5 Things Invented in Wisconsin That Make Summertime Super Fun

Tom Giffey

Vroomy vroom vroom, Wisconsin.
Vroomy vroom vroom, Wisconsin.


If you’ve ever zipped across a northwoods lake (or enjoyed watching a water ski show) you have Wisconsin mechanic and inventor Ole Evinrude to thank. Evinrude, a Norwegian immigrant, produced the first commercially viable gas-powered outboard motor in 1909. His spark of inspiration came on a hot day three years earlier when he rowed a boat on a 5-mile round-trip to get his girlfriend a dish of ice cream. (We’re guessing the treat melted, but it’s the thought that counts.) Why not build a motor for the boat, the exhausted suitor wondered? To make a long story short: The young woman, Bess, became his wife, and Evinrude is known as the father of the outboard motor.


The addition of chocolate syrup to ice cream seems like a small thing, but in the 19th century it was a radical notion. (Chocolate syrup was reserved for sodas.) According to Wisconsin lore, in the early 1890s a patron asked for just such a combination at an ice cream parlor in Two Rivers owned by Ed Berners, and the combo became a popular treat. In nearby Manitowoc, Charles Giffey began serving the dish, too, but only on Sundays. When a little girl demanded one on a weekday, Giffey complied, but changed the concoction’s name to “sundae.”


Speaking of sweet treats, malted milk is also a Wisconsin invention. Seeking to create a formula for infants, British immigrant brothers William and James Horlick first set up shop in Chicago and then in Racine, Wisconsin, in the 1870s. They patented their “granulated food for infants” in 1883 and trademarked the name “malted milk” in 1887.  The sweet, protein-packed powder became popular at soda shops as well as with explorers, which explains by you’ll find the Horlick Mountains in Antarctica!

Thanks, Wisconsin.
Thanks, Wisconsinites of yore.


When it opened in 1966, “The Wisconsin Bikeway,” a 300-mile trail between Kenosha and La Crosse, was the first bike trail to cross an entire state. Furthermore, the Elroy-to-Sparta part of the bikeway was one of the nation’s first “rails to trails” paths, having been converted from an unused railroad right-of-way into a bike trail. If you enjoy designated trails, you have Wisconsin’s pedaling pioneers to thank.


This may seem like a stretch, but bear with us for a moment: In 1970, Wisconsin became the first state to ban the distribution and sale of DDT, an insecticide that was found to be be harming a lot more than insects – including mammals, fish, and birds, including the bald eagle. Following state and federal DDT bans, wildlife populations – including that of the bald eagle – began to recover. In other words, in part because Wisconsin took the lead 48 years ago, you can enjoy the beauty of our national symbol today.

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