This article was last modified on October 28, 2018.


Local History Class: Wisconsin Becomes the Dairy State

Charles Rockwell made cheese in 1837 near Fort Atkinson (11 years before statehood). Anne Pickett began a cheese factory in nearby Lake Mills in June 1841. A handful of cheesemakers attended the first Wisconsin State Fair in October 1851. John J. Smith of Sheboygan was the first man to sell his cheese outside his local area, securing customers in Chicago in 1858. As the story goes, he had a hard time getting sales because stores only wanted “New York cheese”; any other source had no reputation.

Chester “Chet” Hazen established the first true (commercial) cheese factory in Ladoga in 1864. For him, cheese was not part of a farm. It was everything – he “imported” milk, made the cheese, and would sell it as far as he could, even to New York. He was shipping out train cars full, producing 194,544 pounds a year in the early days.

The Morrill Act was first proposed in 1857, and was passed by Congress in 1859, but it was vetoed by President James Buchanan. In 1861, Morrill resubmitted the act with the amendment that the proposed institutions would teach military tactics as well as engineering and agriculture. Aided by the secession of many states that did not support the plans, this reconfigured Morrill Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862. The previous day Lincoln signed a bill financing the transcontinental railroad with land grants. Less than two months earlier he signed the Homestead Act encouraging western settlement. Together these actions, taken at a time when the Union Army was poorly performing, did much to define post–Civil War America. Under the act, each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres of federal land, either within or contiguous to its boundaries, for each member of congress the state had as of the census of 1860. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding the educational institutions described above. States that seceded were not eligible. Interestingly, not all the land/money went to the UW – New York’s Cornell University was financed in part by the sale of Wisconsin timber on federal land.

April 12, 1866: The UW-Madison opens a 195-acre experimental farm and creates a full-time position for an agriculture professor. The first notable department head was W. A. Henry, who saw the importance of touring the state; farmers benefited from new knowledge being brought to them rather than having to leave their farms to enroll in a course. Henry would later (1898) write “Feeds and Feeding”, considered the most influential dairy book ever written.

If one man can be credited with creating the Dairyland, it is William Dempster Hoard (1836-1918). He saw that wheat was on its way out (in Wisconsin), and thought dairy farming could be a replacement. He pushed for a statewide convention on February 15, 1872 and then launched a national magazine in 1885 to promote the dairy industry.

Wisconsin Statute W.S.A. 995.24 creates a Wisconsin state holiday called William D. Hoard Day. It reads “October 10 is designated as William D. Hoard Day. Appropriate exercises and celebrations may be held on that day, William D. Hoard’s birthday, to honor him and remember him as … the leading promoter of the dairy industry through his weekly magazine, Hoard’s Dairyman.”

The National Dairy Shrine’s museum in Fort Atkinson contains exhibits about the history of dairying. Dairying objects in its collection include butter churns, milking machines, a treadle, and items used in the Babcock test.
Stephen Moulton Babcock (1843-) at the UW found a reliable way to measure butterfat in 1890. This helped standardize the way farmers were paid. (Milk values are dependent on butterfat content.)

1910: Wisconsin had 1,928 cheese factories. Green County (Monroe, southwest of Madison) had 213 cheese factories! Outagamie had 99.

1913: Milk is now pasteurized. This was important because prior to this, poor quality milk was often the cause of typhoid and scarlet fever.

1915: Wisconsin is #1 in cheese and butter, a title it has held on to for over 100 years. In 1916, the state began requiring cheesemakers to have a license.

1921: The grading of cheese began, with the highest rating being AA. Anything under B is rejected.

1000s of farmers united in 1933 – some through the Wisconsin Farm Holiday Association, some through the “radical” Wisconsin Cooperative Milk Pool. In one instance, 4,250 gallons of milk were dumped in a single day in Racine. Bombs were thrown at creameries. And one dairy had its milk supply tainted with kerosene.

1935: Only 10% of farms had electricity, meaning all milking was done by hand. This jumped to 90% by 1950.

1948: The first ever Alice in Dairyland. As of 2018, there has never been a winner from Kaukauna… but Beverly Ann Steffen (later Brunner) of Appleton won in 1952. She got to ride in the Rose Bowl Parade, was hired on at General Mills and then moved to Los Angeles where she became a “food stylist” for advertising.

Pizza / mozzarella really took off around 1950, as Americans who were in Italy during WWII liked what they were fed. When Dean Martin sang about “pizza pie” in 1953, most people didn’t know what it was. In 2003, mozzarella became the #1 selling cheese (passing cheddar). In 2007, it was 33% of all cheese produced in the United States.
Two cheeses were invented in Wisconsin: Colby in 1885 (near Colby) and Brick in 1877 (in Dodge County).

1967: The Oleo Wars end.

(Two other related topics were covered: The 1933 Milk Strike and Kaukauna Klub cheese. Notes on those were made separately and will be uploaded at a later time.)

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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