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History of Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is the capital of the state of Wisconsin, the seat of Dane county, and the home of the University of Wisconsin's main campus. It is situated on an isthmus between Lake Mendota on the northwest and the smaller Lake Monona on the southeast. It was named in honor of James Madison, who had died at the time of its founding. A trading post was established on Lake Mendota as early as 1820, but the future site of Madison was not inhabited by any white family at the time it was purchased in 1830 by James Doty, a land speculator, and Stevens Mason, governor of Michigan Territory. In fact, real settlement of Madison did not begin until it was designated as the territorial capital on December 5, 1836, at the conclusion of a long and acrimonious debate in the territorial legislature. The city had already been laid out on paper as a result of a survey conducted earlier in the year. The first actual buildings were constructed in 1837. Madison was incorporated as a village in 1846 and was chartered as a city in 1856. At the same time that the legislature was designating an uninhabited piece of land as the future capital, it determined that the state university should be sited there as well. The University of Wisconsin was actually organized only in 1848 and held its first classes in 1849. It now educates more than 40,000 students each year. In the early 1900s, Madison was the headquarters of the Progressive Party, led by the LaFollete family. The Progressive Magazine, which Senator Robert M. LaFollete founded in 1909, is still published in Madison. Frank Lloyd Wright spent some of his childhood in Madison and attended the University of Wisconsin there. Several Wright-designed homes can be found in the Madison area, including the Walter Rudin home, considered to be a pioneering effort in prefabrication design.