Historical Timeline

Year Event
1838 The state territorial legislature passes a bill to establish a University of Wisconsin “at or near Madison, the seat of government.”
1848 Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey, approves the UW through the incorporation act of July 26 and invests its government in a board of regents.
1849 First class meets Feb. 5 under the direction of Professor Sterling. The event is celebrated as Founder’s Day.
1851 North Hall opens. The first campus building, it is designed and used as a classroom facility and a men’s dormitory.
1854 The UW awards its first degrees to Levi Booth and Charles T. Wakeley.
1861 Wisconsin Alumni Association formed.
1863 First women admitted to UW in the Normal Department. In 1867, to satisfy President Paul Chadbourne’s anti-coeducation views, the Normal Department is abolished and replaced by the separate Female College. In 1871, the Female College building (later Chadbourne Hall) opens. Due primarily to the efforts of President John A. Bascom, Female College closes during 1874-75, and women officially received full coeducational status.
1866 Legislature designates the UW as the Wisconsin land-grant institution. (The Morrill Act of 1862 established the program. The Legislature accepted the grant in 1863 but did not name an institution until 1866. The naming of the UW involved a legislative reorganization, essentially reestablishing the university to include an agricultural department.)
1869 Bachelor’s degrees awarded to women.
1872 Legislature begins making annual contributions for support of the university.
1875 The UW establishes the nation’s first Scandinavian studies department.
1876 The UW establishes the country’s first magnetic observatory.
1877 Cadwallader C. Washburn, former regent and governor, gives the first major gift to the university, $43,000 to build and furnish an observatory overlooking Lake Mendota.
1881 Agricultural physicist Franklin H. King develops the round silo.
1883 Pharmacy is established as a department, and in 1892, offers a four-year bachelor of science degree.
1884 John Stearns is appointed the first full-time education faculty member.
1885 Marching Band is founded to accompany the University Military Battalion.
1888 The appointment of Professor Joseph Jastrow makes the psychology department the oldest continuously supported psychology department in the country.
1889 Legislature formally establishes the colleges of Letters and Science, Mechanics and Engineering, Agriculture and Law.
1890 Agricultural chemist Stephen W. Babcock develops the Babcock butterfat test, which becomes the standard for testing the quality of milk.
1891 Edward A. Birge is named first dean of the College of Letters and Science. William Arnon Henry is named the first dean of the College of Agriculture. University Extension is established, largely due to efforts of President Thomas Chamberlin.
1892 Charles R. Van Hise receives the first UW Ph.D. (Van Hise later becomes first UW graduate to be named its president.)
1893 Frederick Jackson Turner delivers an essay about the significance of the frontier in American history at a meeting of the American Historical Association. As early as 1895, he teaches the first course on the history of the American West.
1894 Following controversy, regents adopt an academic freedom statement: “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin shall ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.”
1894 Armory-Gymnasium opens on Langdon Street.
1899 Regents establish the Summer Session and name College of Letters and Science Dean Edward Birge as its director.
1903 Legislature establishes the State Laboratory of Hygiene at the request of the UW and the state Board of Health.
1904 Regents establish the Graduate School. (The Committee of Graduate Study was first organized in 1895. Before 1895, individual departments conducted graduate study with no coordination among them.)
1905 Under President Charles R. Van Hise, the Wisconsin Idea — the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom — becomes a living doctrine.
1907 Wisconsin Union founded as one of the first college unions in the nation, second only to Harvard’s union.
1907 The College of Medicine is established to run a two-year, preclinical course. In 1919, the Legislature grants permission to plan a full, four-year course. Wisconsin General Hospital admits the first patients on Sept. 29, 1924. In fall 1925, the first class of clinical students (19 men and six women) begins work. First M.D.s awarded in 1927.
1908 First student-health facility established, a precursor to the University Health Services, which opens in 1910.
1909 The Department of Agricultural Economics is established — the first of its kind in the United States.
1910 The genetics department, known until 1918 as the experimental breeding department, is the first such department in the United States.
