Objects Seeking Stories

Interested in researching and writing an object history for Wisconsin 101, but don’t yet have a good object in mind? You’ve come to the right place.

Our team regularly updates this list of objects that we believe have the potential to tell fascinating stories about Wisconsin history. The list is searchable and can also be sorted by region, county, date added, or alphabetically by object.

If a particular item intrigues you, email us at wi101@history.wisc.edu with the object’s name in the subject line.

If you represent a museum or historical society and would like to see an object in your collections featured on this list, write to us at wi101@history.wisc.edu with the subject line “Objects Seeking Stories.”

This list is best viewed on a larger screen. Visit it from your tablet, laptop, or desktop computer.

ObjectCountyRegionCollectionDate Added
20-Sided Die

In 1974, Lake Geneva native Gary Gygax created Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop role-playing game that repurposed multi-sided statistical dice to help simulate random events in a fantasy world. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As early as the 1890s, Wisconsin was a cycling destination and boasted a national racing competition. Today, biking remains an important element of Wisconsin's recreation, commuting, and business activities. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Museum.
South CentralNA12/21/16

The iconic foam cheesehead hat was first carved from a discarded couch in 1987. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Native to the wetlands of central Wisconsin and commercially produced since the 1850s, cranberries play a key role in the state's agricultural economy. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
West CentralNA12/21/16
Effigy Mound

Beginning around 1,500 years ago, Wisconsin's inhabitants began constructing earthen mounds in a variety of shapes, including cones, lines, and even animals. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Galena Lead

In the early nineteenth century, lead mining promised greater riches in Wisconsin than either trapping or farming. By 1829, more than 4,000 miners—or "Badgers"—toiled underground in southwestern Wisconsin. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
South CentralBadger Mine & Museum, Shullsburg, WI12/21/16
In 1904, four brothers in Marathon County, Wisconsin, began cultivating ginseng root for export to Asian markets. By 1919, Wisconsin was the leading ginseng-producer in North America, launching an industry that persists to this day. Illustration by Jacob Bigelow, c. 1820.
MarathonWest CentralNA12/21/16
Hamilton Beach Mixer
Introduced in Racine in 1909, the Hamilton Beach Mixer was the world's first upright drink and milkshake mixing machine, marking an important moment in the state's manufacturing history. Image courtesy of Mainely Vintage.
Maple Tap

Maple syrup production in the late 1800s and early 1900s relied on maple syrup taps uses throughout Wisconsin to extract sap from maple trees.
Photography by Tammy Friesen.
Ojibwe Fishing Spear
Northern Wisconsin Ojibwe have spearfished walleye for generations, as guaranteed by federal treaties signed in the nineteenth century. When a federal appeals court upheld these rights in 1983, conflict emerged between the Ojibwe and their non-Native neighbors. Photograph by Roland Reed, 1908.
Oneida Beadwork
Beading culture marks a historic link between Wisconsin's Oneida communities and their Iroquois sisters and brothers in New York and Ontario, Canada. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters.
Parker Pen

Parker pens, manufactured in Janesville, WI, are widely believed to be the world's most expensive writing devices and were often used on momentous occasions, such as Japan's surrender at the end of WWII. Photograph by Janos Feher.
RockSouth CentralRock County Historical Society, Janesville, WI12/21/16
Red Star Yeast
Beginning in the early 1880s, Milwaukee-made yeast packaged under the Red Star label would become a key ingredient for bakers throughout Wisconsin and beyond. Image courtesy of Red River Antiques.
Wintermute Circus Marionette
In the late nineteenth century, traveling circus acts like the Wintermute Family Circus entertained audiences across southern Wisconsin. Photograph courtesy of Wisconsin Magazine of History.
JeffersonSouth CentralBark River Woods Historical Society, Hebron, WI12/21/16
Wisconsin Fossils
From jellyfish and trilobites to mastodons and giant armadillos, Wisconsin's fossils reveal the lost landscapes of the prehistoric upper Midwest. Photograph by Jeff Miller, UW Communications.
UW-Madison Geology Museum, Madison, WI12/21/16