Wisconsin State Capitol
The Wisconsin State Capitol, in Madison, Wisconsin, houses both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature along with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Office of the Governor. Completed in 1917, the building is the fifth to serve as the Wisconsin capitol since the first territorial legislature convened in 1836 and the third building since Wisconsin was granted statehood in 1848. The streets surrounding the building form the Capitol Square which is home to many restaurants and shops. The Wisconsin State Capitol is the tallest building in Madison.


First capitol
The first capitol was a prefabricated wood-frame council house with no heat or water that had been hastily shipped to Belmont, Wisconsin. Legislators met there for 42 days after Belmont was designated the capital of Wisconsin Territory. The session chose Madison as the site of the capitol, and Burlington, Iowa as the site of further legislative sessions until Madison could be ready. The council house and an associated lodging house still stand and are operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society as the First Capitol Historic Site.

Second capitol
The second capitol was constructed 1837 in Madison of stone cut from Maple Bluff and locally cut oak. Located on the site of the present capitol, it was a small but typical frontier capitol that cost $60,000 to build.

Third capitol
Growing government needs forced the state to construct a new capitol, also on the site of the present capitol. This structure, with a similar U.S. Capitol-inspired dome, was built between 1857 and 1869. In 1882, it was expanded at a cost of $900,000, with two wings to the north and south. In 1903, however, a commission began looking into replacing the structure.

1904 fire
On the night of February 26, 1904, a gas jet ignited a newly-varnished ceiling in the third capitol building. Although the building had an advanced fire-fighting system, the nearby university reservoir which supplied the capitol was empty, allowing the fire to spread substantially before the switch to alternate city water supplies could be made. Madison firefighters could not handle the blaze on their own, so additional men and equipment had to be brought in from Milwaukee. The effectiveness of the reinforcements was initially hampered by the bitter cold temperatures; by the time they reached Madison, the equipment had frozen and needed to be thawed. As a result, the entire structure, except the north wing, burned to the ground. Numerous records, books, and historical artifacts were lost, including the mount of Old Abe, a Civil War mascot. However, through the efforts of university students, much of the State Law Library was saved. The fire occurred just five weeks after the State Legislature voted to cancel the capitol's fire insurance policy.

Current building
Construction of the present capitol building, the third in Madison, began in late 1906 and was completed in 1917 at a cost of $7.25 million. The architect was George B. Post & Sons from New York. Because of financial limitations and the need for immediate office space to house state government employees, the construction of the new building was extended over several years and focused on building one wing at a time. The Capitol is 284 feet, 5 inches tall from the ground floor to the top of the statue on the dome, making the building 3 feet shorter than the nation's capitol in Washington D.C. The "Wisconsin" statue on the dome was sculpted in 1920 by Daniel Chester French of New York. Her left hand holds a globe with an eagle on it and her right arm is outstretched to symbolize the state motto, "Forward." She wears a helmet with the state animal, the badger, on top. She is made of hollow bronze covered with gold leaf. "Wisconsin" is 15 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs three tons. The statue is commonly misidentified as "Lady Forward" or "Miss Forward", which is the name of another statue on the capitol grounds. The Capitol was constructed of 43 types of stone from six countries and eight states. The exterior stone is Bethel White granite from Vermont, making the exterior dome the largest granite dome in the world. In the rotunda is marble from Greece, Algeria, Italy, and France, along with Minnesota limestone, Norwegian syenite (Labradorite) and red granite from Waupaca, Wisconsin. Other Wisconsin granites are located throughout the public hallways on the ground, first, and second floors. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001. A 1990 state law prevents any building within one mile of the capitol from being taller than the base of the columns surrounding and supporting its dome.

Restoration and renovation
The Capitol recently underwent a 14-year renovation and restoration project. The project was undertaken wing by wing mirroring the original construction of the Capitol. The renovation started in 1988 and was completed in 2002 at a cost of $158.8 million. The purpose of the project was to convert the Capitol into a modern working building, while restoring and preserving its original 1917 appearance. Remodeling projects of the 1960s and 70s had introduced features out of character with the architecture of the Capitol, such as drop ceilings, movable partitions and fluorescent light fixtures, and many original decorative stencils were painted over. The restoration project returned public spaces to their original appearance. Original decorative stencils were repaired or recreated; gold leaf was replaced or restored, and marble surfaces were cleaned. Murals were cleaned and conserved in the public spaces. Skylights over the third and fourth floor interior offices and stairs, which had been sealed in the 1970s, were uncovered. The exterior granite was cleaned and repaired by workers who rappelled down from the dome. The renovation plan also included integrating modern technology into the original architecture. Electrical, mechanical (such as plumbing and heating) and communications systems were upgraded; asbestos was removed, and air conditioning was added. The Capitol basement floor was lowered two feet to provide additional usable office space. Legislative offices were rebuilt as two-room suites (originally legislators did not have offices in the Capitol, only their desks in the Senate and Assembly Chambers). Modern office furniture was designed to look like the original oak furniture.

Wisconsin Capitol sculpture program
Architect Post designed an elaborate sculpture program for the building. Initially the statue of Wisconsin on the top of the dome was promised to Helen Farnsworth Mears but when Daniel Chester French agreed to produce the finial figure, the commission was switched to him. This work, often referred to as the "Golden Lady," consists of an allegorical figure reminiscent of Athena, dressed in Greek garb, and wearing a helmet topped by a badger, the Wisconsin state totem. In the left hand she holds a globe with an eagle perched on top. Across her chest is a large W, for Wisconsin, a detail probably only viewable from an airplane. Post's original concept for the building called for four small domes to be placed at the foot of the large one, but at some point the plans were changed and the domes were replaced by four sculptural groups by Karl Bitter. These groups (again, in Greek clothing) symbolized Faith, Strength, Prosperity and Abundance. Each of the four wings of the building is fronted by a pediment whose figures relate to the principal activities that were to take place within. Thus the east wing, housing the Supreme Court, features a pediment by Bitter entitled Law; the south has Adolph Alexander Weinman's Virtues and Traits of Character, for the wing containing the State Senate. Bitter's other pediment, the west, is Agriculture, while Attilio Piccirilli's Wisdom and Learning of the World adorns the north pediment. The carving of all these sculptures is attributed to the Piccirilli Brothers.


  • Some of the stones used in the building contain fossils. The second flight of stairs in the north wing, on the left side of the grand staircase, fourth step from the bottom, contains a starfish fossil.
  • The remains of Old Abe, the Civil War eagle of the 8th Wisconsin regiment, now depicted on the shoulder patch of the 101st Airborne, were destroyed in the 1904 fire. A replica tribute sits above the Wisconsin State Assembly floor.
  • The wings' pillars are draped in wire meshing to prevent birds from nesting in the ornate carvings.
  • The Capitol has: 705 rooms, 714 exterior windows, 1608 doors, and 2782 steps.
  • On May 5, 2008 the Capitol was used as a location for the film Public Enemies starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.
  • The Capitol has its own zip code (53702) and its own police force (Wisconsin Capitol Police).
  • The Capitol was lowered to make it shorter than the U.S. Capitol Building. Its original height was 289 feet 0 inches tall. It was lowered to the current height of 284 feet 5 inches; 3 feet shorter than the U.S. Capital Building

General view Inside the Capitol Dome interior.

Building Activity

  • Jesse Pollock
    Jesse Pollock commented
    Great architecture. One of the best looking capitol buildings in the country.
    about 4 years ago via Mobile