The Wisconsin Historical Museum, located on Madison’s Capitol Square, tells the history of Wisconsin from the native peoples to the early settlers and immigrants, and features Wisconsin’s political history as well. Exhibits are organized by the timeline of Wisconsin’s story.
The museum houses four floors of permanent exhibits, representing artifacts collected by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The People of the Woodlands exhibit displays a Native American home from approximately 1200 AD as well as artifacts and items from life at that time, including beaded clothing, animal pelts, and items used for trade with early European settlers. The Frontier Wisconsin exhibit tells the story of immigrants who came to Wisconsin to farm, the beginnings of the railroad industry in the late 1800s, and the rise of the mining industry. The Immigrant State exhibit displays the items immigrants chose to bring with them to their new home, and is representative of the many different cultures that arrived in Wisconsin. Artifacts which demonstrate the way of life in the early 1900s are also represented, such as a 1908 washing machine. The Making a Living exhibit explores the industry of early 20th-century Wisconsin and celebrates Wisconsin’s role in burgeoning American industries. The exhibit includes artifacts and photographs from the lumber industry, the automobile industry, and the agricultural machinery industry. The Political Arena exhibit highlights Madison’s role as the capitol of Wisconsin and educates visitors about political history in the state and its influence in the story of America. The Wisconsin capitol building can be seen clearly from the museum’s 4th floor view.
History: The Wisconsin Historical Museum is one of 12 museums and historical sites maintained by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The museum is operated by the Historical Society’s Division of Museums and Historic Sites, whose mission is to display and interpret for the public artifacts collected by the Museum Archaeology Program (MAP). The Historical Society was founded in 1846 and is the oldest historical society in America to have received continuous public funding since its inception. The museum’s future was briefly threatened in 2004 due to budget cuts, but was spared by Governor Jim Doyle, who restored funding to the museum, citing its important role in preserving the history of Wisconsin. The Historical Society is simultaneously a state agency and private membership organization. In addition to operating the museum, it operates 11 historical sites, also open to the public.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The museum offers a range of educational programming materials to assist teachers and schools with teaching the history of Wisconsin. Guided tours of the museum are offered daily to take visitors through the exhibits and give additional facts and stories about the items on display. The museum is host to many special events for both children and adults. Ongoing events for children include Story Saturdays, an event for young children that partners artifacts and features of the museum with story-time. Kids Create at the Top of the State is a hands-on educational experience offered each Friday throughout the summer months. Events for adults include author appearances. Recently, author Steven D. Schmitt appeared to give a talk on the history of baseball at the University of Wisconsin, and Professor David Hoeveler spoke on John Bascom’s legacy as president of the University of Wisconsin and the foundations of the “Wisconsin Idea.”
Past and Future Exhibits: In addition to the permanent displays, the museum is host to a wide range of temporary exhibits. Past exhibits have included a display on malted milk, first produced in Wisconsin, as well as the display of the “Big Boy” statue, rescued from the famous hamburger chain when it closed in 1985. In 100 Years of Wisconsin History, the story of Wisconsin’s agricultural history was brought to life with a series of 14 large-scale murals, originally displayed at the 1948 Wisconsin State Fair. Icon Wisconsin explored Wisconsin’s cultural icons and their history, including the story of the University of Wisconsin badger. In 2003, a special panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Milwaukee Braves founding was on display, with artifacts from the beloved baseball team. In 2006, the Skating for Gold exhibit told the story of Wisconsin’s Olympic speed skaters, and the 13 Olympic medals won between 1976 and 2002.
What’s Nearby: The Wisconsin Historical Museum is located on Capitol Square. Both the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Overture Arts Center are nearby, as are the Madison Children’s Museum and Science Museum.
30 N Carroll St, Madison, WI 53703, Phone: 608-264-6555
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