The tune was composed in 1909 by William T. Purdy as "Minnesota, Minnesota," with the intention of entering it into a competition for a new fight song at the University of Minnesota.
Carl Beck, a former Wisconsin student, convinced him to withdraw it from the contest at the last minute and allow his alma mater to use it instead. Beck then wrote the original, football-oriented lyrics, changing the words "Minnesota, Minnesota" to "On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!" (The eventual winner of the competition became known as the Minnesota Rouser.)
The lyrics were rewritten for the state song in 1913 by Judge Charles D. Rosa and J. S. Hubbard. The song was widely recognized as the state song at that time but was never officially designated. Finally in 1959, "On, Wisconsin!" was codified in Chapter 170, Laws of 1959, and is incorporated in Section 1.10 of the statutes.
"On, Wisconsin!" was regarded by John Philip Sousa as "the finest of college marching songs". It has become one of the most popular fight songs in the country, with some 2,500 schools using some variation of it as their school song. There have been persistent rumors that the rights to the song are owned by Paul McCartney or Michael Jackson. The song is actually in the public domain in the United States. The international rights are unclear.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Plunge right through that line!
Run the ball right down the field, a touchdown sure this time.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Fight on for her fame,
Fight! Fellows! Fight! Fight, fight, we'll win this game.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Stand up, Badgers sing!
'Forward' is our driving spirit loyal voices ring.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Raise her glowing flame
Stand, fellows, let us now salute her name!
"On, Wisconsin!" was the cry that Arthur MacArthur Jr. used in the Battle of Chattanooga at Missionary Ridge during the American Civil War. He seized the regimental colors, and rallied his regiment with "On, Wisconsin!", for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In the early 1980s, subsequent to the purchase of Edwin H. Morris & Company, lawyers working for Paul McCartney attempted to claim copyrights for several well known songs, including On Wisconsin. The entire catalogue was later sold to Michael Jackson. When the copyright claim was initially made public outcry demanded the copyright be deeded over to the State of Wisconsin as the copyright holders were demanding royalties for performance. The matter was resolved quietly, however rumors persist McCartney or Jackson's estate hold the claim. The song remains in the public domain.
- The Minnesota Rouser: Minnesota Marching Band: U of M
- McGrath, Hazel (March 1948). "Songs to Thee, Wisconsin!". Wisconsin Alumnus. 49 (6): 16–17. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
- Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau (1999). "Wisconsin State Symbols". State of Wisconsin Blue Book (1999-2000). Joint Committee on Legislative Organization. p. 935. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
- "School Songs". Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
- When Is Art Free? | csmonitor.com
- Jenny Price. "Fight on for Her Fame". On Wisconsin, Winter 2009.
- "On, Wisconsin". kb.wisc.edu. Retrieved 2018-07-04.
- Douglas MacArthur. "Martial Roots of a Warrior's Glory". Life Magazine, January 10, 1964, p. 50.
- Albin Krebs and Robert Mcg. Thomas Jr. "NOTES ON PEOPLE; McCartney Asked to Waive 'On, Wisconsin' Royalties". New York Times, January 21, 1981.
- Albin Krebs and Robert Mcg. Thomas Jr. "NOTES ON PEOPLE; McCartney Keeping Rights to Wisconsin's State Song". New York Times, February 20, 1981.
- MP3 file of "On, Wisconsin!" played by the University of Wisconsin Marching Band
- "On Wisconsin!" - original sheet music at UW Mills Music Library's Wisconsin Sheet Music Database
- One Hundred Years of "On, Wisconsin!" (from the UW-Madison Libraries system)
- Wisconsin: State song 'On, Wisconsin!' turns 100 from the Telegraph Herald, article by Meg Jones, Associated Press, November 15, 2009
- Celebrating 100 years of ‘On, Wisconsin!’, by Gwen Evans, University of Wisconsin News, October 14, 2009
- The Liberation of "On Wisconsin" by Elmer F. Cox, January 1, 1981
- "On Wisconsin" copyright explained (letter to the editor), Elmer F. Cox, Wisconsin State Journal, p. 9, February 12, 1994