1913 E.V. McCollum discovers Vitamin A, found to be a vital component in animal feed.
1914 The university establishes first curriculum in speech correction and first speech clinic in the country.
1916 E.V. McCollum and Margaret Davis discover Vitamin B, found to be a preventive against beriberi.
1917 WHA, considered the oldest radio station in the nation in continuous service, begins broadcasting.
1921 Professor Edgar Gordon starts “Music Appreciation” on WHA, the first course broadcast over radio.
1922 Professor Joel Stebbins, newly appointed director of the Washburn Observatory, attaches a photodiode to the 15-inch telescope to measure and track stars, making the UW the nation’s pioneer in systematic photoelectric astronomy.
1922 Sara Stinchfield receives the first Ph.D. in communicative disorders in the country.
1924 Professor Harry Steenbock discovers that when the skin of animals and food surfaces are exposed to ultraviolet irradiation, vitamin D is produced and stored. This makes it possible to enrich food with vitamin D by exposing it to ultraviolet light, a process that helps wipe out infantile rickets.
1924 Wisconsin General Hospital (known today as UW Hospital and Clinics) opens in April.
1924 School of Nursing is established.
1925 Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is chartered, largely to control the patent on Harry Steenbock’s vitamin D work.
1926 Based on Margaret N. H’Doubler’s pioneering work in dance education, the UW is the first in the nation to award undergraduate degrees in dance education.
1927 The Experimental College opens, directed by Alexander Meiklejohn.
1928 Memorial Union opens the first university union art gallery.
1929 The School of Business establishes the country’s first graduate program in public utilities.
1930 Memorial Union opens the first craft shop housed in a union building and establishes an outing club, Wisconsin Hoofers, as a part of a recreation center.
1930 The School of Education is established, following the 1919 creation of an Education Department within the College of Letters and Science.
1930s Frederick Mohs, emeritus professor of surgery, begins developing the Mohs Micrographic Surgery Technique to precisely remove external cancers, such as mouth, lip and skin cancer.
1930s E.B. Hart and colleagues develop a method for stabilizing iodine in salt, a convenient delivery system still commonly used to ensure adequate iodine in human diets.
1932 Animal behaviorist Harry Harlow founds the Primate Laboratory, including the nation’s first monkey-breeding colony.
1932 The UW releases Wisconsin’s first strain of hybrid corn.
1933 Memorial Union becomes the country’s first public university union to serve beer (3.2 percent alcohol, as declared by Congress as nonintoxicating).
1935 UW economist Edwin Witte heads the commission that drafts the Social Security legislation as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
1936 John Steuart Curry paints murals for the artist-in-residence program, the first of its kind at an American university.
1937 Conrad Elvehjem leads UW researchers who find that niacin supplementation prevents pellagra, a disease that killed 5,000 people a year at the time.
1939 Aldo Leopold develops a UW department of wildlife management, the nation’s first.
1939 The College of Agriculture establishes the first Wisconsin artificial-breeding program.
1939 Wisconsin Union Theater opens with the premiere performance of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in “The Taming of the Shrew.”
1941 Harold Rusch, a UW oncology professor, is the first to show which wavelength of ultraviolet light produces skin cancer. Rusch also founds the McArdle Cancer Research Laboratory.
1945 The UW Foundation is organized to assist in fundraising and development.
Early 1950s Charles Heidelberger, professor of oncology, discovers the anticancer drug fluorouracil, used to treat a variety of cancers.
1950s-’60s Elizabeth and James Miller, professors of oncology, identify characteristics among chemicals that cause cancer.
1951 UW researchers transfer a fertilized ovum from one cow to another, which gives birth, leading to a procedure called embryo transplant.
1951 Professor Dean Meeker begins the nation’s first course in silk-screening as an art medium. The process had been used solely for commercial purposes.
1957 Manucher Javid, professor of surgery, revolutionizes human brain surgery when he uses a solution from the compound urea, alleviating swelling of brain tissue during surgery.
