A Wisconsin Idea Timeline

  1. 1849Along with courses in civil polity, algebra and Latin, the university’s first students study “useful arts” and “industrial pursuits,” such as the fundamentals of agriculture — revealing a commitment from the university’s earliest days to teach graduates practical skills so that they could contribute to the state’s industry.
  2. 1862Congress passes the Morrill Act, which granted public land to institutions that taught agriculture and other technical skills. UW became a “land-grant” institution in 1866, when 240,000 acres of federal land in Wisconsin were sold to create an endowment for the university. The grant helped solidify UW’s agricultural programs and set into motion its long history of agricultural research and training.
  3. 1885The Wisconsin State Legislature makes a $5,000 appropriation to the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture for the establishment of education programs for state farmers.
  4. 1886Professor Richard Ely publishes the nation’s first book on labor relations, presaging a period of dramatic reform in government’s role in the workplace.
  5. 1888The state Legislature provides funding for the university to begin offering summer institutes for schoolteachers.
  6. 1889Civil engineering professor C.D. Marx travels to Racine to offer mechanics training to factory workers, the first of a series of mechanics institutes where faculty brought their expertise directly to state workplaces.
  7. 1890Professor Stephen Babcock devises a method to test the butterfat content of milk, allowing merchants to pay farmers based on butterfat rather than weight and effectively ending the days of watered-down milk.
  8. 1895UW bacteriologists discover new techniques for canning vegetables that solve a persistent problem for the state’s canning industry — exploding cans.
  9. 1899Building on the success of summer institutes for farmers and teachers, the university establishes its first official summer session, making courses available to practicing professionals and non-traditional students.
  10. 1901Robert M. La Follette becomes the first UW alumnus to be elected governor of Wisconsin. A former roommate of Charles Van Hise, he articulates a progressive view of politics that sweeps Wisconsin and the nation, leading to legislative reforms in labor laws, social security and education. In his first address to the Legislature, La Follette says: “The State will not have fulfilled its duty to the University nor the University fulfilled its mission to the people until adequate means have been furnished to every young man and woman to acquire an education at home in every department of learning.”
  11. 1907The university creates an extension division to carry the university’s educational resources to citizens around the state.
  12. 1908Extension programs in public health are conducted for school children and adults throughout the state, focusing on nutrition, sanitation, safety, prenatal health, and the prevention and control of communicable diseases.
  13. 1911The state Legislature authorizes the hiring of county agricultural agents, who are employed jointly by the UW and local governments to help advance local agriculture, preceding agencies funded by the federal Smith-Lever Act by three years.
  14. 1917University faculty members begin making regular radio broadcasts from a campus transmitter, operating under the call sign 9XM. Their efforts become the foundation for WHA, the oldest educational radio station in the country.
  15. 1921The university begins offering tests for bovine tuberculosis, helping control the spread of the disease among state dairy herds.
  16. 1925Biochemist Harry Steenbock forms the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation to commercialize his techniques for enriching food with vitamin D. The nation’s oldest university-based intellectual property agency, UW helps move scholarly inventions into the public domain and supports further research by routing licensing fees back to the lab.
  17. 1930sUniversity research yields new hybrids of sweet corn that adapt well to Wisconsin’s low temperatures and shorter growing season, leading the state’s sweet corn crop to quintuple from 1930 to 1950.
  18. 1931WHA Radio’s “School of the Air” broadcasts lessons in civics, music, art, nature and health, and within a decade, nearly 300,000 elementary and high school students are tuned in as regular listeners.
  19. 1933Seeking to explain why cows were dying after eating spoiled sweet clover, biochemist Karl Paul Link discovered a chemical in the plant that he synthesized as the blood thinner dicumarol, which would become an essential anticoagulant for treating blood clots. Link made more than 100 variants of dicumarol, the most potent of which is the basis for Warfarin, a deadly poison used to control rats.
  20. 1935President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, a law that was significantly drafted by UW economist Edwin Witte and drew on the ideas of UW economists John Commons, Arthur Altmeyer and others.
