In the Progressive Era of American history, the state of Wisconsin gained national attention for its innovative economic and political reforms. Amidst this ferment, the “Wisconsin Idea” was popularized—the idea that a public university should improve the lives of people beyond the borders of its campus. Governor Robert La Follette routinely consulted with University of Wisconsin researchers to devise groundbreaking programs and legislation. Although the Wisconsin Idea is often attributed to a 1904 speech by Charles Van Hise, president of the University of Wisconsin, David Hoeveler argues that it originated decades earlier, in the creative and fertile mind of John Bascom.
J. David Hoeveler is a Professor of History at UW-Milwaukee.