Wisconsin History Timeline

By | May 12, 2022

During the last Ice Age, North America was sculpted by massive glaciers and subsequent craters formed by receding (melting) ice. In that process, the Great Lakes were born, and this state called Wisconsin was formed.

An advanced mound-building culture (called the Mississippians) flourished in this area of ‚Äč‚ÄčNorth America from AD 800 to the mid-15th century. That civilization disappeared for unknown reasons.

When European explorers arrived, the area was inhabited by a variety of Indian tribes, including the Kickapoo, Menominee, Sioux and Winnebago.

In 1634, looking for a Northwest Passage to China, French explorer Jean Nicolet was the first European to reach the area, coming ashore in what is now the city of Green Bay.

French traders and missionaries followed Nicolet into this uncharted land, and in 1660, a trading post and a Roman Catholic mission were established near Ashland.

By the end of the century, the scattered posts were built as small storehouses for furs; none had permanent settlers, as the French were apparently only interested in fur trading with the Indians.

Nicolas Perrot, a French explorer, diplomat, and fur trader, helped establish Green Bay as the center of the regional fur trade. In 1686 the French formally claimed the entire area for France.

It subsequently became part of a vast piece of land across North America called New France. France held that land for decades until the Treaty of Paris of 1763, when it was awarded to the British as a result of their victory in the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

The British dominated the area during the middle of the 18th century, and they (like the French) were in the fur trading business. British land possessions in America, including the Wisconsin area, ended in 1783 after their crushing defeat in the American War of the Revolution.

In 1787 Wisconsin became part of the American Northwest Territory. and in 1800, part of the Indiana Territory. Later, it was merged into both the Illinois and Michigan territories.

The lead mining boom in the 1820s brought thousands of new settlers. The inevitable conflicts with local Native Americans over land (and mining) rights forced the Federal government to eradicate and force (by convention or by sham) all tribes west of the Mississippi River.

In what turned out to be a disastrous attempt to recapture their local homelands, Fox and the Saw Indians returned in 1832. The ensuing Black Hawk War and its final battle, the Battle of Bad Axe, resulted in deaths (or massacres).) hundreds of Indians, and literally ended any future threat of Native American attacks.

Although an unwarranted fear of Native Americans remained for many years, settlers continued to flow into Wisconsin. On April 20, 1836, the Wisconsin Territory was created by an act of the US Congress. This included all of the present-day states of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, as well as parts of North and South Dakota.

Wisconsin Timeline

1600s – 1700s

  • (1634) French explorer, Jean Nicolet, arrived in the Green Bay area
  • (1666) Nicholas Perrot started the fur trade with the Indians
  • (1673) Water route from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, explored by Louis Jollit and Father Jacques Marquette
  • (1678) Daniel Greisolone Sieur du Loux explored the western end of Lake Superior
  • (1754 – 1763) French and Indian War
  • (1755) British General Braddock defeated by Wisconsin Indians, led by Charles Langlade
  • (1763) Control of the Wisconsin area passed to England under the Treaty of Paris at the end of the French and Indian War
  • (1764) Charles Langlade established the first permanent Euro-American settlement at Green Bay
  • (1774) Act of Quebec includes all Wisconsin lands in the Province of Quebec
  • (1783) US took control of the Wisconsin area in the second Treaty of Paris
  • (1787) Wisconsin became part of the US Northwest Territory, British fur traders continued to control the area


  • (1814) Fort Shelby built at Prairie du Chien, captured by the British, name changed to Fort McKay
  • (1815) British abandoned Fort McKay
  • (1816) Astor’s American Fur Company began operating in Wisconsin
  • (1818) Wisconsin area incorporated into Michigan Territory; territorial governor created two Wisconsin counties: Brown and Crawford
  • (1822) Indians from New York moved to Wisconsin; lead mining started in southwestern Wisconsin
  • (1825) American and Indian representatives met at Prairie du Chien, signed Treaty of Prairie du Chien establishing tribal boundaries
  • (1831) Survey of public lands started by Lucius Lyon
  • (1836) US Congress created Wisconsin Territory; Madison chose as the territorial capital
  • (1837) All territorial banks failed in the Panic of 1837; Winnebago Indians ceded claim to all land in Wisconsin
  • (1848) Wisconsin became the 30th US state; first telegram reached Milwaukee
  • (1851) First railroad opened between Milwaukee and Waukesha
  • (1854) Republican Party founded in Ripon; runaway slave, Joshua Glover, arrested in Racine; The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 unconstitutional


Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, sits on the shores of the vast Lake Michigan. 1872 marked the anniversary Milwaukee began to prosper as the nation’s largest beer exporter, and the city continues as the state’s primary commercial and manufacturing center.

Over the years, Milwaukee has been creating its own Renaissance with the addition of the Riverwalk, the Wisconsin Pier, the Milwaukee Art Museum, urban redevelopment, and neighborhood renewal.

Like other Wisconsin cities, Milwaukee loves its sports teams. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is home to the popular Panthers, an NCAA Division 1 athlete. The Milwaukee Brewers baseball franchise is one of the oldest in the United States playing out of the Miller Park facility where fans can arrange a fully serviced tailgate party.

Milwaukee is a fun city with a growing population and great things to do on a Wisconsin vacation, even in the depths of winter. Enjoy ice fishing on Lake Michigan, ice skating, snow biking, bike racing on a frozen lake, and yes, even a Polar Dive for the more daring members of the crowd.

Every December the Santa Cycle Excitement comes to town… dress up in your Santa suit, reinforce yourself with a local Milwaukee brew holiday cheer and hop on your bike for a tour of all the boutique pubs in town!

  • Christopher Latham Scholes invented the Typewriter in Milwaukee in 1867.
  • Milwaukee is the official US national headquarters for the sport of Bowling.
  • Milwaukee is the hometown of the legendary Harley-Davidson motorcycle company.

Check out these great things to do in Madison on your Wisconsin vacation:

MillerCoors Brewing Company
One of the world’s largest breweries offers free tours through the brewery, including the bottling area, shipping area, processing plant and underground beer storage caves.Enter a world of conveyor belts, huge shimmering brew kettles, and a warehouse holding half a million bear cases. The tour includes cold, refreshing samples of the finest brews for those 21 or older.In 1855 the original Plank Road Brewery was purchased by Frederick Miller and the house-sized replica of this historic brewery is the highlight of the tour. The tour is free and open Monday through Saturday with a gift shop on site.

Allen-Bradley Clock Tower
Dedicated in October 1962, this is the largest non-chiming four-sided clock in the world. Although there are no public tours of the Clock, it can be seen from anywhere on the south side of Milwaukee and is often used as a directional marker and photo backdrop.The 280-foot clock tower is lit up at night and was seen 44 miles away across Lake Michigan. The minute hands are 20 feet long and weigh 550 pounds. On occasion it is open to the public and guests can climb the tower to see the incredible cityscape.

The Milwaukee Harley-Davidson Museum
is the birthplace of the famous Harley-Davidson Motorcycle brand. Over a hundred years in the making, the Harley-Davidson Museum opened its doors in 2008. It’s a great Wisconsin vacation stop for any bike lover.The museum showcases vintage bikes, the history and development of the brand, and famous people and extraordinary stories associated with Harleys across the US and around the world.An abundance of customized bikes, gleaming chrome accessories, and impressive gear, historical tidbits, photographs and Harley related artwork are on display. A tour is available, and a dining and gift shop are on site.

Wisconsin History