy standard flying, 
God will give thee might!

17. Milk – Wisconsin State Beverage

Milk - Wisconsin State Symbol

You might be wondering why legislature didn’t choose beer as the official drink of Wisconsin. Don’t have a cow about it!

Who knows – maybe someday it will become Wisconsin’s official alcoholic beverage. But for now, we have an official state drink and that is – milk.

In 1987, the World Dairy Expo along with other dairy cattle and dairy production associations, supported the amendment to make milk a symbol of our state – for good.

After all, we were the nation’s leading milk producing state since 1915. And since we held that title and milk was also good for the economy, legislature decided to dedicate it as our official beverage.

Interesting things about milk production

As of 2014, Wisconsin has 10,860 licensed dairy farms. Unfortunately, Wisconsin no longer holds the title for the nation’s leading milk producer. California took over our spot a while back.

But guess who makes more cheese? Wisconsin made a total of 2,842,456,000 lbs of cheese in 2013 – about 5% more than California.

Plus, much more of Wisconsin’s milk comes from traditional small family farms – instead of from big milk factories like in California.

18. Cranberry – Wisconsin State Fruit

Cranberry - Wisconsin State Symbol

The cranberry became Wisconsin’s state fruit officially in 2003.

As a class project, a group of fifth grade students from Trevor Grade School in Kenosha proposed to legislation that the cranberry was a better candidate than the cherry to be our state fruit.

Apparently, folks in Door County didn’t feel like putting up a fight.

Interesting things about cranberries

File:Sandhill Crane-27527-1.jpgThe cranberry is one of three commercially cultivated fruits native to the U.S.

Blueberries and grapes are the other two. Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state in the country, supplying more than half of the entire world’s supply!

Cranberries were an important part of the American Indian’s diet for more than a hundred years before the pilgrims landed. They didn’t just eat them, they also used them as a dye to color rugs and robes – and for medicinal purposes.

When the pilgrims came, they called the berries “crane berries” because before they bloomed, the stem and flowers reminded them of  the head of a sandhill crane. That’s a bird that just happens to love cranberries and was often seen wading the bogs scooping them up.

19. Corn – State Grain

Corn - Wisconsin State Symbol

Since corn is such an important cash crop in Wisconsin, it became the state grain in 2003. Supporters hoped that becoming the official symbol would help make people aware of corn’s many uses.

Today, corn is used to feed livestock, to make artificial sweeteners, to produce plastics and for ethanol fuel. Personally, I think they could have stopped at corn on the cob. But then maybe it wouldn’t have become Wisconsin’s official state grain.

Interesting thing about corn

In Wisconsin, 95% of corn farms are run by families. An estimated 87.7 million acres of corn were harvested for grain in 2013.

20. Kringle – State Pastry

Kringle - Wisconsin State Symbol

When state Representative, Cory Mason of Racine, suggested the Kringle to be a symbol of Wisconsin, in 2013, he made sure to say “state pastry” – so it didn’t compete with the official dessert. 

You’ll find out why in the final section of this article.

To celebrate the success – one Racine bakery created a giant cream cheese kringle in the shape of Wisconsin. See it here.

Interesting things about the Kringle

The city of Racine is one of the biggest producers of the Kringle, a popular flaky donut-like pastry. It has been an old-world Danish tradition in Racine for more than 100 years. The Kringle is sometimes filled with fruit, nuts and baked with icing. It has 32 layers of flake and takes three whole days to make!

Even president Obama had to try a pecan Kringle from O&H Danish Bakery when he was in Racine in 2010!

Bonus -The Cream Puff –  Should it be Wisconsin’s Official Dessert?

Will the Cream Puff become Wisconsin's Official Desert?

We’re still naming official state stuff – including a popular treat at fairs in Wisconsin. The cream puff!

A group of motivated Wisconsin fourth graders, from Mukwonago’s Clarendon Avenue Elementary School, created a Facebook Page and petition dedicated to making cream puffs official.

The Wisconsin Baker’s Association was on board and legislation began. But – as it stands right now – Governor Scott Walker still has to make it official.

Hopefully the cream puff doesn’t have to wait as many years as some of the other state symbols.

Wisconsin State Fair goers have eaten almost 4-million cream puffs in the last 10 years! That’s according to the office of state Senator Mary Lazich who introduced a bill to make the cream puff the official Wisconsin desert back in 2011.

Are You a WisconsinNERD?

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Comments

  1. Meg Hyland says:

    Fantastic article! One of your best yet. 🙂

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