My last Blue Book post prompted me to do a little digging around in its pages. The State Symbols section is a lot of fun.
Here’s what I learned about our state song, “On, Wisconsin!”
The music for “On, Wisconsin!” was composed in 1909 by William T. Purdy with the idea of entering it in a contest for the creation of a new University of Minnesota football song. (“Minnesota” would have replaced “On, Wisconsin” in the opening lines.) Carl Beck persuaded Purdy to dedicate the song to the University of Wisconsin football team instead, and Beck collaborated with the composer by writing the lyrics. The song was introduced at the Madison campus in November 1909. It was later acclaimed by world-famous composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa as the best college song he had ever heard.
Lyrics more in keeping with the purposes of a state song were subsequently written in 1913 by Judge Charles D. Rosa and J. S. Hubbard, editor of the Beloit Free Press. Rosa and Hubbard were among the delegates from many states convened in 1913 to commemorate the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie. Inspired by the occasion, they provided new, more solemn words to the already well-known football song.
Although “On, Wisconsin!” was widely recognized as Wisconsin’s song, the state did not officially adopt it until 1959. Representative Harold W. Clemens discovered that Wisconsin was one of only ten states without an official song. He introduced a bill to give the song the status he thought it deserved. On discovering that many different lyrics existed, an official text for the first verse was incorporated in Chapter 170, Laws of 1959, and it is contained in Section 1.10 of the statutes:
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Grand old badger state!
We, thy loyal sons and daughters, Hail thee, good and great.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Champion of the right,
‘Forward’, our motto — God will give thee might!
A couple years ago, I picked up this old sheet music to “On, Wisconsin!” at a flea market. I meant to have it framed, but never did. Someday. (Image from Historic American Sheet Music)
Did you know that Wisconsin also has a state ballad (“Oh Wisconsin, Land of My Dreams”) and a state waltz (“The Wisconsin Waltz”)? And you can even listen to them, along with “On, Wisconsin!” on the LRB web site. How neat is that?