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Wisconsin State Prison (Waupun Correctional Institution) | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Wisconsin State Prison (Waupun Correctional Institution)

Wisconsin State Prison (Waupun Correctional Institution) | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


After Wisconsin became a state in 1848, it authorized a state prison to be built at Waupun. This opened in July 1851 and housed adult men and women until 1933, when a separate women's prison was built. During the 1860s and 1870s it established a cabinet shop, a shoe shop, a tailor shop, and a wagon factory, and by 1878 sales of their manufactured goods produced enough revenue to run the prison without drawing the state's treasury. Conditions at the prison in the 1880s are described in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 10 no. 4, which can be viewed here.

A knitting industry, a twine plant, a cannery, a license plate operation, a print shop, and a laundry were all added between 1893 and 1940. In 1868 a school for prisoners was begun, and in 1886 prisoners published their own newspaper (here). In 1892 three convicts serving life sentences tunneled from the laundry, under the wall and escaped, but were captured the next morning. Between 1916 and 1923 a 22-foot wall around the prison's perimeter was built, and during a 1936 escape attempt, two inmates were shot. In 1957 the state's first maximum security special management unit was built at Waupun. Official reports by supervisors of the Wisconsin prison system and reformatory facilities can be found in the Wisconsin Blue Book, published every two years since the 1850s.

A Brief History of the Department of Corrections ( (Madison, Wis.: Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, 2002)

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