Madison is the capital of Wisconsin, as well as the County Seat of Dane County. Madison’s picturesque location between Lakes Mendota and Menona, along with its vibrant university scene, makes it quite desirable both as a place to live and a place to visit. Madison began in 1836, when former federal judge James Duane Doty purchased the isthmus between the two lakes. He named his future city “Madison” in honor of James Madison, the 4th President of the United States who died that year. Within months of Doty’s purchase, Madison was named as the state’s future capital city due to its location halfway between Milwaukee in the east, the Mississippi River post of Prairie du Chien, the lead-mining regions in the southwest, and Wisconsin’s oldest city, Green Bay, in the northeast. You might notice that the streets of downtown Madison are named after the 39 signers of the Constitution.
Today, state and county government, and the University of Wisconsin are the major source of employment for Madison residents.
Around the Capitol Square area, surrounding the iconic Capitol Building, you will find numerous restaurants and pubs offering anything from upscale tasting menus and wine flights to crepes and cheese curds from a food truck. State Street is the vein that connects downtown Madison and Capitol Square to the University of Wisconsin campus. Running East to West and lined with eclectic boutiques, bars, restaurants and arts venues, State Street is open only to pedestrians and bicycles. A fun fact about Madison, inspired by a 1979 student prank where 1,000 pink flamingos were placed on the lawn of Beacon Hill leading up to the Dean’s office, the plastic pink flamingo was chosen as the official city bird in 2009.
The University of Wisconsin was founded in 1848, shortly after the incorporation of the state of Wisconsin that same year. The original state constitution called for the establishment of a state university near the capitol, prompting the establishment of UW on 50 acres surrounding what is now Bascom Hill. Today, the campus covers 935 acres along Lake Mendota, enrolling approximately 42,000 students each year.
Over half of the undergraduate population is enrolled in the College of Letters and Science, a liberal arts college housing programs such as linguistics, biology, sociology and zoology. UW is the leader of embryonic stem cell research, and is home to the Engine Research Center, researching internal combustion engines for GM. UW is also a sea grant university, performing projects of use to U.S. coastlines and the Great Lakes.
The University of Wisconsin gave life to the “Wisconsin Idea,” introduced by UW President Charles Van Hise in 1904. Van Hise put forth that, being a public university, the work and research performed at UW should benefit the state and its residents; therefore, bringing about the idea that public universities, local and state governments, and businesses should work together to solve problems.