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Celebrating Wisconsin Innovations

The first snowmobile was built by Carl Eliason of Sayner, Wisconsin, in 1924, this one being a later model "motor toboggan" (photo courtesy of the Carl Eliason family).

"Wisconsin Innovations: From the Iconic to the Unexpected," a major exhibition featuring a diverse array of remarkable inventions and ideas that originated — in one way or another — in Wisconsin, will open on Saturday, September 17, at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on Madison's Capitol Square. You'll be amazed by the many ways Wisconsin ingenuity impacts our lives and world. "Wisconsin Innovations" celebrates Wisconsin's creativity and can-do spirit with unique artifacts, video animations and large-scale murals. Discover a side of Wisconsin history you probably never heard in the classroom. Get the surprising scoop on the inventions you know, and explore the intriguing stories behind the innovations you might not expect.

Showcasing Wisconsin's Many Innovations

The exhibit showcases Wisconsin's many contributions to American lifeand is organized into five sections: Sports and Leisure, Pop Culture, Business and Industry, Big Ideas and Local Flavor. Visitors will see video animations and large-scale murals that promote context and meaning for each section's artifacts. Well-known badger-state innovations, like vitamin D in milk, are so ubiquitous that we take them for granted while others are so new that we are now only beginning to understand their power. Some, like the snowmobile, are fitting to Wisconsin; others, like the surfboard, defy expectation.

Supercomputers, jockey shorts, organ transplants, architecture, electric guitars, the National Weather Service and more all originated in Wisconsin. The exhibit highlights the work of Wisconsin icons such as architect Frank Lloyd Wright and musical innovator Les Paul. Wright's distinctive prairie style was the first uniquely American architecture. Les Paul's inventions such as the solid body guitar and multi-track recording earned him the nickname "The Wizard of Waukesha." Paul's concept of multi-track recording is the foundation of studio recording, and the electric guitar is heard in almost every type of music.

Some Surprising Innovations

In addition to well-known Wisconsinites and their inventions, the exhibit features a variety of surprising innovations. Did you know that the typewriter was invented in Milwaukee in the late 1860s by Christopher Sholes? His QWERTY keyboard format still is still in use on nearly all computer keyboards today. The National Weather Service also has Wisconsin roots. Increase Lapham, one of Wisconsin's first great scientists, advocated for the United States Weather Bureau. He was appointed chief of the warning service for the Great Lakes and issued the first-ever storm warning for the lakes on Nov. 8, 1870.

The surfboard does not have obvious roots in Wisconsin, but the first modern version was invented by Wisconsinite Tom Blake. Blake invented the hollow surfboard in 1926, the first surfboard with a fin on the bottom in 1935, and designed rescue paddleboards credited with saving thousands of lives. He pioneered what has become the surfing lifestyle and wrote "Hawaiian Surfboard," the first full-length book devoted to surfing. From the Trek bike to the American Girl doll, and from urban agriculture to the brandy Old Fashioned, Wisconsin ideas and ingenuity are everywhere and on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum.

Special Thanks to Our Sponsors

"Wisconsin Innovations" is made possible by a generous grant from the Madison Community Foundation, with additional support from American Family Insurance, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., the charitable arm of The Capital Times, Sentry Equipment Corporation, Ann L. Koski, Promega Corporation, the Madison Gas and Electric Foundation, and Wisconsin Public Radio.

If You Go

For complete details on hours, admission, location and directions or parking, visit our visitor information page.

:: Posted September 12, 2011

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