Skip Navigation
Peter Detwiler MA'72

It seems that you have the gist of the time John Muir x1863 spent in Madison. In 1860 (at the age of 22), Muir left his Marquette County home for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On the family farm, Muir was relatively isolated from the world. He rarely ventured outside a 15-mile radius around Fountain Lake Farm and was only able to attend school for two months between the ages of 11 and 22. Though he managed to be well-read, it was a constant struggle for him to find enough good books and, once found, to get them past his father, who believed the only book a person needed was the bible.

But Muir had an incredible talent for inventing that would open the door to UW-Madison and, eventually the world. At the urging of a neighbor, Muir took his “early rising machine” (a combination bunk and clock that would dump its occupant out of bed at a pre-set time) to the 1860 State Fair in Madison. While in here, Muir was envious of the students at the university. Scraping together what money he could from odd jobs, Muir enrolled and studied chemistry, math, physics, Greek, Latin, botany and geology. This wasn't a “regular course of studies” and didn't lead to a degree. Muir worked during the term and in the harvest fields in the summer to maintain himself at the university for more than two years. After that, he left for excursions that would last the rest of his life.

Muir was a resident in North Hall. The first building constructed on campus, North Hall opened in 1851. It contained lecture rooms, laboratories, a library, a chapel and living quarters — a university in a building.

More From Ask Flamingle HQ

Official Badger Bowl Tour On Sale Now!