Wisconsin is sometimes known as the “Cheese capital” and at other times as the “Beer capital” of the United States. There is justification for both nicknames. Wisconsin was first settled by French explorers who arrived three hundred years ago. They fell in love with the gentle lands that made for fertile farming and immediately set out to take their skills from France and apply them to Wisconsin’s millions of acres. They worked the fields when the territory was controlled by France under the Colony of Louisiana and continued to do so even after present-day Wisconsin was conquered by the British in the mid-18th century and then turned over to the Americans after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783. Today, Wisconsin is full of French named cities and like its ancestral France, is a gastronomical machine, producing about a quarter of the country’s cheese.
Wisconsin’s association with beer, on the other hand, comes from the arrival of another European group, the Germans and Scandinavians. Many of them immigrated after Wisconsin became a state in 1848. They set up farms and started brewing beer, and today Milwaukee is famous for its hundreds of breweries.
Before the arrival of Europeans, however, Wisconsin was roamed by the Chippewa, Menominee, Santee, Winnebago, and the Sioux Indians. These Indians are believed to have settled in Wisconsin about 5,000 years ago, evidenced by the 15,000 mounds in linear, round, conical, and animal-like shapes that they constructed; the function and purpose of these mounds still remain a mystery. They can be visited at the Indian Mounds Park in Rice Lake and at various sites in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Fox, and Menominee river valleys and around the lakes in Madison. The native tribes hunted bison, grew vegetables like squash, rice, beans, and corn, and fished the lakes and rivers. After the Americans assumed control of present-day Wisconsin, however, most of the Indians were slaughtered if not driven off their lands and into reservations.
Today, Wisconsin is an economic star of the snowbelt states. Much of the mid-west, Wisconsin among them, thrived after WWII as bases for America’s industrial and manufacturing prowess. When America’s industrial and manufacturing superiority faded in the 1970s, Wisconsin remained relatively steadfast, resorting to its agricultural production and developing its health care and tourism sectors. The latter remains a key to Wisconsin’s economy. Every year, the state draws more than five million tourists.
With thousands of lakes and rivers and millions of acres of forests, Wisconsin is a beautiful land that easily attracts visitors. Its various regions are a contrast. In the north, you’ll find forests, lakes, and marshes. The central regions consist of vast plains which turn into rolling prairies in the southeast. In the southwest, the landscape features narrow valleys and rounded hills.
Perhaps the main reason people visit is its winter climate, a cold and snowy one that creates opportunities for winter sports and activities. The area around Lake Superior and Michigan in the northeast and the Mississippi and St. Croix river regions in the west are prime winter destinations that are great for skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. But these areas, littered with glacial lakes and forests, also provide perfect settings for camping, hiking, fishing, biking, and hunting, which are just as much summer activities as winter ones.
The Wisconsin Dells is another big draw, located in south-central Wisconsin. There are some 90 attractions in this destination area, including 21 indoor and outdoor water parks as well as opportunities for golfing, horseback riding, and boating. There are even themed resorts and casinos in Dells.
The Circus World Museum in Baraboo is another major attraction, one of the largest circus museums in the world and located in a region where a number of circus acts once reigned. Every now and again, the museum and town still holds the Great Circus Parade.
While Wisconsin is not particularly noted for its cultural attractions, big cities like Milwaukee and Madison also offer great art, theatre, and shopping as well as the comfort and amenities typical of urban centers.