  21. 1940UW horticulturists create North America’s first potato-seed farm to supply farmers with high-quality, disease-free seed potatoes. Some of the nation’s hardiest potato varieties, such as Superior and Snowden, were developed there.
  22. 1949Professor Aldo Leopold publishes A Sand County Almanac, a timeless bestseller that has become the wellspring for modern efforts to preserve the environment.
  23. 1963Engineering professor John Bollinger designs a robotic welding device that could control motion in five directions, helping Milwaukee’s A.O. Smith Company automate its welding process and revolutionize the manufacturing of automobile frames.
  24. 1963The UW schools of Education and Library and Information Studies create the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which houses and analyzes contemporary and historical children’s literature and helps state libraries identify the best books for young minds.
  25. 1968The world’s first successful sibling-to-sibling bone-marrow transplants are performed simultaneously at the UW and the University of Minnesota. Based on a compatibility test devised by Fritz Bach, a UW professor of medical genetics and medicine, bone-marrow transplants have since become a mainstay in the treatment of diseases and disorders such as leukemia.
  26. 1974The UW Law School establishes the Center for Public Representation, which provides free legal assistance to health-care consumers and elderly, disabled and low-income people.
  27. 1985Warzyn Engineering becomes the first company housed at the University Research Park, created to help businesses take university research advances into the marketplace.
  28. 1985Med Flight, the helicopter critical care service of UW-Hospital and Clinics, makes its first flight. Twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year, the flight physicians of UW Med Flight (all UW faculty) go out into the community hospitals, roadsides, farms and factories to bring the medical expertise of UW hospitals to their critically ill/injured patients.
  29. 1987UW surgeon Folkert Belzer and biochemist James Southard create the Wisconsin solution, a fluid for preserving organs for transplant surgery that dramatically increases the time an organ can survive outside the body. Used by hospitals throughout the world, the solution saves lives by providing time to make better matches between a donated organ and a patient, and to transport organs over greater distances.
  30. 1989The Wisconsin Center for Education Research aids in the development of new national standards for teaching math, which replace problems like runaway trains hurtling toward each other at different speeds with everyday situations, to be solved by student teams.
  31. 1996A gift from UW–Madison alumni John and Tashia Morgridge establishes the UW Morgridge Center for Public Service, which promotes citizenship and learning through community service throughout Wisconsin and abroad.
  32. 1998James Thomson and a group of UW-Madison scientists are the first to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells, which can be programmed to form any of the 220 types of tissue in the human body. In 2007, Thomson and his team also discovered a process to isolate pluripotent cells from skin cells, which have the same basic properties as stem cells.
  33. 2001UW–Madison creates the Ira and Ineva Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment with the goal of annually funding new service-learning programs for students, research projects focusing on critical issues in society, and alumni sabbaticals for community service.
  34. 2003Responding to the need for businesses to capitalize on new technology, UW–Madison partners with industry to create the Wisconsin E-Business Initiative, which helps companies find new ways of using Internet technology to exchange goods, services and information, and deliver value to customers.
  35. 2006A research team lead by Max Lagally discovers the ability of very thin sheets of silicone to form flexible, high performance circuits for small electronics. This technology is being explored for use in flexible phones, keyboards and computer displays.
  36. 2006The Wisconsin Energy Institute is founded as a site for collaboration on clean energy research, outreach and education. WEI is home to the first solar energy lab in the U.S. as well as research into biofuels and efficient batteries.
  37. 2010Imbed Biosciences was founded by a group of UW–Madison scientists. The company makes and researches antibacterial silver nanofilms for wound dressing for diabetic ulcers, burn wounds, or after surgery. The nanofilm expedites healing time and helps prevents wound infections.
  38. 2011-2012UW-Madison celebrates the Year of the Wisconsin Idea, the university’s longstanding commitment to applying its research, teaching and outreach to issues and opportunities facing the state.
  39. 2013Stratatech, a company founded by UW Health scientist B. Lynn Allen-Hoffman, receives a $47 million grant to continue research on artificial skin grafts for burn victims. Stratatech’s StrataGraft tissue is a safer, less painful alternative to traditional skin grafts.