The university had its official beginnings when Wisconsin was incorporated as
a state in 1848. Article X, Section B of the state constitution provided for "the
establishment of a state university, at or near the seat of state government..." On July
26, 1848, Nelson Dewey,
Wisconsin's first governor, signed the act that formally created the University of Wisconsin. The board of regents held their
initial meeting in the library room of the capitol on October 7, 1848, and provided John W. Sterling a $500 per-annum salary to become the university's first
professor (mathematics). The University's first class, with 17 students, met in a Madison school building on February 5, 1849.Regents discussed the building of the university, and the original campus was selected. It was comprised of a 50 acre (200,000
m²) tract of land "bounded north by Fourth lake, east by a street to be opened at right angles with King [later State] street,
south by Mineral Point Road [University avenue], and west by a carriage-way from said road to the lake." The initial building
plans also called for a "main edifice fronting towards the Capitol, three stories high, surmounted by an observatory for
astronomical observations." This building, University Hall, now Bascom Hall, was finally completed in 1859. North Hall,
constructed in 1851, was actually the campus' first building. Finally, in 1854, Levi Booth and Charles T. Wakeley became the first graduates of the university. Academics
continued to improve at Wisconsin, and in 1892, the university granted its first Ph.D. to future university president Charles R. Van Hise.Other notable historical moments in Wisconsin's first century include:
- In 1861, the Wisconsin Alumni Foundation was founded.
- On April 4, 1892, the campus's first
student-run newspaper began publishing. Today, The Daily
Cardinal is the oldest student-run campus newspaper.
- 1898 saw UW music instructor Henry Dyke Sleeper write
“Varsity,” the university’s traditional alma mater song.
- The Wisconsin Union was
founded in 1907, second only to Harvard's among U.S. universities.
- William Purdy and Carl Beck wrote On, Wisconsin in 1909, which became the fight song for UW athletic teams.
- In 1925, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation was chartered to control patenting and patent
income on UW inventions.
- The UW Arboretum dedicated
itself to restoring lost landscapes, such as prairies, in 1934.
In the years 1966 through 1970, the University of
Wisconsin was shaken by a series of student protests, and by the use of force by
authorities in response. The first major demonstrations protested the presence on campus of recruiters for the Dow Chemical Company, which supplied the napalm used in the Vietnam War. Another target of protest was
the Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC), clearly identified and centrally located in the Sterling Hall physics building.
Director J. Barkley Rosser, an eminent logician, publicly minimized any practical role and implied that AMRC pursued only pure mathematics. But the student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal
, obtained quarterly reports that AMRC submitted to the Army. The Cardinal
published a series of investigative articles making a convincing case that AMRC was pursuing research that was directly pursuant
to specific US Department of Defense requests, and
relevant to counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam. AMRC became a magnet for demonstrations, in which protesters chanted "U.S.
out of Vietnam! Smash Army math!" In 1970, Karleton Armstrong and three
other men stole a van from computer science professor Larry Travis, filled it with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil mixture, parked it next to Sterling Hall, and
exploded it, killing physics graduate student Robert Fassnacht. At that time, it was described as "the single most destructive act of sabotage in United
States history."The Badger Herald was founded in 1969. The Badger Herald debuted as an alternative voice on campus. Born to cover and combat the turmoil of the Vietnam
protests, the Herald maintains its maverick spirit, though it has shed the “alternative” reputation. Today, they are
the largest fully independent daily campus newspaper in the nation. They receive no funding or other assistance from the
university in publishing 16,000 issues, five days a week. The University of Wisconsin is to this day the only major American
university with two daily student newspapers.