Praise for "A Short History of Wisconsin"
Larry Meiller, Wisconsin Public Radio
"Erika Janik has produced a wonderful portrait of the Badger state. With its engaging style, her short history of Wisconsin — including its national achievements in areas like the environment, education, labor and politics — provides a remarkable insight into what makes the state great. You'll be surprised at the treasures she's unearthed!"
First lady of Wisconsin, Jessica Doyle
This feature by Joan Sanstadt, News Editor, appeared in "Agri-View" on May 6, 2010
"'A Short History of Wisconsin' is a compelling look into the state's past. This exemplary book would make any Wisconsinite proud, and enlighten others as to why our state is a unique and welcoming place to live and experience."
The next time I encounter someone who is planning to visit or move to Wisconsin I know exactly what gift I will give them. It will be the new book, "A Short History of Wisconsin" by Erika Janik.
History is always fascinating to me, and this book presented new ways of looking at well-known "facts." If you’ve ever wondered what the name Wisconsin means, Janik traces its origin back to the journal of French explorer Fr. Jacques Marquette. The most authoritative study of the name concluded that it was the French version of a Miami Indian word for the Wisconsin River and likely meant "river running through a red place." The "red place" was probably a reference to the red sandstone that characterizes much of the river's shoreline.
She calls the river route from Prairie du Chien up the Wisconsin River to Portage and then down the Fox River through present-day Oshkosh, Neenah, and Appleton to Green Bay "the interstate highway of the 17th and 18th centuries." Now that's an explanation anyone can relate to.
Reading about the diet of lumberjacks reminded me of today's emphasis on locally-grown food. Local food for lumberjacks consisted of bread, salt pork, beans, blackstrap molasses, potatoes, coffee and tea. "In the winter, when the pork ran out, the men ate cod from the rivers," she wrote.
Education reform was high on the list of needs considered by the legislature in the late 1880s. A school reform bill "required that all schools, public and private, conduct classes in English."
The author's description of the close ties between the state's dairy industry and the University of Wisconsin is both succinct and fascinating. Her chapters devoted to agricultural history are my favorites.
Manufacturing, from paper-making to submarines, is richly detailed in the book. For instance, during WWII, the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. received a U.S. Navy contract to build submarines n although it had never built any. Yet in the time allotted for constructing 10 subs, the company produced 28!
Wisconsin's early brewers may well have contributed to the health of the settlers. "The boiling and fermenting process made beer relatively free of contamination, something that couldn't always be said for the water supply," Janik noted. In fact, towns were built around breweries, she contends.
The chapters devoted to the state's political history can't be beat. I had no idea Milwaukee became the first Socialist city the U.S. or that it sent Victor Berger to Washington as the first Socialist congressman!
"Appleton, Wisconsin, is far from the laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., where Thomas Edison perfected the incandescent bulb and other uses for electric power," Janik wrote. "Yet it was in this Fox River city in 1882, that the first plant to commercially generate electricity was lighting homes and factories."
Transportation has always been important to Wisconsin — from Trek Bicycles in Waterloo to Harley Davidson motorcycles in Milwaukee and cars like the Rambler and the Nash, all were built in Wisconsin.
The state figured prominently in WWII; from the Badger Ordnance Company (one of the largest manufacturers of ammunition in the world), to the fame of the Red Arrow Division and the heroism of flying ace Richard Bong (he was born and raised on a farm). Wisconsin was a leader.
There's more, much more, in this fascinating book. The book is small and is ideal to take along on a plane ride; it is valuable enough for its content to be kept close at hand for years to come.
Published by the Wisconsin Historical Society, this "short history" is actually "long" on important historical facts about Wisconsin.
A rarity is the final chapter in the book called "Essay on Sources and suggestions for further reading." That chapter can well become any history buff's new reading list.