Geography and Landforms:

Although Wisconsin is not a coastal state, it is largely defined by water. Its eastern border is the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The northwestern border is Lake Superior. The Mississippi River forms the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as the border between Wisconsin and Iowa. A tributary of the Mississippi, the St. Croix River, forms the rest of the western border. Only the border between Wisconsin and Illinois to the south is dry.

Glaciers, which retreated around 10,000 years ago, shaped much of the geography of Wisconsin. The glaciers flattened much of the land, and gouged great chunks out of the ground. When the glaciers retreated, they left the area covered with glacial debris such as boulders and gravel. The only area of Wisconsin not shaped by the glaciers is the southwest corner known as the Wisconsin Driftless Area, which is more rugged, and lacks the lakes that cover the remainder of the state.

The state has over 14,000 lakes, of which Winnebago is the largest. Water sports, ice-boating, and fishing are popular, as are skiing and hunting. Public parks and forests take up one-seventh of the land, with 43 state parks, 12 state forests, 14 state trails, 3 recreational areas, and 2 national forests.


The first European explorer to reach what is now Wisconsin was Jean Nicolet, a Frenchman who landed along the shore of Green Bay while he was looking for a Northwest Passage to China in 1634. About 250 years ago, French fur traders and Roman Catholic missionaries arrived to begin settling the area. The French gave possession of the area to England following the French and Indian War in the 1760s. The first permanent European settlement was established in 1764 by Charles Langlade. The British, in turn, lost its control of the area in 1783 following the American Revolution. However, because of its location, the new government of the United States was unable to exercise much influence over the area, and it remained under the influence of its British settlers for some time.

People from more easterly portions of the United States began to settle in Wisconsin in the 1820s when miners discovered lead in northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin and began mining it. The influx of white settlers moving into the area caused conflict for the Native groups living in the area as the US government and the settlers attempted to force Native people from their lands. The new settlers ultimately prevailed and the Native tribes moved to lands further west or negotiated reservation lands.

Once Native opposition to settlement had been stopped, more white settlers came to the area, and by 1836, the area was organized under a Territorial government. Wisconsin became the 30th state to be admitted to the Union in May, 1848.

During the Civil War, most citizens of Wisconsin opposed slavery and abolitionists regularly defied the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1854, a group protesting the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have established rules for states permitting slavery entering the Union, met together in Ripon, Wisconsin and created the Republican political party.


Natural resources have always been important to the economy of Wisconsin. Very early settlers were fur traders, and the population of the territory expanded quickly when lead was discovered and began to be mined. By the early 1900s, the lumber industry began to be important in Wisconsin, and then businesses creating furniture, paper products and wagons. During the mid-1900s, the economy gradually began to shift away from agriculture toward manufacturing.

Wisconsin is a leading state in milk and cheese production. Other important farm products are peas, beans, beets, corn, potatoes, oats, hay, and cranberries. The chief industrial products of the state are automobiles, machinery, furniture, paper, beer, and processed foods. Wisconsin ranks second among the 47 paper-producing states. The state's mines produce copper, iron ore, lead, and zinc.

First Inhabitants:

As long ago as 10,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians came through Wisconsin hunting wooly mammoth, mastodon, and bison. After the retreat of the glaciers, the climate improved and people began to live in caves, along rivers, and around lakes. They hunted smaller animals like deer and elk, and harvested wild plants, nuts, and acorns. During the Woodland Period, around 3,000 years ago, people began to live together in villages, and use bows and arrows to hunt. They built burial mounds for their dead.

By the 17th century, the people living in Wisconsin belonged to broad groups of Indians, classified by language type. The Menominee, the Kickapoo and the Miami tribes spoke Algonquian, and the Winnebago, Dakota and Iowa tribes spoke Sioux. Later in the century, other groups entered Wisconsin including the Fox, Sac, Potawatomi and Ojibewa (Chippewa).

When the first Europeans came into the area, they brought important opportunities for trade, particularly in furs like beaver. They also brought diseases for which the native people did not have natural immunities. Many of the native people died from smallpox, measles and mumps. In fact, disease is likely to have killed many more Native Americans than armed conflicts did. By 1825, the US government and Indian representatives met in Prairie Du Chien and signed a treaty establishing the boundaries amongst various tribes and opening the way for further non-Indian settlement. However, this treaty did not prevent further conflict between Native Americans and European settlers looking for land. The native people were eventually forced off their land to land further west or to reservations.

Books Related To Wisconsin

B is for Badger: A Wisconsin Alphabet - Kathy-Jo Wargin
(978-1585361359) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 2 - 3
This alphabet book highlights many special people, places, and things about Wisconsin culture and history.

