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Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

In honor of the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, we examine how the 16th president of the United States became such an iconic figure at the University of Wisconsin.

Wendy Krause Hathaway '04
February 12, 2014

In honor of the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, we examine how the 16th president of the United States became such an iconic figure at the University of Wisconsin.

What is a land-grant university?

A year into his first term in office, Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act of 1862. This legislation granted federal land to each eligible state in the union to use (or sell off for funding) to establish colleges and universities that would teach more practical curricula than traditional higher ed institutions had before: agriculture, science, military science and engineering.

The UW became Wisconsin’s land-grant university in 1866, receiving 240,000 acres of land (30,000 per congressional representative at the time). The law’s emphasis on disseminating knowledge gained on campus throughout the rest of the state became the basis for the Wisconsin Idea.

Photo of 1909 unveiling ceremony courtesy UW-Madison Archives
Photo of 1909 unveiling ceremony courtesy UW-Madison Archives

So how did Abe Lincoln end up atop Bascom Hill?

The iconic bronze statue is a replica of one erected in Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky, created by sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman.

Ahead of the 1909 alumni reunion weekend, alumnus Richard Lloyd Jones x 1894 fervently worked with President Charles Van Hise and UW benefactor Thomas E. Brittingham to raise $8,000 to purchase the statue. At the ceremony, Van Hise remarked “Let us hope that this monument, erected to one of the world’s greatest benefactors, placed where it will be seen by countless thousands of young men and women, at a most impressionable age, may be a constant inspiration to them.”

It was moved from its original location between North and South Halls to its current location after 10 years, and has since become a campus landmark and beacon of good luck for UW students.

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