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March 2005 Odd Wisconsin

Airborne Paperboy

You probably remember tossing newspapers over your handlebars onto customers' porches (and occasionlly into their birdbaths). But instead of coming by bicycle, these newspapers arrived in Waukesha by airplane in 1912. The pilot, a famous "boy aviator" named Farnum Fish, is shown here at the controls and in the air. For more pictures of early Wisconsin aviators, check out Sky...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 31, 2005

Dawn of the Internet

On this day in 1951 Remington Rand Corporation delivered the first UNIVAC. Short for "Universal Automatic Computer," it contained thousands of vacuum tubes, used flip-flopping mechanical switches to manipulate data, and employed punch cards to output and store information. On that same day Steve Wozniak was having his diapers changed in Sunnyvale, California, 25 years before he would invent the...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 30, 2005

Who Needs Titanium Alloy?

This 1897 "fishing pole bike" made of bamboo seemed like a good idea at the time, but apparently failed to catch on. More pictures of early Wisconsin bicycles can be found at Wisconsin Historic Images....
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Posted in Curiosities on March 29, 2005

"Conquest of America" Tonight

Today's Odd Wisconsin has no Wisconsin connection - - or only a tenuous one. Tonight and tomorrow The History Channel broadcasts a 4-hour series on early exploration called "The Conquest of America." They've recreated four important voyages and expeditions in video, overlaid with quotations from the explorers' own reports. Last year we digitized 18,000 pages of such reports and presented...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 28, 2005

Little House on the TV

This weekend Disney subsidiary ABC is airing the latest in a long series of films and television shows based on the famous Laura Ingalls Wilder novels. Most of these have simultaneously sentimentalized frontier life and childhood, so it’s always a good tonic to return to original sources for a clearer view. Just the subtitle of this article about pioneer mothers...
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Posted in Children on March 25, 2005

Early Ice Boating

You’ve seen them, skimming across the winter horizon at impossible speeds like a flock of some fantastic arctic birds. Wisconsin has been a center of ice boating for a century and a half. From humble beginnings in the 1850s (the first boat was built from discarded lumber), the sport quickly grew into a pastime that fascinated observers and addicted participants....
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Posted in Curiosities on March 24, 2005

Wisconsin's Chief Feminist

The 1840s were full of utopian dreamers who thought women's rights should be legally protected. During the 1850s a flood of new immigrants, political corruption, and an economic crash dampened much of the utopian energy in Wisconsin, and the Civil War largely dislodged it from the popular mind for an entire generation. The momentum for women's rights in the decades...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 23, 2005

Treasonous Women Attorneys!

In 1876, 37-year-old attorney Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880) had the audacity to think that she ought to be able to practice her profession. When one of her cases was appealed to the state supreme court that year, she was not allowed to represent her client there. In rejecting her application, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward G. Ryan wrote, "Nature has...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 22, 2005

Rites of Spring

It’s that time again – the vernal equinox. Flowers will soon be appearing through the last snow. In kindergartens the little ones will be planting seeds in the ritual science experiment, and soon they’ll be hunting Easter eggs. Their elders will be showing off new dresses and Easter bonnets, and patching potholes. For a look at some very special Easter...
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Posted in Bizarre Events on March 21, 2005

Gaelic Centenarians

It's St. Patrick's Day again, when every cheesehead is allowed to be Irish for a day. Immigrants from Ireland played powerful roles in Wisconsin history. They settled all over the state, including not just in Milwaukee but also in the coulee country of western Wisconsin. Who were they? See the pictures and read the life stories of James Grinnell and...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 17, 2005

“The Power Knowledge Gives”

Our state capitol was named after James Madison, born 153 years ago today in Virginia. He died on June 28, 1836, and a week later the U.S. Congress passed the act that created Wisconsin Territory. President Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge as governor, with responsibility to conduct a census, hold elections, and convene a territorial legislature. Dodge acted quickly. The...
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Posted in Curiosities on March 16, 2005

Retail Giant

Today is the birthday of the Wisconsin boy who invented modern department stores. Ripon native Gordon Selfridge worked his way up through Marshall Fields and took his midwest American optimism into the very heart of the staid British Empire. In 1909 he opened his own department store on London's Oxford Street, where he was one of the first retailers to...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 15, 2005

Indian Affairs

On this date (March 11th) in 1824 the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs was created. One of its first actions was to call this council at Prairie du Chien in 1825 to determine boundaries between western tribes. The following year Indian Affairs commissioner Thomas McKenney attended another council held near modern Duluth-Superior and wrote these letters home. They reveal the...
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Posted in Curiosities on March 11, 2005

Wis. Brain Trust Tackles Social Insecurity

Social Security reform is in the headlines again this week as policy makers debate its future. But did you know that the original system was designed by Wisconsin experts? On March 9, 1933, the U.S. Congress began its first 100 days of enacting New Deal legislation. President Franklin Roosevelt's top priority was to alleviate the suffering caused by the worst...
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Posted in Curiosities on March 9, 2005

"All property, real and personal, of the wife, ...shall be her separate property."

These are the words that set off a furor during the Wisconsin constitutional convention of 1846. When the population of Wisconsin Territory had grown high enough to permit our becoming a state, 124 elected delegates met at Madison to prepare a constitution. Among them were a critical mass of visionaries such as Warren Chase, organizer of the utopian commune at...
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Posted in Bizarre Events on March 8, 2005

The First Weather Guy

Before leaving home in the morning, do you check the forecast at or on the TV? Did you know that weather forecasts were the brainchild of Milwaukee scientist Increase Lapham? Lapham (1811-1875) came to Wisconsin in 1836. In 1844 he published its first accurate map by gathering data from contributors all around the Territory. In the 1850s, when...
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Posted in Curiosities on March 7, 2005


Glory-of-the-Morning (Ho-po-ko-e-naw) is the first woman described in the textual record of Wisconsin history. She was an 18th-c. female chief who, according to oral tradition (recorded in tribal historian David Lee Smith’s book, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe) was chosen to lead the Ho-Chunk Nation about the year 1737, at age 18. The following year she married Sabrevoir Decorah, a...
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 3, 2005

Radical Republican

150 years ago one of Europe’s most notorious radicals rode into the village of Watertown after several years on the run. As a student in Germany in the late 1840s, Carl Schurz (born on this day in 1829) had been a colleague of Karl Marx and other visionaries who insisted that people should be able to vote for their leaders....
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Posted in Odd Lives on March 2, 2005

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