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Why Is Wisconsin Called the Badger State?

Wisconsin earned the nickname "The Badger State" not from the animal, but from early 19th-century miners who burrowed into hillside caves, resembling badgers, as they sought lead ore. This industrious spirit is woven into the state's history. Discover how these tenacious miners shaped Wisconsin's identity and what other secrets lie beneath its surface. What legacy did they leave behind?
Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim

Unlike most of the other states that are named after animals, the nickname for the state of Wisconsin is not due to the animal it is named after being abundant in its territorial borders. One of the state nicknames of Wisconsin is “The Badger State.” This nickname is not a direct reference to the presence of the animals in the state. Rather, the nickname is a consequence of the behavior of the early settlers. The appellation “The Badger State” is an indirect reference to the behavior of badgers, while describing that of the miners.

In the 1830s, lead miners who worked at the various locations had a peculiar habit of digging homes out of hillsides located next to the mines. These homes were temporary in nature and meant to serve as places of abode in close proximity to the mines. A lot of people thought the habit was very odd, and soon the abodes dug out of the hillsides were referred to as “badger dens” while the miners who dug them were referred to as “badgers.” This was most certainly not a complimentary appellation since it had a derisive undertone. The miners were called badgers because their act of digging the caves in the ground was a little too similar to that of the badgers who also dug underground places of abode. The name soon stuck and was extended to other citizens of the state of Wisconsin and, eventually, to the state as a whole.

Miners earned Wisconsin the nickname "The Badger State."
Miners earned Wisconsin the nickname "The Badger State."

Wisconsin is home to a number of copper mines where a substantial quantity of copper is mined annually. This led to another state nickname that is connected to the mines and the mining industry. In addition to “The Badger State,” Wisconsin is also called “The Copper State.”

Another reason why the state is called “The Badger State” is due to the fact that the badger was officially adopted in 1957 as Wisconsin’s official state animal. A nickname that actually suits Wisconsin more than “The Badger State” is “The Dairy State.” This is due to the fact that Wisconsin has a thriving dairy product industry fueled by the abundance of dairy cows in the state. Wisconsin is the second largest producer of dairy products in the United States, next to the state of California. Some of the dairy products include milk and cheese. The enormous amount of cheese produced in the state has led to the nickname of “The Cheese State.”

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of Wisconsin's nickname, the Badger State?

Wisconsin's nickname is an indirect reference to the behavior of badgers.
Wisconsin's nickname is an indirect reference to the behavior of badgers.

The nickname "Badger State" originates from the 1820s and 1830s when lead miners in the area, who came to work the state's rich lead deposits, would dig temporary homes in the hillside, much like badgers. These miners were subsequently referred to as "badgers," leading to Wisconsin's nickname. This term reflected the miners' lifestyle rather than the abundance of the animal in the state.

Are badgers common in Wisconsin, contributing to its nickname?

Also called "The Dairy State," Wisconsin is the second-largest producer in the United States, second only to California.
Also called "The Dairy State," Wisconsin is the second-largest producer in the United States, second only to California.

Contrary to what the nickname might suggest, the American badger is not particularly abundant in Wisconsin. The state's nickname, the Badger State, is not due to a large population of the animals but rather a reference to the early miners' habits. However, badgers are indeed present in the state and are recognized as the official state animal.

How did the early miners' living habits resemble badgers?

Early miners in Wisconsin, in search of lead ore, would often dig into the sides of hills to create temporary dwellings for shelter. These makeshift homes, similar to the burrows created by badgers, were called "badger dens" or "badger holes," and thus the miners themselves were nicknamed "badgers." This practice was particularly common before the miners could establish more permanent settlements.

When did the badger become the official state animal of Wisconsin?

The badger was designated as the official state animal of Wisconsin in 1957. This decision was influenced by the state's historical association with the early lead miners who were nicknamed "badgers." The badger symbolizes the industrious and persevering nature that characterized these miners and, by extension, the spirit of the state's residents.

Does the term "Badger State" have any official recognition in Wisconsin?

Yes, the term "Badger State" is officially recognized and widely used to refer to Wisconsin. It is an integral part of the state's identity and is embraced in various aspects of Wisconsin culture, including being featured on the state's coat of arms, the state flag, and in the names of numerous businesses and organizations throughout Wisconsin.

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Discussion Comments

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My cousin went to the University of Wisconsin, and I never understood why their mascot was the badger. Since badgers really are not common in Wisconsin, and they aren't particularly heroic creatures, I just didn't see what the attraction was. Knowing that they are a symbol of the whole state, it makes more sense now.

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    • Miners earned Wisconsin the nickname "The Badger State."
      By: soupstock
      Miners earned Wisconsin the nickname "The Badger State."
    • Wisconsin's nickname is an indirect reference to the behavior of badgers.
      By: suerob
      Wisconsin's nickname is an indirect reference to the behavior of badgers.
    • Also called "The Dairy State," Wisconsin is the second-largest producer in the United States, second only to California.
      By: seqoya
      Also called "The Dairy State," Wisconsin is the second-largest producer in the United States, second only to California.