1960s Derek Cripps, professor of medicine, lays the foundation for U.S. Food and Drug Administration adoption of sun protection factor (SPF) ratings for suntan, sunscreen and cosmetic products.
1960s Harry Waisman, professor of pediatrics, develops a test for phenylketonuria (PKU), a congenital disease causing mental retardation in infants.
1963 Professor Harvey Littleton initiates the nation’s first formal glass-working course.
1965 John R. Cameron and Richard Mazess, emeriti professors of medical physics, along with other UW researchers, develop new techniques to measure osteoporosis, allowing better detection, prevention and treatment of bone diseases.
1965 UW-Extension is created as a separate unit.
1966 National Organization for Women, launched by Kathryn Clarenbach and Betty Friedan, is first housed in Clarenbach’s faculty office on the UW campus.
1967 The Biotron opens as the first research building in which environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, airflow and length of day can be precisely controlled for experimental purposes.
1967 A series of protests against the war in Vietnam begins with an Oct. 18 demonstration against Dow Chemical. Confrontations between students and police and National Guard troops escalate, culminating in the August 1970 bombing of Sterling Hall, which killed one graduate researcher.
1968 The UW becomes the seat of the Wisconsin Sea Grant program.
1968 The School of Business launches the country’s first graduate program in arts administration.
1968 Using techniques developed at the UW, the first bone marrow transplant in the United States is performed at UW Hospital.
1968 The UW’s Space Astronomy Laboratory constructs the world’s first true observatory in space — the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory.
1968 Harry Harlow becomes the first animal behaviorist — and only the second psychologist — to win the prestigious National Medal of Science.
1968 A team of Medical School researchers led by Richard Hong, professor of pediatrics and medical microbiology, discovers how to predict the success of bone marrow transplants by testing blood and tissue compatibility of donors and recipients.
1969 The UW establishes world’s first research center on rheology, a branch of physics.
1969 George Bryan, professor of human oncology, finds evidence that links cancer in laboratory animals with saccharine and cyclamates, artificial sweeteners used in soft drinks and other foods. Both substances are subsequently banned.
1970 The Faculty Senate holds its first meeting, replacing meetings of the whole faculty.
1970 The Institute for Environmental Studies is established.
1970 Nobel Prize-winning biochemistry professor Har Gobind Khorana becomes the first to synthesize a gene.
1971 The Legislature establishes the University of Wisconsin System, merging the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State Universities.
1971 Union South, a part of the Wisconsin Union, opens to serve the expanding campus.
1971 Richard Hong, a professor of pediatrics and microbiology, develops a new thymus transplant technique for treating immune-system deficiencies in children and young adults.
1972 The Business School launches the first graduate program in health-care fiscal administration.
1973 Sapporo Gold, the country’s first artificially produced variety of elm resistant to Dutch Elm disease, is released.
1975 UW oncology professor Howard Temin receives the Nobel Prize for his discovery of retroviruses, viruses that transmit genetic information in a way that is exactly opposite to what had been believed.
1976 Charles Mistretta, professor of medical physics, develops a method to digitize X-ray images of blood vessels, allowing data to be stored and interpreted by a computer.
1979 The 1.5-million-square-foot Clinical Science Center opens, providing facilities for UW Hospital and Clinics, UW Clinical Cancer Center, UW Children’s Hospital, and clinical programs for the medical and nursing schools.
1980s Based on research begun in the 1970s by V. Craig Jordan, professor of human oncology and pharmacy, Douglass Tormey, professor of human oncology and medicine, finds that tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen drug, can prevent breast cancer from recurring in some women.
1980s The first clinical trials using two types of interferon — a natural substance that helps the body’s defenses against cancer — produced by recombinant DNA are done at the UW Clinical Cancer Center.
1980s Ian Robins, associate professor of human oncology and medicine, tests a systemic hyperthermia device using radiant heat in clinical trials to treat cancer.
1981 The medical physics department is founded, the first in the nation within a medical school.
1983 The School of Veterinary Medicine, established by the Legislature in 1979, admits its first class.
1984 University Research Park is founded to encourage technology transfer and create an endowment for research programs.
1985 The atomic structure of a common cold virus is described for the first time by UW-Madison researchers working with a Purdue University team.
