Also known as Madison or UW-Madison, the University of Wisconsin was established in 1848, when Wisconsin became a formal state. It is a public land-grant research university and the official state university of Wisconsin. It is also the primary campus of the University of Wisconsin System. The UW-Madison is the pioneer public institution built in the state and is still the largest public university in Wisconsin. In 1866, it became a land-grant university with a 933-acre main campus in Lake Mendota. The university is also known for housing and operating a vast 1200-acre conservatory founded in 1932.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is structured with 20 schools and colleges with programs over 100 undergraduate majors, 148 master’s degree programs, and more than 100 doctoral academic programs. UW-Madison contributes to the state’s economy, being the largest employee with more than 21,000 employees.

Wisconsin is one of the founding members of the Association of American Universities. The group consists of leading research universities in North America. As a Public Ivy and an R1 University, UW-Madison is big on research rigorous research activities. It recorded an expenditure of $1.2 billion for research in 2018. Turing award winners, Nobel laureates, and Fields medalists come from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as of March 2020.

UW-Madison is the venue for some of the most important scientific advances, including discovering vitamins A and B, the first chemical synthesis of a gene, developing the anticoagulant medication warfarin, and the first synthesis of the human embryonic system.

Through time, new campuses were annexed to the university. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was founded in 1956. New freshman-sophomore institutions were also founded on the system. In 1971, the University of Wisconsin was merged with nine universities and other freshman-sophomore campuses, making the University of Wisconsin System.


UW-Madison officially started operations in 1838 after the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature passed the law to integrate a “University of the Territory of Wisconsin.” Nelson Dewey signed the act that officially founded the University of Wisconsin on July 26, 1848. John H. Lathrop served as the first chancellor of the university in 1849. On February 5, 1849, the first class was attended by 17 students, with John W. Sterling as their professor. A 50-acre land was selected as the site for the campus. The university’s main campus was designed facing the Capitol.

The Bascom Hall was established in 1859, and on October 10, 1916, it was devoured by fire and ruined the building’s dome. The first actual building on campus, North Hall, was created in 1851. The pioneer graduates of the UW-Madison were Levi Booth and Charles T. Wakeley. The first Ph.D. was given to Charles R. Van Hise in 1892.

The Wisconsin Idea

In 1904, UW- Madison President Charles Van Hise coined the “Wisconsin Idea” after he said that he would not be content until the influence of UW-Madison reaches every home in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Idea is all about conducting research and studies to solve problems and improve quality of life and health. It allows faculty members, students, and the government to work hand in hand to forge goals and aspirations that will benefit the entire population. The Wisconsin Idea still motivates staff and students to solve existing problems by working closely across demographics and disciplines.

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