February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (though fans of federal holidays will celebrate it on February 16). While we doubt that most Badgers will flock to the Lincoln statue on Bascom to wish him a happy birthday, Abe is still a special figure on the UW-Madison campus. Under his presidency, Congress passed the land-grant act, which helped fund the UW (and lots of other state universities). Because of that, we honor him with a large, bronze likeness in front of Bascom Hall.
The Abe Lincoln statue has been on campus since 1909, the centennial year of his birth. The statue that sits atop Bascom Hill is the only replica of an original, which is sited near Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky.
In 1907, the governor of Kentucky decided that the state should honor its “greatest son,” and gave the responsibility to Richard Lloyd Jones, who just happened to be a UW alumnus. He commissioned a statue by New York City sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, and then presented it on Decoration Day in 1909 in the Hodgenville Court House square. Shortly thereafter, several universities sent requests for a replica. The University of Nebraska (at Lincoln, no less) offered to pay $25,000 for one — which has the same buying power as almost $1,000,000 today.
When Jones heard of the piqued interest, he wanted to get a replica to UW-Madison. T. E. Brittingham of Madison agreed to pay the cost of transport, if the state would pay for the statue’s setting. Jones convinced Kentucky to allow one replica to be made, and the sculptor agreed to give the university the statue for the cost of casting it.
The Lincoln Statue was unveiled on Bascom Hill on Alumni Day, which fell on June 22, 1909. It was originally placed toward the middle of the hill, but was moved to its current location in 1919.