Bird Lake Moon - Kevin Henkes
(978-0061470790) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-8, Lexile: 740, ESL level: 2 - 3
Mitch makes a new friend at the lake where he is visiting his grandparents after his parents divorce.

Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink
(978-1416940289) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-10, Lexile: 890, ESL level: 3 - 4
This well-loved classic describes a frontier tomboy from Wisconsin.

Dairy Queen - Catherine Murdock
(978-0618683079) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 990, ESL level: 4
D.J. changes from training a football quarterback to going out for the team herself.

The Game of Silence - Louise Erdrich
(978-0064410298) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-8, Lexile: 900, ESL level: 3
A pre-teen native American Ojibwa moves farther west with her family.

The Giant Ball of String - Arthur Geisert
(978-0618840670) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, ESL level: 2
When the people of a small town in Wisconsin lose their claim to fame, a giant ball of string, they pool their resources to find it.

Ida B: -- And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World - Katherine Hannigan
(978-0439837156) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-12, Lexile: 970, ESL level: 3
Ida loves learning at home and being able to explore to her heart's content in the family orchard, but her life has a radical change when her mother has to be treated for breast cancer.

The Island - Gary Paulsen
(978-0439786621) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 1050, ESL level: 4
Wil finds himself when he goes to stay alone on a beautiful lake island in Northern Wisconsin.

Oggie Cooder - Sarah Weeks
(978-0439927949) , Fiction
Interest level: 1-5, Lexile: 880, ESL level: 3 - 4
Everyone has a talent and Oggie's is to be able to shape cheese into states by chewing!

Thimble Summer - Elizabeth Enright
(978-0312380021) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, Lexile: 810, ESL level: 3 - 4
A young farm girl has an exciting summer entering the county fair and welcoming an orphan boy to her family.

Winter Days in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder
(978-0064433730) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, Lexile: 740, ESL level: 2 - 3
This adapted classic charms readers with its descriptions of pioneer family life in the big woods of rural Wisconsin during a harsh winter.

Famous Citizens:

Eric Heiden
Eric Heiden is a five-time gold medal winning speed skater of the 1980 Winter Olympics was born in Madison, Wisconsin. He was the first person in Olympic history to win five gold medals in individual events in the same Games. After the Olympics, Heiden turned to cycling and competed in the 1986 Tour de France.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author of the Little House books Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin. Wilder wrote about her own life growing up in the 1870s and 1880s on the Midwestern frontier. The books, which include Little House on the Prairie, Little House in the Big Woods, and On the Banks of Plum Creek have become beloved to younger readers, and were later developed into a successful television series.

Frank Lloyd Wright
America's most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin. Wright designed everything from banks and resorts, office buildings and churches, a filling station and a synagogue, a beer garden and an art museum. Some of his most famous structures include the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Fallingwater, a private home in western Pennsylvania and the SC Johnson and Son Wax Company Administration Center in Racine, Wisconsin.

Capital: Madison
Entered Union: May 29, 1848
Population: 5,757,564
Area 65,498
Bird Robin
Flower Wood Violet
Nickname: Badger State
Governor Scott Walker

Places to Visit in Wisconsin: (Click the links to learn more.)

Lumberjack Village - Hayward
Visit the home of Scheer's Lumberjack Shows which have been featured on national television and on ESPN. Shows include demonstrations of power sawing, speed carving, the log joust, the axe throw, log rolling, and cross cut sawing.

Chippewa Valley Museum - Eau Claire
The museum exists to discover, collect, preserve and interpret the story of the Chippewa Valley and its people. Exhibits show case farm life during the 1900s, and the museum is located within Eau Claire's Carson Park which includes fishing and canoeing, and the baseball stadium where Hank Aaron played his first professional games.

Houdini Historical Center - Appleton
Harry Houdini, the famous illusionist and escape artist, often claimed he was born in Appleton, although historians have finally determined that he was actually born in Hungary. This museum is dedicated to gathering and interpreting information and the life and career of Houdini. Memorabilia includes posters, lock picks, handcuffs, and straitjackets used by the magician in his shows.

National Mustard Museum - Middleton
The National Mustard Museum is the home of the world's largest collection of prepared mustards, including 5,500 mustards from all 50 states and more than 60 countries.

Pendarvis Historic Site - Mineral Point
Pendarvis traces its beginnings to Wisconsin's territorial lead-mining heyday during the 1830s and '40s, when many immigrant Cornish miners settled in Mineral Point to work the mines. What remains today is a collection of stone and stone-and-log cottages built by these immigrants in the tradition of their native Cornwall.