Taking Root in Wisconsin
The Ethnic History of the Badger State
Every state in the U.S. has a unique ethnic history. In this article, we’re examining Wisconsin, where Reinhart Foodservice was born. Archaeology and anthropology tell us that the first inhabitants of Wisconsin were Asian people who traveled across the Bering Strait, down through Canada to North America. Their descendants eventually became known as the Lakota (Sioux), Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) and many other Native American tribes. The Oneida Nation was resettled here from New York, as were the last of the Mohicans, now known as the Stockbridge. Many cities in the state carry Native American names: Milwaukee, Chippewa Falls, Shawano, Oconomowoc, Oshkosh and more.
Recorded history tells us that the first Europeans to enter the state were the French, in the first quarter of the 17th century, drawn by the lucrative fur trade. Many places carry a French moniker, including De Pere, Prairie du Chien, La Crosse and Lac du Flambeau. The British controlled the area until the War of 1812, when the Americans took over.
The 19th century brought thousands of European immigrants in several different waves to Wisconsin -- lured by tales of affordable land, jobs and religious and political freedom. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, between 1836 and 1850, Wisconsin’s population increased from 11,000 to over 305,000. Some people came from the Eastern United States, but many more came directly from Europe, searching for a better life than what existed in their homelands. Germany, Ireland, Poland and Norway populated the state with a huge influx of immigrants in the mid to late 1800s.
Wisconsin yields a bountiful cornucopia of wonderful products -- those both indigenous to the state and those introduced by immigrants. These include cheese and other dairy products, beer, sausage, lake fish, cranberries, wild rice, soybeans, ginseng, cherries, maple syrup and much more. During the growing season, producers showcase all manner of fresh, sustainable products at farmers markets throughout the state, including the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison – the largest producer-only farmers market in the nation. Recent immigrants, such as the Hmongs from Southeast Asia, contribute greatly to the state’s fresh farm produce repertoire.