Wisconsin Historical Society

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Wisconsin Firsts and Other Famous Facts

Some Famous Firsts and Other Happenings in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin can lay claim to an amazing number of inventors and their inventions, creative thinkers and events that changed history. Use this list in your classroom for research ideas, easy reference, timeline creation, and more.

1856 - First American Kindergarten
The first kindergarten in the United States was opened in 1856 by Margarethe Meyer Schurz in Watertown. It was based on her experiences in Germany with educator Friedrich Froebel.
1869 - Invention of the Typewriter
The first typewriter was invented by Milwaukee newspaperman and politician Christopher Latham Sholes in 1867. The rights for his invention were sold to Remington Company.
1873 - Invention of an Automobile
The Reverend John W. Carhalt built a steam-propelled automobile called "the Spark" at Racine. In 1908, at the International Automobile Exposition in Paris, France, Carhart was addressed as the "Father of Automobiles" and given a cash reward and certificate of honor for his invention.
1878 - Invention of the Knotter
John T. Appleby patented the knotter. Attached to reapers, this invention ties bundles of grain with twine.
1878 - First Auto Race
The state legislature offered $10,000 to the inventor of a machine that could move from Green Bay to Madison under its own power. The race was won by Alexander Gallagher of Oshkosh; the vehicle's average speed was 6 mph. The driver did stop along the way to demonstrate the vehicle's power and to make repairs.
1882 - First Ringling Brothers' Show
Ringling Brothers' first performance was in Mazomanie, November 27.
1883 - Invention of Malted Milk
William Horlick, Racine, developed this product.
1883 - Invention of the Cast Iron Bathtub
The first enameled cast iron plumbing fixtures were manufactured in Sheboygan by John Michael Kohler.
1885 - Birthplace of Flag Day
Bernard J. Cigrand, a 19-year-old teacher, and pupils at Stoney Hill School, Ozaukee County, celebrated the birthday of our flag, June 14, 1785. National Flag Day was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.
1886 - First Successful Electric Commercial Streetcar
Appleton operated an electric street railway, August 16, 1886.
1887 - First Church Building of the Christian Scientists
Seven years after Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christ Scientist, the first church building of this faith was built at Oconto.
1890 - Invention of the Babcock Milk Tester
Stephen M. Babcock, University of Wisconsin professor, invented a method of measuring the amount of butterfat in milk.
1893 - Turner's Frontier Thesis
University of Wisconsin professor Frederick Jackson Turner was first to suggest how the American national character had been influenced by the freedom of the frontier.
1904 - First Steel Automobile Frame Produced
The first steel automobile frame was produced by Arthur Oliver Smith in Milwaukee. By 1920 the company's plant produced 10,000 frames per day.
1910 - First United States Forest Products Laboratory
Established at Madison to conduct research on wood.
1915 - First Forest Patrol Flight
Airplanes were used for the first time in patrolling forests and detecting fires. Jack Vilas made the first flight on June 29, 1915.
1917 - First Highway Numbering System
Created in Wisconsin, this highway numbering system was later adopted nationwide.
1917 - Longest Running Radio Station
A University of Wisconsin experimental station called 9XM transmitted radio signals. Later known as WHA, the station has existed longer than any other.
1919 - First State to Ratify the Women's Suffrage Amendment
In the fight for women's rights, Wisconsin was the first state to register ratification of the women suffrage amendment.
1932 - First to Help the Unemployed
Governor Philip La Follette signed Wisconsin's first unemployment compensation law on January 28, 1932, becoming a model for the nation. Wisconsin was the first state to pass an unemployment compensation law.
1933 - Nation's First Watershed Project
Coon Creek Watershed in Vernon County was the nation's first large scale demonstration of soil and water conservation.
1960 - First Woman Elected to a Major State Office
Dena Smith was elected state treasurer.
1961 - First Law for Seat Belts
In September, Governor Nelson signed into law the requirement that safety belts be on the front seats of all new cars sold in the state beginning with the 1962 models. This was the first such law in the nation.
1966 - First Bikeway
This bikeway, the first in the nation, is marked from Kenosha to La Crosse. Riders may pick up the trail at any point along its route.
1982 - First Statewide Gay Rights Law Passed
Wisconsin led the way by passing the country's first statewide gay rights law.