Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Basic information about Wisconsin

Basic information about Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society


  • Mean temperature: 43 degrees; varies from 45 degrees F in the extreme south to 39 degrees in the north
  • Average precipitation: 31 inches, most of it falling between May and August
  • Average snowfall: 45 inches


Wisconsin is 26th in area among the 50 states. The total land area of the state is 456,154 square miles, which includes 1,439 square miles of inland water. The state is bordered on the north by Lake Superior and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the east by Lake Michigan, on the south by Illinois, and on the west by Minnesota and Iowa (the Mississippi River forms most of this boundary). Wisconsin abounds in such common glacial features as drumlins, eskers, till plains, marshes, and moraines. The Kettle Moraine area in the southeastern portion of the state is a prominent reminder of the state's glacial origins. Approximately 15,000 square miles, mostly in southwestern Wisconsin, were missed by the glaciers that formed the rest of the state.


A Wisconsin Holstein.

A Wisconsin Holstein.

Wisconsin ranks as one of the nation's leading agricultural states with more than 5.5 billion dollars in farm product sales per year. Known the world over as "America's Dairyland", Wisconsin's 1.6 million dairy cows produce a year's supply of milk for nearly 42 million people, butter for 68 million people, and cheese for 86 million people. Wisconsin is first in the nation in butter, total cheese, and milk production.

Wisconsin's farmers help fill the nation's dinner tables in many ways. They raise more snap beans and sweet corn for processing than any other state. Wisconsin is first in the nation in corn grown for silage, second in hay, and fourth in the nation for oats and potatoes. Wisconsin's cranberry bogs produce about 30% of the nation's crop. Soil conservation, wise use of the land, improved breeding of livestock, and a willingness to try new ideas has made Wisconsin a continuing leader in agricultural production.


Diversity of Wisconsin's business-manufacturing, agriculture, services (including tourism), and the diversity within each of these business sectors, has provided Wisconsin with an economic balance, strength, a good business climate, and an excellent quality of life.

That diversity also has enabled the state to prevent any great swings in the economy. When one sector is down, others pick up the slack. Diversity provides a cushion, both within the sectors and between economic divisions.

While Wisconsin generally is better known as an agriculture state, which it is, the state is also rated among the top15 as an industrial state. Today, the state leads the nation in the production of low horsepower gasoline engines, power cranes, shovel hoists, mining machinery, and other types of industrial equipment, along with industrial controls and X-ray apparatus equipment.

Non-durable goods industries make Wisconsin the largest producer of milk, butter, and cheese in the nation. Wisconsin is also one of the top-ranking states in canned and processed vegetables, and is known as the "Beer Capital" of the United States.

A wide variety of wood products come out of the state's 15 million acres of forests. Wisconsin papermaking makes the state a leading paper producer. Forest-dependent industries are the leading manufacturing employers in the northern part of the state.


Wisconsin is noted for the quality of its public education system. Wisconsin's public schools and university systems were established in the 1850s. Wisconsin was the first state in America to open a kindergarten, in Watertown in 1856. On national tests, Wisconsin's 432 school districts consistently score much higher than the national average and higher than the average of other midwestern states.

The University of Wisconsin System consists of 13 campuses, 13 two-year centers, and UW-Extension. Currently, nearly 160,000 students are enrolled in the state's university system.

Wisconsin's Vocational, Technical, and Adult Education system, comprising 16 districts, each with a main location institute and several outreach centers, trains, retrains, and upgrades the skills of 450,000 Wisconsin citizens for business and industry annually.