Since its founding in 1848, this campus has been a catalyst for the extraordinary. As a public land-grant university and major research institution, our students, staff, and faculty engage in a world-class education while solving real-world problems. With public service — or as we call it, the Wisconsin Idea — as our guiding principle, Badgers are creating a better future for everyone.
Facts and Figures
The Wisconsin Idea: Our commitment to public service regionally, locallyandglobally
Carousel of key historical events. Use the headings or arrow keys to navigate between slides.
Slide 11848 Founding the UW
Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey, approves the UW through the incorporation act of July 26, 1848, and invests its government in a board of regents. The first class met on February 5, 1849 — an event that marks our annual Founders’ Day celebration.
Slide 21890 A dairy state staple
Agricultural chemist Stephen M. Babcock develops the Babcock butterfat test, which becomes the standard for testing the quality of milk.
Slide 31894 Sifting and winnowing
Defending a professor against accusations of socialist indoctrination, the regents issued a now-famous statement on academic freedom: "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."
Slide 41905 The Wisconsin Idea
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.
Slide 51913 & 1916 Finding vitamin A and B
UW researchers E.V. McCollum and Marguerite Davis discover Vitamin A, found to be a vital component in animal feed, and Vitamin B, found to be a preventive against beriberi.
Slide 61924 Unlocking vitamin D
Professor Harry Steenbock discovers that when the skin of animals and food surfaces are exposed to ultraviolet irradiation, vitamin D is produced and stored — making it possible to enrich food with vitamin D and wipe out infantile rickets.
Slide 71926 The first dance
Thanks to Professor Margaret N. H'Doubler's pioneering work, the UW is the first in the nation to award undergraduate degrees in dance education.
Slide 81939 A new frontier
Pioneering environmentalist Aldo Leopold develops a UW department of wildlife management, the nation’s first.
Slide 91966 Tackling poverty
The UW launches the first research center in the country dedicated to the study of poverty, now known as the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Slide 101968 The first transplant
Using techniques developed at UW, the first bone marrow transplant in the United States is performed at UW Hospital.
Slide 111969 Black Student Strike
In 1969, black students at UW–Madison called for a campus-wide student strike until administrators agreed to 13 demands. Joined by thousands of white allies, they held rallies to educate the community about racial inequalities, boycotted classes, marched to the Capitol, took over lecture halls and blocked building entrances. The protest, surging and ebbing over roughly two weeks in February 1969, was among the largest in the university's history.
Slide 121970 Sterling Hall bombing
Campus experiences the most destructive act of domestic terrorism the country had yet seen with the bombing of Sterling Hall. The explosion, a shocking culmination of yearslong dissent and despair over the Vietnam War, kills young researcher Robert Fassnacht and has a profound effect on the national antiwar movement.
Slide 131970 The first synthetic gene
Nobel Prize–winning biochemistry professor Har Gobind Khorana becomes the first to synthesize a gene.
Slide 141978 Satirical student government
The Pail and Shovel party, led by campus pranksters Leon Varjian and James Mallon, takes over student government. Two pranks — erecting a replica Statue of Liberty on frozen Lake Mendota and introducing a flock of pink plastic flamingos to Bascom Hill — have become timeless campus traditions.
Slide 151988 The first laboratory stem cells
UW–Madison researcher James Thomson announces the first successful cultivation of human embryonic stem cells in a laboratory, underpinning a new field of regenerative medicine.
Slide 162013 A new human ancestor
UW–Madison anthropologists help to discover fossils of Homo naledi, a new species on the human family tree, in the Rising Star Cave of South Africa.
Slide 172017 A cosmic discovery
Stationed at the South Pole, UW–Madison researchers find evidence of a source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos deep in the ice — solving a century-old question of the origins of cosmic rays.
Finding truth in our history
UW–Madison is dedicated to creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from every background. And we recognize that to create a better future, we must confront difficult parts of our past. That’s why we're investing in an examination of our history, forging new partnerships with the First Nations of Wisconsin, and more.