1985 The university integrates Extension departments separated from campus since 1965.
1986 Richard Love, associate professor of human oncology, medicine, and family medicine and practice, studies the long-term effects of the drug tamoxifen on postmenopausal women who have had cancer.
1986 Waclaw Szybalski, professor of oncology, in conjunction with a Polish associate, develops the first pair of “chemical scissors” capable of cutting DNA molecules.
1986 The Center for Dairy Research is established.
1987 Folkert Belzer, professor of surgery, preserves dog livers up to 36 hours and dog pancreases up to 72 hours using cold-storage preservation solutions.
1987 The Academic Staff Assembly holds its first meeting.
1988 Initiatives designed to increase racial and ethnic diversity on campus are introduced. Wisconsin Welcome activities are inaugurated to ease the transition to college for new students.
1988 The National Geographic Society introduces its improved world map projection, developed by Arthur H. Robinson, a UW geography professor.
1989 Students begin registering for classes by touchtone telephone.
1989 The UW Foundation launches a $350 million Campaign for Wisconsin, and increases the goal to $400 million in 1991.
1990 UW-Madison horticulturists announce the development of the world’s first genetically altered trees designed to withstand herbicides, holding great promise for the paper and lumber industries.
1993 Donna E. Shalala resigns as UW-Madison chancellor to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet. David Ward, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, is named to succeed Shalala.
1993 The university’s Division of Information Technology initiates email accounts for students.
1993 The Campaign for Wisconsin concludes with $472 million raised to benefit UW-Madison.
1994 Science Hall and the Armory-Gymnasium are dedicated as National Historic Landmarks.
1994 Hector F. DeLuca, discoverer of a “super vitamin-D” compound, and colleagues develop biochemical techniques to synthesize the vitamin, opening the way to advances in the treatment of diseases such as osteoporosis.
1995 The National Science Foundation selects UW-Madison as the site for the National Institute for Science Education, which seeks to reform teaching of science, math and engineering from kindergarten to college.
1996 UW Hospital and Clinics begins operating under a public authority, separating the hospital’s administrative functions from the university.
1996 Regents approve the Campus Master Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for campus development — from facilities to bike circulation and more — into the 21st century.
1996 Freshmen begin a new core curriculum of 21-30 credit hours to enhance writing and critical thinking skills.
1997 UW-Madison becomes one of six universities to participate in an $8.6 million effort funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to curb binge drinking among students.
1997 Chadbourne Residential College, an experiment in combining learning with residential life, opens within a 750-student residence hall.
1997 UW-Madison chemists Regina Murphy and Laura Kiessling discover how to disrupt the toxicity of proteins that form brain lesions in Alzheimer’s patients, potentially leading to treatment of the disease.
1998 The Armory-Gymnasium reopens after extensive renovation as a facility for student services, organizations, financial aid and a visitors center.
1998 Researcher James A. Thomson announces the successful cultivation in the laboratory of human embryonic stem cells — primordial cells that have the capacity to develop into any tissue in the body.
1999 A yearlong slate of events rings in the university’s sesquicentennial celebration, highlighted by a campuswide open house that brings people from around the state to learn about the university’s work.
2000 Chancellor David Ward steps down at the end of the year. Provost John Wiley is named UW-Madison’s chancellor as of Jan. 1, 2001.
2001 The $45 million Rennebohm Hall opens, giving the School of Pharmacy a state-of-the-art facility.
2001 UW-Madison begins moving toward a new Internet-based system for student grade reports, no longer automatically sending paper reports.
2002 The university continues its move toward Web-based student services by implementing an online enrollment-and-registration service.
2005 A $20 million gift from alumni Jerome and Simona Chazen funds a major expansion of the Elvehjem Museum of Art, and the university renames the museum in honor of the Chazens.
2005 Barry Alvarez, head football coach and director of athletics, announces that he will remain as director, but step down as coach at the end of the season. Badgers defensive coordinator Bret Bielema fills the head coach position.
