That’s what John Philip Sousa called it, and as the composer of The Stars and Stripes Forever, Sousa certainly had plenty of standing to make such a proclamation. Taking its title from a civil war battle cry, and combining it with a tune whose original words were actually meant to be “Minnesota, Minnesota!” it not only made it to the top of the gridiron heap, but with a slight change to the lyrics also became the official tune of the entire state of Wisconsin. Some 2,500 other schools use variants of the melody to fire up their own spirits.
Originally the song was composed in 1909 as a possible entry in a competition for a new fight song for the University of Minnesota — hence the “Minnesota, Minnesota!” reference above. But fortunately for everyone, a farsighted Wisconsin alumnus talked the composer into letting the Badgers use it for their own team.
Introduced to the student body by the glee club on Nov.10, 1909, it was featured at a monster pep rally the next day, and then played for the first time on the gridiron just two days later — coincidentally during the Minnesota game. (The Golden Gophers had to settle for “The Minnesota Rouser” and a 34-6 victory, but that story is for another day.)
And despite rumors that the rights to On, Wisconsin! reside with either Paul McCartney or the estate of Michael Jackson, the truth is that the song lies safely within the public domain – which means we can present to you this splendid artwork taken from a 1925 sheet music cover without having to pay royalties to anyone but the University of Wisconsin. McCartney and the Jackson estate are just going to have to look elsewhere for their next hundred million dollars.
Click here to buy a poster of this program cover.