2006 Alumni John and Tashia Morgridge give UW-Madison its largest individual gift ever, paving the way for scientific collaboration at a new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. The $50 million donation is matched by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
2007 The new American Family Children’s Hospital opens, incorporating ideas gathered from patients, families and the community.
2007 A 330,000-square-foot facility — the campus’s largest academic building — opens. The Microbial Sciences Building was created to encourage cross-disciplinary work to solve problems and advance research.
2007 A group of alumni gives $85 million to form the Wisconsin Naming Partnership, designed to preserve the name for the Wisconsin School of Business for at least 20 years. The naming gift is the first of its kind received by a U.S. business school.
2007 UW-Madison is named to lead the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a consortium of universities, the Department of the Energy and businesses launched to explore the vast potential of bioenergy.
2008 Ground is broken for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, a state-of-the-art research facility that will house the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and the private Morgridge Institute for Research.
2009 The UW System Board of Regents adopts the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, a supplemental tuition charge designed to invest in the quality of the undergraduate experience while vastly expanding the pool of need-based financial aid.
2009 The Great People Scholarship campaign is launched to raise funds for need-based financial aid.
2010 Illuminate: UW-Madison Year of the Arts, designed to celebrate the breadth, depth, power and purpose of the arts on campus, offers some 300 performances, exhibits, symposia, public events, publications and distinguished visiting speakers.
2010 The UW undertakes two cross-campus initiatives to tackle complex societal issues: global health and sustainability.
2010 Go Big Read, a common-reading program for the campus and community, is launched.
2010 The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery opens. In 2012, the facility is named Laboratory of the Year by R&D Magazine.
2011 The Year of the Wisconsin Idea highlights how the work of the university contributes to the state, nation and world.
2011 During the 2010-11 academic year, the UW awards more than 10,000 degrees for the first time in its history.
2011 The new Union South, a $94.8 million facility offering dining, recreation, meeting and lodging spaces, replaces an underused and awkwardly designed predecessor. The 276,644-square-foot facility on West Dayton Street is funded by student fees approved in a referendum, donations and program revenue.
2011 The UW receives the top ranking among U.S. colleges and universities for “brand equity” on the Internet.
2011 Three campuswide initiatives are begun to address strategic priorities: educational innovation, administrative excellence and human resources design.
2012 An annual giving campaign, Share the Wonderful, is launched to encourage alumni to provide critical funding support to the university. The effort, undertaken by the UW, the UW Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Association, is directed toward resources to improve the students’ educational experience, and to recruit and retain top faculty.
2012 The university’s Parent Program, started in 2007, expands to include parents of international students among its more than 28,500 members.
2012 After decades of work, the last volume of the UW’s Dictionary of Regional English is published.
2012 UWRightNow, a real-time, multimedia project featuring 24 hours in the life of the university, attracts more than 14,000 visitors from all 50 states and 66 countries.
2012 To mark its 150th anniversary, the Wisconsin Alumni Association announces plans for Alumni Park, a promenade and green space along the shore of Lake Mendota.
2012 The Year of Innovation focuses on the UW’s relentless pursuit of new knowledge, and celebrates the past, present and future of innovation at the university.
2012 A central Office of Undergraduate Advising is created to improve the overall advising experience for students.
2013 Representatives of the provost’s office and the Office of Corporate Relations participate in a trade mission to China to explore academic and business partnership opportunities.
2013 The Wisconsin Energy Institute, a center for clean energy research and education, opens.
2013 The university launches its first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), online courses aimed at large-scale participation.
2014 Signe Skott Cooper Hall, featuring cutting-edge learning environments, opens as the new home of the School of Nursing.
2014 Leadership of the university’s research enterprise is divided into a vice chancellor for research and graduate education and a dean of the Graduate School.
2014 UW alumni John and Tashia Morgridge donate $100 million, the largest single contribution from
2015 The UW Foundation and the university launch All Ways Forward, the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history, with a goal of $3.2 billion.